Ana Forrest – Strength and Spirit
Complete Yoga had the wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with Ana Forrest, the legend behind the phenomenon that is Forrest Yoga, while on her workshop and book signing tour in South Africa late last year. More remarkable than the fierce, physical and breakthrough healing yoga practices that Ana trains and teaches, is the indomitable strength and spirit of her personal story and her passion for doing the work that she undoubtedly was born to do.
Here’s what Ana had to say…
CY: Welcome to South Africa… you have arrived at last! Why Africa Ana, why are you here and why now? What have your first impressions been so far?
A: My first impressions have been very mixed. I am feeling the land and, yes, it feels very responsive. I came here because Africa has been calling me and it’s only been this year that I was able to make it… but I am delighted to be here. I have always felt that there is work I can do here and so I have come to plant seeds in this place. When I am working where I know I can help, there is this magnetic pulling and I feel it here. There is something really important for me to learn here – I just don’t know what it is yet! All I know is I’m thrilled to be with the “wild ones”.
CY: You travel the world a lot. Is there Forrest Yoga in many countries in the world as a result?
A: Yes, I try to make it to as many countries and places as I am able to. My vision and spirit pledge is to “mend the hoop of the people around the world”. How I do this is by training teachers and giving them very specific techniques, so they too know how to pass the energy. They learn how to do hands-on healing, learn how to use the yoga poses to treat people’s injuries, how to help people with their sadness or their unbalanced emotions. Forrest yoga is not a mystery – if you do it, it works. These gifts that I teach I have honed from my soul. I want to keep giving the good medicine to people long after I am gone.
CY: You mentioned “mending the hoop of the people” in your book, Fierce Medicine too – what does it mean?
A: My spirit pledge is a very important part of my work. Not too long ago there was a Native American medicine man that was watching the people of his tribe destroying themselves. He said, “the hoop of the people has been broken”. We have come into insane times and “mending the hoop of the people” is about finding a new way of building hoops, where people can learn to live together in a good way without torturing, killing and harming each other.
CY: You have been practising yoga now for over 40 years. Do you feel the consciousness of the world has changed since then with respect to its approach to yoga?
A: Yes, I have been in this field close to 40 years and I’ve seen huge changes. There are some people who get so annoyed and say “oh yoga’s gone so commercial”, but I think it’s good – more people are hearing about yoga, people aren’t so scared of it. There is no conflict with religion anymore, which was the prevalent thing back in the day. It’s no conflict to commune with your body and find out what is true. We don’t need another religious organisation – we need the tools that will help us connect to our own spirit and to our own spirituality. Whether it’s from doing a sitting practice or a Native American practice or an African practice or going to a church, I don’t think it matters but if you’re doing these things and not making a connection, then there is something wrong. There is a sickness, a kind of spiritual bereftness and emptiness that so many of us have that leads us onto really terrible places. It’s like people are trying to fill a gaping hole where their spirit should be living. The first time a lot of people start thinking about their spirit is when they are dying and that’s a little late! We need to learn how to live with our spirit intact.
CY: Do you find a lot of people who come to yoga are searching for happiness?
A: I certainly came to yoga searching for something bigger than myself. Happiness wasn’t what I initially was going after. It just didn’t occur to me until, much later, someone asked me “what about joy?” and that began a whole different investigation for me into what I call pleasure, joy, contentment and delight. We need to “feed ourselves” that as part of our daily diet. That’s part of what I write about in Fierce Medicine - making yoga a part of the daily diet for the evolving soul.
CY: Why and how did you create Forrest Yoga?
A: Part of the reason why I created Forrest yoga is that I found traditional yoga practices were not helping me, they did something and there was value, but it didn’t touch the deep level anguish and misery that I was living in. Part of the beauty of turning my life around was that I created a yoga system – a system for anyone who wants to go on a quest, who wants to evolve and gain their vision for life. We need to choose to learn from what we are given, especially the difficult stuff.
CY: How is Forrest Yoga distinguishable from other types of yoga?
A: I have brought in the different tools that have made a difference in my life: therapy and ceremony tools that demand direct enquiry. I teach people how to think differently and how to feel intelligently. People think that we get all our knowledge from information, but that’s just one small part of it. Just feeling with our hands and feet is sometimes all that is required. I teach people to learn how to feel as part of their wisdom. I then teach them to bring the thinking and the feeling together and to take the conflict out of it.
CY: How does Forrest Yoga address meditation?
A: In every class I teach pranayama and setting an intention for practice. When you sit quietly in pranayama, you are building life force. When I teach people to sit, I am teaching them to do something in the sitting. I don’t bore the mind into shutting up, it doesn’t feel right for me. Learning how to fascinate the mind while doing the pose or doing the breathing, that is compelling.
CY: How would you describe the taste of yoga to people?
A: Every day is a different taste! It depends on what happened that day, I guess. The magic is that each day I do yoga I turn it into a learning experience and I will inevitably feel better after my practice. It’s amazing that we can shift and play with our energies and from there, move into a space of self-mastery. Some days I can wake up in pain and have a real shitty feeling, like so many do, but I know that when I get on the mat I can change it and that’s an amazing thing. I can reset a more true, honest place for myself instead of just being grounded “in my shit”. I can clear the smog. And sometimes I have to have a little tantrum anyways – then I say to myself, “I’ve got a few minutes to wallow in this space” and then I move on and change it.
CY: What is your personal yoga routine like?
A: It depends on my travel. My routine when I am teaching workshops is that every class is two and a half hours and my teaching team and I gather and we do the first class together ourselves. We set our intention so that our energy is full and so that we have a lot to give. Teaching by myself would be a burnout and it’s really easy to sacrifice my own practice for my mission and it’s one of the greatest challenges I’ve had to overcome. As I’ve become more in love with what I am doing, the lesson has been not to become “a sacrificial whore” for it. A lot of our teaching in our culture tells us that to sacrifice is a good thing but I think that is insane… literally. There is powerful way to give without being sacrificial. Feed yourself first and feed yourself during. When I teach people, I also teach them how to grow their energy in the process of teaching and not to spill it all out. You need to practice in a way that feeds you.
CY: Many people are familiar with the difficulties of your past. Have you healed from and transcended it and does it still define you?
A: I don’t use the word “transcending” as it implies that you’ve buried pain and built a platform on top of it. Yes, I have healed a tremendous amount but whenever I am faced with new challenges, my old stuff inevitably crops up. The part of ourselves that holds fearfulness is the part that we need to embrace.
CY: Do you teach people a lot about facing their fears?
A: I do, but more than that, I like to say, “don’t just face your fear… hunt it, go after it!” There are times when I still have nightmares from my past. But I’m not haunted by it as it’s not a daily part of my life anymore. Instead of beating myself up over it with the mentality that I’m supposed to be healed from it, “that I’m a teacher of teachers, blah, blah, blah”, which is a lie, if it comes up, I do something about it. Sometimes I still feel the scaring in my guts from my years of bulimia. A backbend will help me heal the scaring. I know that I have to continue to do my practice very consistently if I want to stay healed. When I discovered that I had a thyroid problem, I also discovered that I wasn’t really speaking – not about what was so important to me, the things that delighted my spirit or about love. I was a drug addict, an alcoholic and my mother sold me into prostitution when I was 12 – I could somehow say that stuff, but yet I wasn’t speaking about my love. I assumed that my actions would say it. I didn’t speak to my students about how much I loved them and so that was part of my healing – speaking that which was most precious to me.
CY: Yoga is obviously your passion and life’s work. What do you still hope to accomplish?
A: Yoga is one of the main places where I learn truth. I created Forrest yoga for very specific reasons – to address the spiritual bereftness, the stress levels, the back problems, neck injuries, brain problems, spinal, hamstring, knee injuries and immune system challenges. I am not afraid to feel other peoples’ pain, or the earth’s pain. I can’t solve all the world’s problems but there is something here I can contribute to. It’s better to ask, “What part of the world problems can I contribute to?” It makes it more workable and less disheartening. I lived through torture and while I need to monitor the amount of pain I take in, if I can help just one person connect to their spirit, then I feel I’ve made a difference. Teaching yoga is what I am here to do and that means training people to evolve. We have the capacity to destroy both ourselves and others (we have been doing a good job so far) and yet we also have this ability to “quantum leap”. I have this inherent belief that we can transform and evolve. There is true beauty, mystery and magic in this world!
By Angela Myers
Ana Forrest’s book Fierce Medicine is available for purchase from Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/Fierce-Medicine-Breakthrough-Practices-Ignite/dp/0061864242/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1334059415&sr=1-1