The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur hold the expectation for us to change our lives for the better. Forgiving others, and forgiving ourselves, is a major trend in the transformative process of the Days of Awe. The Rambam in “Shemoneh Perakim” very clearly illustrates that changes in our physical health would be obvious to the rational person, and that we could continuously commit ourselves to those changes as long as our intentions were pure. Having pure intentions for our physical health should be rooted in G-d’s moral prerogative, he continues, a cornerstone to piety and a paramount achievement.
Medical studies have actually pointed out that our ability to forgive translates into better health in our own lives. Forgiving others has been shown to reduce high blood pressure, stress, and angry flare-ups. Holding on to the bitterness sends signals into the body that generate hormones like cortisol that almost compel you to deal with a difficult conflict. Moving past the issue and forgiving the other person won’t fire up the heart rate and signal the brain to fire up the body’s energy systems.
Another benefit of learning to forgive, especially forgiving ourselves, is in reducing chronic pain or weight gain. The longer one keeps up angry, negative thoughts, the more difficult it is for the body to deal with the effects, namely all of the tight muscles preparing the body for a perceived fight. The thought that we are in peril tightens the muscles, and extended time under contraction can cause spasm and long-term pain, especially low back pain. Eating is another response to anger because it helps lower the cortisol levels in the blood. Chronic anger could equal chronic over-eating to reduce tension in the body.
One final point about forgiveness and our health: Forgiveness allows us to better connect to other people and to our environment. Less stress means being able to better appreciate the things and people in our lives, and helps us better adapt for change. It curbs the anxious feeling that we’re somehow at this on our own, when we really are surrounded by like-minded friends who want us to succeed, and they succeed with us.
The Rambam offers the rational recipe for success in achieving change. The better we understand how holding onto negativity adversely affects us, the more likely we are to forgive in order to make good health choices for ourselves. The better we feel, the more connected we will feel. The feeling of belonging and connection should help us through this year’s Days of Awe.
By Justin Walls
Justin Walls is an American College of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer with several specializations. He also has expertise in lifestyle/health management and meal planning, and a background in psychology. Learn more at justinwallsfitness.com.