Why I’m Not Buying the Whole Forgiveness Trend in Yoga & Spirituality.

Via Amy Ippoliti
on May 20, 2013
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Is it just me, or have you noticed that the word “forgiveness” has been thrown around this year ad nauseam as a spiritual cure-all in Facebook posts, on Twitter and even on Oprah?

Forgiveness has been designated as the number one way to be more spiritual and has been heralded by some as the definition of yoga itself.


One prominent yogi named 2013 as the “Year of Forgiveness” on Facebook.

It’s become a buzzword spackled haphazardly, guaranteed to land a lot of “likes,” but I think forgiveness deserves to be handled with more care and consideration.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I am a huge fan of forgiveness as well as unconditional love, compassion and empathy. After all, studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments.forgiveness

Leaders have been dropping the forgiveness buzzword like it’s going out of style—have you succumbed to the peer pressure and done your own post or two?

Read on for a forgiveness shakedown from someone who has been burned, and has forgiven aplenty.

Webster’s Dictionary gives two meanings for the word forgive:

1. to stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake

2. to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.

What-does-the-Bible-say-about-ForgivenessThe first definition addresses letting go.

When we are betrayed, it is healthy to experience a blast of initial anger and resentment. It’s rare to be able to let go instantly. And the more you care about that hurt, the harder it is to release.

No one wants to be angry and bitter their whole life just because someone betrayed them or caused them harm in the past.

There are two kinds of anger, however—there’s the fresh, big, hot, boiling kind—and then, there’s the more seasoned, much smaller, wise, conscious and less significant, simmering kind.

The healthy choice is to eventually release the blasting, boiling kind of anger and replace it with the more conscious kind.

As long as your anger does not boil over, your mild simmering anger will be the thing that helps you discern and protect yourself and others from getting hurt again.

And again.

In other words, keeping some of this kind of self-aware anger around is smart and even healthy!

If you release the boiling anger, but keep a small grain of sand that you could rub between your fingers, that tiny grain of anger is what will help make you stronger and more aware.

Hot burning anger can be released further when you examine your own part in the unfolding of the betrayal and take responsibility for the ways in which you may have contributed to the circumstances in which the betrayal occurred. This empowers, rather than turning you into a victim.

It’s the second definition—the pardoning—that can be risky to others in the future and can inhibit a fuller, more meaningful conversation.

Let’s break this down:

We live in a relative world, a world of cause and effect, a world with consequences.

While we can tap into the realm of unconditional love and oneness through meditation and yoga, the last time I checked we were on the planet and in a body and do have other people to consider.

We are each other’s keepers.

If we pardon someone too soon (“idiot compassion“), what is to stop him or her from repeating their misdeed and hurting another?

What assurance do we have that a person won’t replicate the same harmful behavior (which is typically the case unless significant action toward changing has occurred)?

Should we give him or her reprieve even when there has been no sign of accountability on their part? Do we just pardon when there has been no remorse or expression of regret, no making amends? Should we shrug our shoulders, let it go and mind our own business, even when we know it is possible for this person to cause more harm?

What if they do it again and hurt someone else because they never had someone set a clear boundary and tell them no?

This is when having that small grain of “anger sand” could come in handy—it helps us remember that this person may not be trusted yet.

To wit, yogis, because of their compassionate (but not always discerning) nature can easily fall prey and are quick to blindly forgive.

I’ve been there; I am as stubborn as they come. I will hold out hope for someone far beyond healthy limits and I’ve been burned as a result—an embarrassing number of times.

I’m going to say it: forgiveness must be earned.

Sure, a person will have my compassion and my best wishes. I will feel for them. I will trust that they will heal and change on their own timeline different than my own (perhaps in a new lifetime). But pardon them too soon? No—I don’t see how that serves them.

When someone points out, “Did you consider that you might be enabling this poor soul?” the yogi or spiritual leader will say things like:

“But they are only human.”
“I am all about unconditional love.”
“Love is the answer.”
“People make mistakes”
“But yoga is forgiveness.”

Let’s break it down again.

“But they are only human,” or “People make mistakes:”

Yes, they are human—and so are all of the people this person has harmed in the past and will, likely, harm in the future! Does being human mean we get a pass for being a liar or an abuser so we can turn around and be one again?

This is a cop out.

Yogis, we can do better!

Yes, I am human and I’ve messed up royally and still make terrible errors…but I sincerely want to learn from my mistakes. I want to do the hard work to grow and change; I expect the same when someone I respect has blundered.

We can do better than just hiding behind the “being human” line.

Don’t just take my word for it—listen to Jason Mraz’s song, Only Human for further insight.

How about rebuilding trust before we pardon too soon?

“I am all about unconditional love:”

Meeting each other’s needs unconditionally is certainly one of the most loving, devotional endeavors one could embark upon.

That said, I prefer that my love have conditions and boundaries too—it makes my relationships much more interesting, and it motivates me to step up and grow as I respect my loved one’s conditions and boundaries.

Furthermore, just because we can be unconditionally loving does not mean that we are obligated to hang out with, support, do business with, or condone proven liars, cheaters, abusers, rapists or criminals because we know they are hurting inside and deserve love!

And it’s interesting that our forgiving yoga culture makes such a statement even necessary.

Such individuals would be better served with conditional or “tough” love—i.e. if they were allowed to hit rock bottom and then rebuild themselves.

They don’t know it, but their inner child is crying out to have someone set a boundary. Maybe when they realize that no one will put up with them, then and only then will they finally seek the professional support they need.

There’s a reason that the global governing body of cycling has banned Lance Armstrong from the sport. He has not proven that he’s healed his lying problem and won’t misstep again. So, no more racing for Lance.

“Love is the Answer:”

Well, if love is the answer, then I guess there are no more questions to ask. That would be a pity. Curiosity, interest and asking the tough questions are also great forces for enormous change in our world. I hope we never stop questioning things, even if one of the many possible answers happens to be love.

“Yoga is forgiveness:”

Have you ever seen yoga defined as forgiveness in any of the yoga texts you’ve studied? I haven’t.

Now, why do I care about all this? You must be thinking I’m…unforgiving.

My concern centers on how yoga studio owners, yoga leaders and spiritual teachers respond to situations that negatively affect yoga and spirituality.

For example, when a yoga studio hosts a teacher who is a known liar or has abused his or her power, is it okay? One studio owner told me that she forgives all the “bad boys of yoga.”

Is it okay to have these “bad boys” in yoga? Should we even have “bad boys” or “bad girls” in yoga?

When, as leaders, teachers or yoga studio owners, do we stand up to protect students?

How hard is it for our role models (or in this case the bad boys of yoga) to follow a yama and niyama or two?

Forgiving too soon does not help these bad boys—nor does it give our students the respect they deserve. Simply forgiving and loving has too often become an excuse to disengage and not enter the dialogue that would be healthy for yoga.

There is a beautiful spectrum of attributes beyond love and forgiveness alone. Attributes such as discernment, integrity, ethics, protectiveness and values are just as important, if not more so, in the full scope of life.

I think we owe more to our students than to bypass thoughts, emotions and process by simply pardoning. I think we can still teach on compassion without inviting the bad boys back into the classroom.

As seekers, we show up in a vulnerable state—the potential to hurt students with false guidance (even in the name of love and forgiveness) is that much more possible.

I hope we will inform students about making their own choices.

I hope we can start to teach critical thinking in yoga and spirituality.

I hope we can do more than simply love and forgive.

I hope we can hold each other accountable to growth and being excellent, precisely because we’ve made mistakes in the past. Our students will appreciate it—and perhaps, in the process, we will find life richer than we imagined.

So the next time you see a post about forgiveness, remember this conversation and perhaps think twice about being so quick to hit “like.”


Like I’m not “Spiritual.” I just practice being a good person on Facebook.


Ed: Bryonie Wise


About Amy Ippoliti

Amy is a yoga teacher, writer, and philanthropist. She is known for her innovative methods to bridge the gap between ancient yoga wisdom and modern day life. Amy is a pioneer for advanced yoga education serving both students as well as fellow yoga teachers. She co-founded 90Monkeys.com, an online professional development school that has enhanced the skills of yoga teachers and studios in 43 countries around the globe. She has graced the covers of Yoga Journal and Fit Yoga Magazine and has been featured in Yoga International, Self, Origin Magazine, New York Magazine, Yogini Magazine (Japan), Allure (Korea), Elephant Journal, intent.com, and many more. Amy is a faculty member at the Omega Institute, Esalen and Kripalu. She is a regular presenter at the Yoga Journal Conferences, Omega Institute Conference, Wanderlust Festivals, and The Hanuman Festival. Since the age of 14 Amy has been a champion of all forms of eco-consciousness, animal conservation and more recent forays into marine conservation. Website: amyippoliti.com . Hang with Amy on Facebook: AmyIppolitiPage Talk to Amy on Twitter: @Amy-Ippoliti Pin with Amy on Pinterest and share your pics with her on Instagram.


87 Responses to “Why I’m Not Buying the Whole Forgiveness Trend in Yoga & Spirituality.”

  1. After reflecting on your well written and thought provoking piece on forgiveness for several days, let me be a lone voice offering another perspective, which only comes from my own experience…

    I do believe in the power of forgiveness, because it is transformational – for ourselves and for others. I believe in it, because it has the power to shift energy – both in ourselves and others as well. And I know that the practice of forgiveness has the power to heal.

    Forgiveness is a practice – like meditation – like yoga. Some of us are more attracted to Bhakti yoga and its practices. Others to Karma Yoga. Some to embodying the Yamas and Niyamas. Some of us will resonate with some practices more than others. Forgiveness is simply one tool in spiritual practice. It works. Let us not discount it's merits.

    During particularly challenging times in my life – one involving physical abuse, and others involving abuses of power and words – I went down to the river every day and did Metta practice. I also practiced forgiving all those that I had wronged – calling them by name. And, I practiced forgiving those I felt had wronged me. The most difficult practice however, was forgiving myself, especially as I tried to see the experiences through the eyes of the others, and realized I was not without fault. I did this every day for over two years.

    In time, I noticed my experience and feelings towards others had shifted. First subtly, then more dramatically. I could see them in a different light. Some of these relationships will never be healed on this earth plane because doors were shut by some – but in another realm – I feel they are. Other relationships, on the other hand were healed – and some became better than they were before. More balanced. More mature.

    I offer this respectfully, because I do believe there are many paths for us to evolve. This simply, was the one I chose after having read the story of Dipa Ma, a Buddhist nun. I was able to let go of hurt, and pain – and I know that in some instances it changed others as well. And, it was more spiritually satisfying for me than therapy was over the course of several years. Though I must admit, I did concurrently.

    Would I do it again? Absolutely! Was it easy? NOT!

    I did not do this practice to absolve anyone of wrongdoing. Neither am I saying others should not be held accountable for their wrongs. I simply wish to share that there is an inherent power in this practice.

  2. Sarah says:

    Forgive: yes, Forget: no

    Hit me once, you bad/Hit me twice, my bad

    It is about discernment as well as doing the deep introspective work to understand our triggers. Sometimes it's not about triggers, it's about boundary violations, or someone simply being an asshole and/ or a menace, that takes us back to discernment. Discernment is a form of power, and power creates success.

    Which klesha might be at work in them, and/or in you? Again, discernment.

    Should forgiveness be earned? This is a question for all, not just the yoga world. The answer of course is: "it depends "which brings us back to discernment.

    "There is no justice, only mercy, and damn little of that."

    Consider the role of compassion, use discernment and live on the edge of your comfort zone as you decide.

  3. Meg says:

    Thank you –Thank You –THANK YOU!

  4. Anna says:

    Thank you. I needed this.

  5. Darrin says:

    I disagree completely with the assertion that forgiveness must be earned. In fact, to say this is to miss the point entirely. As many people here have pointed out, forgiveness has nothing whatsoever to do with the other person and whether he or she has learned some kind of lesson, which is entirely outside of your control. What IS in your control is what to do with the resentment and anger that is most likely harming you and not the other person. As they say, being resentful is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.

  6. SorenVejby says:

    What you are talking about is headless forgiveness. What you basically want is to help them. And to help them is to guide them, just as the best teachers in your own rather than told you what to do, showed you what to do, and that made you change or develop new ideas. Aikido is often referred to as the Way of Peace or the Way of Forgiveness, because the experienced master guides people into a new understanding of a situation, hopefully making them see their flaws and ego for what it is and giving them the opportunity to forgive themselves and move forward to becoming a better, more loving person. Ahimsa also means nonviolence towards yourself. Guide people, help people, love people, forgive people, but only when you are ready. If you don’t take yourself into consideration, the people you forgive probably will not have learned anything and you are, by not beingin your core and honest to who and where you are, rather than helping others, hurting yourself. Open your heart and embrace all of who you are, not just the pleaser, who forgives, but also the hater, who bears a grudge. Avidya – seeing things as they are will make you move closer and closer to core decisions and making the right choices.

  7. Heather says:

    Your comments are well spoken and extremely valuable. Not only should the Institute of Yoga (as educators in this philosophy we have made Yoga an Institute in the America`s and Europe) teach critical thinking to its students, but so should we as parents, teachers, mentors and every other part of our society.
    Our very cues in Yoga `What do you notice?" in the asanas are intended to be carried through to every other aspect of our lives. This is the goal of Yoga: to increase self awareness, which of course eventually extends outwardly from the self. Questioning is part of the practice.

  8. TLC says:

    You are putting the perspective on the wrong person – forgiveness must be earned? Really? You must be a piece of work to live with and God help any kids you ever have. The act of forgiving has NOTHING to do with the other person – it's ABOUT YOU. I like what Anne Lamott says about forgiveness that I believe you could use:

    "Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die."

    Forgiveness is about letting go. When divorced couples do this the children get better and the parents are better able to co-parent. And really, you might just find, if you had to walk the path of the person who hurt you, that they were doing the best they could given how their life story has unfolded. The problem is that we think everyone is just like us, with the same backgrounds, the same experiences and the same way of looking at the world, which just isn't true and then we judge based on our experience.

    Just let it go. When you are lying on your death bed, or when you are finally told my the doctor that you are going to die (and this will come as it does for everyone) the slights and judgement that you''ve held on to will seem so petty and stupid and such an enormous waste of valuable time.

  9. Annapurna says:

    This one just doesn't sit right with me, a real case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Forgiveness may have become a 'buzz word' and most likely has been misrepresented, but there is no doubt in my mind that it is not only truly valuable, but a vital practise. As many have already pointed out, forgiveness is something that one does for oneself, to free oneself from one's own attachments and self destructive thoughts. It has nothing to do with condoning or allowing bad behaviour.
    Not to sound preachy, it is not wrong not to forgive, but it simply does not serve us.

  10. Brian says:

    Forgiveness: To give before. It is a timeless act. Well written and many salient points, Amy I. It seems as though what you feel is not well represented by the title of your article. Your very accurate message is underscored with anger (pain in disguise). It is clear you have been burned, even had you not declared it. I think you are still healing, which is to be expected. Thus, It sounds like you know too much, and, sadly, your well intentioned influence is reduced. The result? Your message is good, but you are still feeling the need to prove it. Regardless, thank you for not seeing things in an oversimplified way and bringing a valuable topic to light. 🙂

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