a yoga teacher out of the ordinary
Heres my first impression when I met Ana Forrest in 2005 at a yoga workshop in St. Helena, CA: FIERCE. I gathered with 75 other yogis, mat-to-mat, in a hot studio as Ana cajoled us to clear the junk, the stuck emotional debris, which hardens us and ultimately sickens the body.
My companion at the workshop was having a migraine and sat on the sidelines. I took a break to check in with her (I’m a gynecologist and occasionally help with such things). While whispering in her ear as quietly as I could, Ana Forrest walked up to me and hissed, “Stop the chat!”
Fierce, indeed. I wanted to smack her. But as I softened to her often-abrasive style, I got her message loud and clear: this isn’t the prettified love-fest of yoga. This is Fierce Medicine. She isn’t here to hold your hand. Ana Forrest will figuratively smack some sense into you. Listen up; pay attention to every cell. No hiding allowed behind the persona! Get conscious, not the sanitized version but the one BIG version, large enough to hold the ugly and hidden truths, the fears and reasons I go numb. We all have them.
Why is Ana so fierce?
As she describes, Abuse got her drinking alcohol by age 4, pot and pills a few years later, migraines, bulimia, and epilepsy. Physical abuse, horrible sexual abuse, plus some vague mention of prostitution. She’s not your typical yogi, but Ana has found great solace in sharing her dark truths and is a holder of the container for our shadow sides. She doesn’t care if you’re seeking a Christy Turlington butt, or more ambitiously, relief from ferocious addiction. Shes got fierce medicine for us all. Her version of 12-Step? The Sun Salutations. Twelve salutes to your True Self.
I’ve followed her practices. They are incredible and unlike anything out there yogically. Heres why they captivate me, as both a doctor board-certified in all things that can go wrong with the female body and as a yoga teacher.
What’s different about Ana Forrest’s teaching?
Putting my doctor hat on for a minute. Ana teaches very long, consistent breath patterns. Not just what you learn in Ashtanga and vinyasa, the prolonged Ujayii pranayama and hold of the bandhas. I’m sure Ujayii and Bandhas work well for many of you, but as a female of a certain age, they just feel so male to me. Why would I want to hold my pelvic floor in a tight position for 90 minutes?
Why does that make sense? Range of motion is what I’m interested in, and Ana Forrest’s practices of kriyas, such as Agni Sara and Uddiyana, captivate me. They help me dig deeper and explore the energy flow on a level I’ve not found in other practices. Kriyas, described by Julia Cameron of The Artists Way, as spiritual earthquakes, get me embodied and clear faster than any other spiritual practice I’ve encountered.
As a physician, what is particularly helpful and/or relevant about Ana’s story?
Two things. First, Ana’s path out of the disordered eating of bulimia provides a message for all of us who suffer from disordered eating. Ana healed her eating disorder, and I often refer my patients to her workshops to work on the fear, doubt, and insecurity that usually underlies our weirdnesses around food.
Second, Ana Forrest’s approach to addiction is profound and relevant. Not just for the addictions of hers that I’ve mentioned: to alcohol, drugs, food. But to the ways that we try to numb out from our pain. With being online. With overgiving. With over dieting.
A psychologist recently mentioned to a friend that online connection can fill a void left by a childhood trauma with an imperfect parent (Imperfect parent? Weren’t we all imperfectly parented?). Being online can appear to be the benevolent parent we always hoped for.
Newsflash: It doesn’t work that way. Get conscious of your habitual patterns, the ways you check out, and, as Ana says, “disobey the dictates of your conditioning.” Learn why you check out and how, and change it.
What else is Ana’s original contribution?
Here, I’ll donate my doctor/yoga teacher combo hat.
Ana helped me reclaim my body after two kids. I can’t express sufficiently my gratitude. I have had searing insights in her workshops after kids. Lying on the mat, preparing for one particular arm balance (in her workshop that she aptly titles, “Gravity Surfing”), a small feather floated onto my eco mat.
I stared at the feather, thought about my recent childbirth, and decoded the message, “Don’t take yourself so damn seriously! Light as a feather. Feel it, find it.” Up I went into a complicated arm balance that previously eluded me.
Another important contribution: Ana Forrest is keen on unlocking your chronically stuck spots. For most of us, that’s neck, shoulders, and hips. Her warrior shoulder shrugs? Genius. Neck release? Incredible. Lunge at the wall? Crazy good.
Bad back? Ana Forrest’s sequencing for releasing the low back is not found elsewhere. She tasks you with incredibly hard abdominal work, then a back-bending series, followed by innovations such as cobra push-ups and back release. She gets me more deeply in traction and release than any other teacher, and I’ve had my share of great teachers.
Most of all, Ana Forrest has a sacred gift for metabolizing ancient wisdom, that of medicine women and shamans, and offering them up in a package that serves us in 2011. She makes the sometimes musty ideas of the Vedas and Native America relevant and fresh.
Fierce, Ana. Thank you.
Check out this 30 minute beginner’s yoga class by Ana Forrest below.
Ana now lives in Washington’s Orcas Island when she is not traveling the world teaching workshops.