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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Forgiving can improve your health.

Get over it and get happy!
National “Get Over It” Day was March 9th. Yep, that’s right, 11 days ago. When I first realized I’d missed this awesome holiday, I considered throwing my hands in the air and shutting down my computer. But, in the end, I decided to put my lateness aside, just get over it and write about this topic anyway. We’ve all got our “stuff” – those little (or sometimes big) issues we just can’t put behind us. Whether it’s a relationship gone awry, a job we didn’t get, or those 10 pounds we just can’t seem to shed, we’ve all got something that we put into our emotional backpack then strap it to our backs, often letting the “baggage” wear us down.

Here’s a funny little story of my own: When I was a kid in Elementary School, a boy in my class made fun of me because I had hairy arms. He called me “Grape Ape”, referencing a popular cartoon. It affected me so much that I actually started dreading warm weather, a time when I would have to wear short sleeve shirts and bare my hairy little arms. This continued for many years, sadly, even into adulthood. How silly? A little teasing and I was warm weather challenged for years. Now, I don’t think twice about my arms (and the abundance of hair that may or may not be there), but this little taunt stuck with me for many years. Do you have something like that in your past? Whether it’s silly or a more serious transgression, here’s the thing: holding on to worries, bitterness, anger, sadness or frustration from your past does nothing, and I mean nothing, but harm your current health status!
According to one small study, having a negative view of one’s past decreases immune system functioning, increases reports of pain, and decreases daily physical activity and quality of life. In addition, dwelling on negative events of the past makes a person more likely to be depressed or anxious. Researchers in another study (link:) found that bitterness can negatively impact an individual’s metabolism and immune system, making it more likely that bitter folks will succumb to disease processes.

So, what can you do? Well, forgiveness is a great place to start! One article discusses the importance of forgiving people, including forgiving yourself. In fact, one forgiveness researcher cited in the article claims that those who aren’t the forgiving type are two times more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease. And, forgiveness appears to affect men and women differently: men appear to gain more from self-forgiveness, while forgiving others seems to benefit women a little more.
As someone who regularly practices and teaches yoga, I often talk about the importance of letting go, accepting the past, and finding a way to forgive yourself and others. But, it’s often easier said than done and you’ve got to make a concerted effort to let things go. Maybe you find you can find a way to forgive through journaling, tearing up a piece of paper with past transgressions written on it, prayer, meditation, or literally sweating it out during a cycling class. Whatever you need to do, make this the day you forgive, the day you move past your past, and, well, get over it.