How Forgiveness Improves Physical Health + How to Achieve It

How Forgiveness Improves Physical Health + How to Achieve It

The Whole Journey philosophy is holistic to account for all of who a person is.

Not just healthy food, but healthy relationships, healthy movement, a meaningful spiritual practice, an inspiring creative outlet, and an understanding that there are emotional roots to physical illness.

Sometimes, rather than starting off with increasing our water intake and adding in more vegetables, the best place to start improving our health is within our emotional body because all the kale and bone broth in the world will not allow the body to heal if we are carrying around a heart full of anger and resentment.

We've all experienced hurt and pain that has been caused by others or that we have caused for ourselves. Many of us have experienced situations that are truly deemed as unforgivable, yet if we are to be healthy on all levels, we must find a way to forgive so that we can free ourselves.

That's why I'm sharing with you a wonderful Forgiveness Exercise that I have recently gone through myself and will continue to do annually or bi-annually to achieve forgiveness and greater peace and happiness.

The Impact of Forgiveness on Physical Health

A researcher named Everett L. Worthington, Jr. has dedicated his career to the study of forgiveness. He has found that it carries tremendous health and social benefits like lowering blood pressure, balancing out cortisol levels, and creating less inflammation and a more harmonious endocrine system. Others are dedicated to this field of research as well.

“In one study, Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, a psychologist at Hope College, asked people to think about someone who had hurt, mistreated, or offended them. While they thought about this person and his or her past offense, she monitored their blood pressure, heart rate, facial muscle tension, and sweat gland activity. To ruminate on an old transgression is to practice unforgiveness. Sure enough, in Witvliet's research, when people recalled a grudge, their physical arousal soared. Their blood pressure and heart rate increased, and they sweated more. Ruminating about their grudges was stressful, and subjects found the rumination unpleasant. It made them feel angry, sad, anxious, and less in control. Witvliet also asked her subjects to try to empathize with their offenders or imagine forgiving them. When they practiced forgiveness, their physical arousal coasted downward. They showed no more of a stress reaction than normal wakefulness produces.”

According to another recent study on forgiveness led by psychologist Loren Toussaint at Luther College, the physical benefits of forgiveness seem to increase with age.

“He and his colleagues conducted a national survey of nearly 1,500 Americans, asking the degree to which each person practiced and experienced forgiveness (of others, of self, and even if they thought they had experienced forgiveness by God). Participants also reported on their physical and mental health. Toussaint and his colleagues found that older and middle-aged people forgave others more often than did young adults and also felt more forgiven by God.

What's more, they found a significant relationship between forgiving others and positive health among middle-aged and older Americans. People over 45 years of age who had forgiven others reported greater satisfaction with their lives and were less likely to report symptoms of psychological distress, such as feelings of nervousness, restlessness, and sadness.”

The hostility and stress that unforgiveness causes is also showing to compromise the immune system on many levels. We know that the endocrine system and the immune system are constantly in communication with one another, which means that the important hormones that hostility and stress throw off end up disrupting the immune system's ability to fight off bacteria and other infections.

To forgive is to stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake. It is to cease to feel resentment against (an offender) so let's practice this together with the following exercise.

forgiveness quote

Free Yourself Forgiveness Exercise

This was given to me by an amazing therapist and licensed Doctor of Psych neurology and Integrative Healing, Sylva Dvorak.

I've found it to be so beneficial (albeit not easy!) and I hope you do too.

1. Create a list of anyone you can think of in your entire life to date that irritated you, that created pain for you, that you got angry, etc. Note that this includes you. The list should be a bulleted list, not paragraphs. Just include names and a very short title for the incident. If you can't remember someone's name, then you can write the incident down such as, “the boy in 5th grade who threw a rock at me.” And, yes, you can include pets and other animals as well.

Write anything and everything you can think of, hold nothing back. Even if you don't feel that you held anything against that person or situation, write it down anyway just to be sure. Most people will have written 3-4 full pages of names.

2. Next, write the list of all the things you'd like to forgive yourself for.

3. In a solitary room (create a sacred space, light a candle, burn some incense, take a few long, deep breaths, whatever you feel called to do) where no interruptions are possible.

Go down the list one name at a time. Hold the image of each person in your mind and tell him or her,

“I forgive you, and I release you. I hold no forgiveness back. My forgiveness for you is total. I am free, and you are free. May we both be blessed.”

If you are too angry with the person or situation to be able to execute this with a clean heart, take as long as you need to write out all of your anger toward them. Don't worry about being nice. Get it all up and out. Once that is done, “give it up” to a higher power by burning or tearing up your writing and try to proceed again.

It's helpful to use an index card with these statements written on it and put it under each name as you go down the list. This process may take 30-60 minutes or longer. However, it's important to stick with it until the entire list is complete.

4. BONUS: Do nightly releases. Every evening before going to sleep, do a mental review of the day. Is there anyone you need to forgive? Just as you probably wash your face every night, it's also important to cleanse your consciousness nightly, so resentment doesn't accumulate. You can even do this while you wash your face.

To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.” ~ Robert Muller

Listen to this beautiful Alicia Keys song, “Pray for Forgiveness” and then give gratitude that you can forgive and have more peace in your heart silence in your mind. Then watch this wonderful TED Talk about gratitude.

Perhaps end your forgiveness meditation with the following prayer.

Gratitude Prayer – by Don Miguel Ruiz

Today, Creator of the universe, my heart is filled with gratitude for the gift of life you have given me. Thank you for the opportunity to experience this beautiful body and this wonderful mind. Today, Lord I want to express my gratitude for everything I have received from you.

I know the way to say thank you for life is by fully enjoying every moment of my life. And the only way to enjoy every moment is to love. Today I will express all the love and happiness that exist in my heart. I will love your creations, I will love myself, and I will love the people who live with me. I know that life is too short to waste in misery and drama with the people I love. I will enjoy the presence of the people I love, respecting their choices in life as I respect my own.

Today I will graciously receive your gifts by enjoying the beauty of all your creation. Help me to be as generous as you are, to share what I have with generosity just as you share your gifts so generously with me. Help me to become a master of gratitude, generosity, and love so that I can enjoy all of your creations.

Today Lord, help me to manifest my creation as you manifest the universe, to express the beauty of my spirit in the supreme art of the human: the art of dreaming my life. Today, Lord, I give you all of my gratitude and love because you have given me life.

When we live in gratitude, it is much easier to forgive. Let's support each other in having even more freedom through forgiveness!

Download the forgiveness process worksheet here.


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