Talking Shop with Ana Forrest
Ana Forrest started doing yoga at the age of 14. These days, she travels extensively, teaching yoga as an integrated practice and sacred personal path. Though she lives in Los Angeles, home is on her land on Washington's Orcas Island, where she spent just six days this year.
Yoga Journal: Your teaching comes out of having struggled to get to where you are. You've had some injuries, right?
Ana Forrest: I used to be in constant pain, had frequent migraines, was epileptic, sexually and physically abused, and suicidal. I struggled with bulimia, drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Yoga saved my life and made me resourceful enough to look elsewhere. It got me to go into therapy and become a past life regression therapist.
Therapy taught me a way to track the terrors of the sexual abuse and physical violence by getting behind the pain curtains and recalling the story I couldn't remember. I often work with people who've been sexually abused and teach them that they can move out of despair and fear and find another way to live.
YJ: Do you do this in conjunction with yoga?
AF: Everybody that works with me in therapy must work with me in yoga. Yoga in conjunction with good therapy helped me get a handle on what was driving me insane. I learned to use yoga to work rage, pain, and struggle out of the tissues in my body where they were being stored. Yoga combined with very directed and intentional breathing brought life into areas of my body that were shut down.
YJ: Do you think you can do yoga and not do the deep emotional work you encourage with your students?
AF: There are people who come to class to feel good, and that's enough. Then there are people who are in pain and they want to get through it. There has to be this readiness to do that. But there is a point when you've cleared some space in your body and life and you have to take another level of responsibility, which is scary but sweet: What do you want to put there now that you've gotten rid of the toxic gunk? I teach people to move the gunk out and fill the spaces with magic and the mystery of aliveness. If you don't put the energy you want inside you in those spaces, they just fill up again with garbage.
YJ: How does asana practice facilitate emotional work?
AF: I look at my students, and I can see where energy is blocked. For example, for you, one of the places your energy gets bogged down is around the throat, C6, T1. If I were to work with you, I'd go after that in poses, maybe unleashing a memory of falling out of a tree or somehow injuring yourself.
YJ: I had a neck injury in 1992. Did you always have this sensitivity?
AF: No, I worked with Rosalyn Bruyere, a seer and hands-on healer. I listened to her and had the idea that seeing energy was like a muscle that we all have which has atrophied. So, I set about reawakening the ability to see.
YJ: Does having such sensitivity require you to work one-on-one with students?
AF: Well no, I work very intimately even in big groups. One of the things I talk about a lot is the "struggle syndrome." We are taught that putting up a struggle is the way to proceed. To me struggle-mode is like pouring out your energy and then trying to achieve some great deed but failing because all of your energy has been spent.
YJ: Can you give me an example?
AF: What's a hard pose for you?
YJ: Eka Pada Rajakapotasana I.
AF: The next time you're about to do this pose and your muscles tighten and flight or fight syndrome sets in, as soon as you want to pull away, wait for the next breath. Try taking your time and waiting for your body. Give it the breath support to release.
Otherwise your body is saying no, your mind is saying go, and it's a bit like cellular rape. Take the brave-hearted path, which is to go into it slower and respond appropriately instead of shutting your eyes and bolting.
YJ: How important is a sense of humor?
AF: I think it's crucial. I noticed in working with my spirit that I didn't get the message right away because I'm a very hardheaded woman. However, my spirit kept saying, "Romance me, delight me, I don't always want to be in battle."
Ana Forrest can be reached at the Forrest Yoga Circle in Santa Monica, California, at (310) 453-5252 or through www.forrestyoga.com.