As I sit on my mat, soles of my feet pressing together, knees floating above the ground, my hips trying to release some deeply-held tension, I bow down over my legs and dangle my head over the soles of my feet. In this position I feel the tension in my back begin to soften, but not all the way. Still somewhere deep inside I clench, I hold. I breathe in and then I exhale to let go a little more. What am I holding onto?
The teacher makes her way around the room and when she gets to me she comes up behind me. She places her hands on my thighs and with my exhale gently presses them toward the ground. I give way a little more. Then I feel her weight on my back as she encourages a little more release, a little more softness. It’s then I hear the gentle words inside: Forgive yourself.
This is startling because I didn’t think I had anything to forgive myself for, but in reflection, I realize this may be the work I am still processing through. At a Reiki massage last week, I was told that I have a thick band of hard protective energy across my back. A “turtle shell” she called it. There’s fire and energy in my lower chakras but it cannot move into my heart. My heart is blocked and protected. She told me I needed deep forward bends to release the past and to let go of the tension. Then hip openers to get the fire burning, and finally heart openers to let the energy flow back up. Through all of this, I need to chant the mantra, “I Forgive”.
At the time it resonated deeply, but I never considered that maybe it was myself I needed to forgive. I felt like there were plenty of people around me that I could extend forgiveness to, that I perceived as having “wronged” me in some way. Upon deeper reflection, I started seeing that maybe it wasn’t them that needed the forgiveness.
In his book Yoga, The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness, Eric Schiffman says,
You learn to love by learning to forgive. Forgiveness is the deliberate withdrawal of judgement. It’s the deliberate letting-go of criticism, condemnation, and conditions-needing-to-be-met-before-I-see-you-anew with regard to yourself, others, and everything else, in favor of seeing the deepest truth.
Through our yoga practice, we can learn to soften – first our body, and then our minds and our hearts. As we release physical tension using breath and mindfulness, we start seeing the layers underneath that are holding the tension. These layers of tension may even feel like they are holding on for dear life. The fears, the joys, the love, the scars, the memories of the past, every second of our life is held in our body.
In Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Legged Forward Bend), that our entire back body is stretched and lengthened. The back holds our past, everything we’ve done and experienced we carry with us, packing it around like a sherpa. By opening it up, we can begin to release the past’s grip on us. You can feel the tension rolling down toward the floor in waves. Every exhale you become lighter, letting go of just a little bit more of the baggage that has weighed you down. As we let go of old hurts – perceived or real – we start to soften. We start breaking through the turtle shell of protection that we have built up, layer upon layer. First this happens on the physical level, but gradually it permeates into the mind and the heart. A forward bend is also literally bowing, humbling ourselves to something greater – to God, the Universe, the Divine Within. By remembering that we are not alone, we can let go of these burdens and feel lifted up, supported and even carried.
In the book Zero Limits by Joe Vitale, he explains the ancient Hawaiian teaching of Ho’opoponopono. This practice recognizes that everything – EVERYTHING – that is happening around us is a direct reflection of something INSIDE of us. We can begin to transmute the energy by first recognizing that fact, accepting responsibility, and then sending love and forgiveness to the Universe, thus changing the energy pattern. Whenever something arises, you simply say (to yourself or out loud – it doesn’t matter) “I Love You. I’m Sorry. Please Forgive Me. Thank you.” This action can have profound effects on every day interactions. As we begin to shift from a place of blame, projection, and protection, to a place of acceptance, love, and forgiveness. We can become free of the patterns that weigh us down. We release the negative energy surrounding any encounter and create space. This is real space, where we connect directly to the divine instead of being stuck in our own head and body.
It’s natural that after a long, deep forward bend, our body wants to open in the other direction. A soft, supported heart opener like Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) is perfect. Lying on a bolster, with the heart open to the sky, the shoulders gently draped over the edges, and bent knees propped on blocks, you feel safe, secure, and protected. Your heart is wide open and the tension around it begins to melt and flow down the arms and out through the fingertips. Softening the physical heart has an almost immediate effect on the energetic heart. Divine love flows in, filling you up with its light, and from this place then shines out, allowing you to see everyone and everything for what they really are – a beautiful, divine, interconnected web of pure Love. When you are able to see your connection to all of this, you can’t help but forgive – and by forgiving yourself, you are forgiving everyone else.
To All Of You~
I Love You. I’m Sorry. Please Forgive Me. Thank You.