Yoga for the 21st Century: A Q&A with Ana Forrest

Ana Forrest is recognized worldwide as a pioneer in yoga and emotional healing. Born crippled, her own life trauma and experiences compelled her to create Forrest Yoga®. Her focus in Forrest Yoga is to guide students in the sacred exploration of truth, healing, and “the Great Mystery.” In this Q&A, she talks about the Forrest Yoga approach, the role of ceremony in teacher training, and how personal transformation is an essential part of becoming an authentic yoga teacher.

What principles, methods, and/or approaches make Forrest Yoga unique—particularly from the point of view of a teacher?

Forrest Yoga is for everyone who has a body. I’ve created a system of yoga for the 21st century, designed to meet the needs of people today. It’s for all ages, abilities, body types, and personality types. Many people have abdominal problems, constipation, poor assimilation of nutrients, low energy, depression, low-back pain, tension in the neck and shoulders, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, stress, emotional backlog archived in their cell tissue, delusions of not being “enough,” etc. Most importantly, many are disconnected from their Spirit. This creates a gaping emptiness inside.

I’ve created poses and ceremonies that help heal these issues. Jose Calarco (a medicine man and my husband) and I teach people how to use the tools of Forrest Yoga to move out numbness and connect to the rich spectrum of feeling, which includes your emotional body.

In Forrest Yoga, we hold poses for usually five to 10 breaths, depending on the kind of sequence. Here are some of the benefits:

  • You have time to connect to your breath and build skill in breathing into the areas that need to release entrapment and uptake new nourishment.
  • You build strength and vitality.
  • You really begin to feel the pose. You feel your body. You feel the workings of your mind. You have time to drink in the sweetness of the pose. For some of us, that is a whole new and wonderful experience.
  • You build kinesthetic intelligence. When you stay in the pose, the big muscle groups that you habitually rely on will tire. We coach you to track and turn on the non-dominant. You tap into new depths of strength. It’s empowering!
  • Sometimes your brain may tell you it’s time to quit. It’s not! Learning to ride the wave of intensity in a yoga pose, in a pain-free, struggle-free way serves you in every aspect of your life.
  • You build self-respect. We teach you to take responsibility for your own evolution, using Forrest Yoga—which includes setting an intent, honoring of First People and the Land we are teaching on, ancient and contemporary ceremonial music, prayer, invocation, and adventure—through fantastic, caring poses. You learn to live and love again.

How do you train teachers to become adept in the skill of sequencing? What understanding is required in order to hone this skill?

Practice! Each day of the training, our trainees experience what Forrest Yoga sequencing feels like in their own bodies. They learn kinesthetically what works and what doesn’t, and that each Forrest Yoga pose has a purpose. Our trainees practice their sequencing throughout the training. They receive feedback and get to evaluate their own sequences—for example, did it feel good? These are key steps in honing their sequencing skills.

You have said, “Beginning and advanced students are easy to teach (because they know they don't know anything). It is the intermediate students that are difficult because they think they know something.” How do you assist intermediate students to “unlearn” or realize that “they don’t know anything” so they can return to beginner’s mind?

One of the best ways for me to help them to become extraordinary teachers is to coach them to stop indulging in the stories they have about teaching or what they have learned. Our trainees are coached to re-deploy their energy and focus on what matters most. My teachers become inquisitive problem-solvers and learn not to be wedded to something “just because.” In Forrest Yoga, we go after what works.

What is the role of ceremony in your teacher training programs?

Our Forrest Yoga ceremonies are raw, rich, and primal. Jose and I weave together a powerful, beauty-filled experience from our mutual years of studying and practicing as healers, [drawing from] indigenous culture and love of nature. We use the ancient spiritual technology of “singing into the bones.” We use breath and intent to quest into the mystery inside, for the next level of healing and learning. That kind of empowering is tremendously fun!

Through ceremony, we help people to move from the ordinary into the extraordinary. My teacher trainees get to experience a number of ceremonies. Every morning in the Forrest Yoga teacher trainings, Jose leads a ceremony of music, song, invocation, and, where possible, a smoke ceremony. We create an arena for people to connect to their Spirit and feel the beauty of that unfold. Morning Ceremony powerfully sets up the intent for the practice and the day ahead.

In order to grow as a teacher, how important is it for students in your training to have a transformative experience?  

Jose and I have a saying: “Your personal transformation reshapes the cosmos.” Transformation is important—in your personal and professional life. People’s transformation shows up in many different ways—for some, in huge emotional releases; for others, in learning to breathe deeply while teaching. Jose and I cocreate a magical and safe arena for transformation. Our trainees get to work through their emotional and physical [stuff]. For teachers, that’s often the internal chatter that plays out in life as a lack of confidence, or arrogance, for example. The combination of our Spirit-touching ceremonies, a daily intent, the asana practice, the teaching practice, and the coaching teachers receive is a transformational treasure chest.

We’re invested in our trainees’ evolution. We equip our teachers with the tools to help them to become their magnificent authentic selves. Teaching from that place—authenticity and truth—is much more fulfilling for the teacher and inspiring and exciting for their students.

Our trainees also learn how to recognize and honor their wins every day. As they get more skillful at being nourished by their wins, they begin to heal the neediness within. That’s transformative! It makes them a more whole human being and therefore a more powerful teacher. As I say, “Evolve or die.”

Find out about teacher training with Ana Forrest and Jose Calarco at Kripalu.

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Ana Forrest is recognized worldwide as a pioneer in yoga and emotional healing and creator of Forrest Yoga®. She is a contributing expert to Yoga Journal and other national wellness publications.

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