Ana Forrest has not had an easy life: Sexually abused and sold into prostitution as a child, she's suffered from bulimia, alcoholism, and grand mal epilepsy. And yet, after 32 years of being a yogi, she proclaims herself delighted with life. It's no wonder: When she's not teaching at her studio, Forrest Yoga Institute in Santa Monica, California, she's traveling the world or "hanging with eagles and ducks and snakes" and with her husband, yoga teacher Jonathan Bowra, on 30 acres of wilderness on Orcas Island, Washington.
You were introduced to yoga when you were 14—how did it change your life?
I was into a lot of painful behaviors—smoking, alcohol. When I ended chemicals, I went bulimic. Yoga and Native American healing work gave me a purpose and the tools to make something out of my life, because I was on such a fast track to destruction.
How does shamanism affect your practice?
I lived for five and a half years on the reservation in Inchelium, Washington. One day, I was in a ceremony when I had a beautiful vision of standing with my feet planted in the earth, my arms up, and rainbows coming out of my hands and feet circling around the earth. I realized that I needed to go around the world, not be in one place; I had to do my part in healing all the people that form this beautiful hoop.
And how does that vision translate to the physical practice of yoga?
Learning how to move energy in your life. When there's pain, there's usually energy clogged up there, and if you learn how to unclog that with breathing, you learn to move your pain.
People rave about the demonstrations you perform at yoga conferences. What made you start doing them?
To inspire people. In class you practice a lot of basic poses—Triangle, Warrior—but there's a whole other realm that has beauty and magic and is doable. Yoga has given me this miraculous life, and the demos give back, like spreading magic dust. I'll have my foot behind my head and just send it out.
What's in your fridge?
Elk, buffalo. I'm so not a vegetarian anymore! Pretty much everything that you eat as a veggie I'm allergic to. My real loyalty is to the truth, and the truth is that I prosper on meat. When I was healing from bulimia, I would pray over my food and I still do. Whether it is a piece of broccoli or a deer, I give thanks that it has given its life so that I can live.
Did you kill the elk yourself?
We hunted rabbit and elk and deer on the reservation. It felt correct. I was never a grazer. I've always been a predator. When I teach I have that energy too. I teach my students how to stalk what's inside and go after it.
There's been a lot of violence in your life, and yet you still have a sense of humor.
I have a lot of love in my life and that's so remarkable, because I had none for so long. I have a reason for being here, and I'm wealthy in things that matter to the soul. Would I have had the impulse to find out what truly matters if I hadn't had that beginning? I don't know. But the road I've traveled has put me where I am now, and my life is miraculous.
Janelle Brown is a freelance journalist living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Self, and Salon.