Asana: People often talk about your youth which was a nightmare of drugs and sexual abuse. Do you mind being constantly reminded of this trauma?
Ana: I use the difficult experiences of my life and the healing of them as teaching stories. Whenever my stories illuminate possible actions for healing, then it reaffirms to me, the importance of speaking so personally about taking the healing steps through hell.
Asana: How did you discover yoga? Is Forrest Yoga derived from various lineages to become what it is today?
Ana: When I was about 13, a girl named Robin Smith came up to me at school and challenged me, declaring, “I have something you can’t do.” Robin was a short kid, softspoken, pale and a little overweight. Meantime I was a really tough kid, so I looked her over and muttered “Sure, right, that’s impossible.” I tamped down a cigarette, lit it, and asked “Yeah, what?” Robin said “Yoga. Want to go to class with me?”
To this day, I don’t know why Robin approached me; I think it was a nudge from what the Native Americans call the Sacred Ones. Robin took me to my first yoga class and it completely shocked me. I wasn’t good at it, it was difficult for me, but there was something there that drew me in — that tapped a deep craving.
I’ve practised and studied many styles of yoga all over the world, but some things just didn’t feel good in my body. So, I started to experiment, change things, feel for what worked. I created many new poses and intelligent sequencing in Forrest Yoga. My research and work with thousands of students documented what poses consistently healed my injuries and the injuries and traumas of those who came to me for help. That combined with my Native American Medicine, healing and Ceremony roots, hands on healing, and my experience in trauma therapy, is how Forrest Yoga evolved and continues to evolve. I’ve created a system of yoga for the 21st century and the needs of our people today.
Asana: Through your yoga style and teaching, you have been changing people’s lives. Looking back, what has been the biggest transformation for you? Do you feel that your teaching and perspective in life are constantly evolving?
Ana: There have been many transformations in my life, here are a few of the highlights:
One powerful moment — where I turned from being terrified, to stopping the monster — was when I caught my mother’s fist in mid swing. I realised that I could stop her. That action changed the violent dynamic from then on.
I once jumped off a cliff to end my suffering but impossibly didn’t die! Soon after, the next turning point was making my jump for life. I leaped into a yoga teacher training course, leaving behind the horse world (I was horse trainer), the drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and who I had been.
Another turning point was beginning to feel love for my students when I had no receptors for love at all. As I grew my receptors for love, my next step was cultivating personal relationships. I began to quest for what is love. Learning to love is one of my most advanced asanas … I am still learning new depths of that today.
I realised that my own healing— my moments of truth — could help others to deal with emotional and physical trauma … as well as teach them to quest into their own life adventure. That’s one of the reasons I wrote Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit.
A powerful gift that came from the many transformation points in my life is the ability to learn from anything. I stalk and hunt my damaging behaviours and re-train them (just like teaching a horse or student to re-train bad habits). Then, I re-focus my actions to align with my Spirit pledge of doing my part in Mending the Hoop of the People. That leads me to yet another turning point – to live my life in a way that makes me proud of myself. To choose actions that brighten, not dim, my Spirit.
Asana: Do you consider that you are now “walking free of pain” and “learning the art of truth speaking”?
Ana: Yes! Do I still have pain? Yes — and I am highly successful at freeing myself from that pain within an hour of concentrated breath and asana.
Truth speaking has many different levels. I first started by speaking the unspeakable. As that became more fluent, I delved in another layer and realised I wasn’t speaking what was most precious to me. That began a whole other education of truth speaking. I find my perception and expression of truth is part of my evolving process. I’m getting better at it all the time!
Asana: You have a strong practice to which many aspire. How often should one practise yoga to attain such standard?
Ana: One of the Forrest Yoga principles is getting skillful at stopping the internal judgement of what you think you “should’’ be doing versus what you can do or have the time to do. When you have a busy day that doesn’t allow a lot of time for yoga; the internal question to ask yourself is “what part of this can I do?” … and that would be the win. If you can’t do 90 minutes, what can you do? Half-an-hour? Ten minutes? Do that. And if you want significant benefits, put in the time.
I practise every day. My yoga is a way of exercising my Spirit in my body — embodying Spirit. I use my time on the mat as a way of clearing and turning on my own pharmacopeia, running good chemistry through my body, taking good care of myself and feeding my Spirit. I call it being the architect of my own pharmacopeia. I love that I have wonderful feelings coursing through my body every day because of Forrest Yoga. My practice gets my endorphins up, juices my joints, and nourishes my brain. My brain functions clearly and creatively after my yoga.
Asana: Is it correct that your overall emphasis is on breath work and core strengthening? Why are these so important?
Ana: Correct. I emphasise abdominal work, neck release and deep breathing for the following reasons: Abdominal work brings healing and toning to the digestive organs, heals the back and improves elimination of all old issues, digestive and emotional. Many cultures today are chronically constipated due to eating foods that the body does not digest. The food then sits in there and creates a toxic swamp that degrades the immune system and literally makes our thinking smoggy and cloudy.
Neck release, deep breathing and focus bring stress levels down. Learning to set an intent and focus on an area of the body that needs attention, retrains the brain from its chronic habit of scattered attention into a steady way of focusing. This diamond laser focus benefits everything you do, particularly any time you need to complete a project that you want to be proud of.
Asana: Having taught and trained so many around the world, what is your best advice for any yoga student?
Ana: Breathe deeply as you practise and live. Practise Forrest Yoga daily. Risk perceiving as much of the truth as you can encompass each day. Deliberately create experiences and moments where Beauty dances in your heart.
Asana: How important are props to you? Would you use yoga blocks, for instance, in a typical class? What is the benefit of Cat’s Paw?
Ana: In Forrest Yoga, we frequently use a rolled-up mat, strap and block. The rolled-up mat is essential for many of my Forrest Yoga abdominals and for the Forrest Yoga therapeutic backbends.
Squeezing the block between the ankles, is great for turning on, strengthening and re-shaping the inner legs and feet.
The Strap is useful to hold onto when you can’t reach far enough to grab parts of your body and is terrific for certain backbends like Lunge Backbend with a Strap, Bow Over the Roll with a Strap, Dancer With a Strap, Pigeon Backbend with a Strap. Take a backbend class with me and you’ll get to experience these fabulous poses personally.
The Cat’s Paw is a clever and easy creation to strengthen and heal hand and wrist injuries. The directions of how to use it are printed right on it. [Editor: Readers may refer to www.forrestyoga. com (https://www.forrestyoga. com/store/#!/~/category/ id=1631373&offset=0&sort=normal) for more details.]
Asana: Do you notice any difference in the students’ practices and styles in the west and the east? Would you focus your teaching differently to cater for their needs, flexibility etc?
Ana: The kind of emotional issues that people face are similar across the globe. In the East, one of the difficulties our people face is breaking through their inhibitions; in particular, how to express emotionally. We coach our students to give themselves permission to develop healthy emotions — feeling them and expressing them honestly is one of the necessary steps.
I totally focus on teaching to my students’ needs. That’s one of the principles of Forrest Yoga.
Asana: We note that you have created some unique styles such as the practice of relaxing the neck and wrapping the shoulders. Do you sense resistance and how do you overcome that, if any?
Ana: When a student comes into conflict because I’m teaching them something new, I coach them to get fascinated with feeling for what is actually true — what actually works. Then, experiment with these new tools for the duration of the course or workshop. At the end, make a Warrior’s Choice based on the truth of what works, and not on a loyalty to a yoga system.
Asana: Are you a tough teacher? How difficult is it to become a Forrest Yoga Guardian? What are the basic qualifications?
Ana: I am a very compassionate teacher that advocates intensely for the student. One of the best ways for me to help people to become extraordinary humans and teachers, is to coach them to stop indulging in their bullshit. Next, re-deploy their focus on what matters most. For example, breathing deeply and feeling fully during practice. Then, take these Good Medicine tools into daily life. From there, the journey begins …
I have selected 15 Forrest Yoga Guardians across the globe. The Guardians pledge to protect and keep the legacy of Forrest Yoga alive long after I’m dead. There are many steps to becoming a Guardian. The first one is to become a competent and successful Forrest Yoga teacher. The other steps include completing all trainings, getting the Forrest Yoga Certification, taking the Mentorship Program, then assisting it. Our Guardians are in training for many years. The Forrest Yoga Guardians are gifted in coaching teachers. Guiding and helping Forrest Yoga teachers grow is one of their primary responsibilities.
Asana: We note from your calendar that you are constantly on the road – conducting teacher training, workshops, participating in yoga conferences etc. Do you get any breather? What keeps you going?
Ana: I have a personal pledge: To ignite my own inspiration and do my work from there and not indulge boredom. What keeps me going is my inspiration to fulfill my Spirit Pledge in doing my part in Mending (Healing) the Hoop of the People. When I do my work, I make a difference. That inspires me to continue.
I have breaks after each teacher training course. I jump on my motorcycle and wander into the wilderness to refresh my Soul.
Asana: Many find Forrest Yoga “intense”. Would this reflect your lifestyle? What is fun to you?
Ana: Yes! We love that intense level of vibrancy and care. Every Forrest Yoga teacher is skillful at giving appropriate options to the student that embraces their level, challenges and injuries. We teach to feel fully — that’s very intense. We teach how to work in a way that is struggle free and healing, that takes a lot of focus. No matter what your level or life challenges, you will earn many wonderful gifts in Forrest Yoga.
The vibrancy of embodying Spirit is very much part of my lifestyle. I have dreams to fulfill. They take a lot of footwork. My life is fulfilling and rich beyond words.
What’s fun for me: Swimming in living water, riding my motorcycle, wandering in the wilderness with the Wild Ones, teaching in new countries, learning, delighting my Spirit, passionate sex with my Beloved.
Asana: You bring “fierce medicine” to your teaching. Do you apply to your own life too?
Ana: Absolutely! That is how I came up with these teachings. These are the tools that crafted the life I now live. I use the tools from Fierce Medicine on a daily basis.
Asana: Do you consider that you have achieved most of what you set out to do? Have you planned your journey?
Ana: I’m working on it! Mending the Hoop of the People and teaching my students to care enough to heal their own hoop, is a life work.
Among my plans for the future is to establish Forrest Yoga teachers in every country. Years from now, I hope to be somewhere on this planet — alive, in love, wandering in the wilderness and teaching passionately. Though I also have a fantasy about teaching in space! I would love to work with the astronauts who spend long periods of time in Zero Gravity. I am confident that I can develop a Forrest Yoga programme that would help them sustain their blood, muscle and bone mass.
Asana: What are your immediate plans and long-term aspirations?
Ana: As mentioned. My journey is a co-creation between me and the Sacred Ones. My plans are only part of the tapestry. Magic and Medicine weave freely through my journey.
Asana: Are you planning your next major project?
Ana: Yes. I’m planning a number of them. Stay tuned-in!
Asana: What are your priorities in life eg teaching, practice?
Ana: Here are a few of my priorities:
• Establish Forrest Yoga in the river of humanity, as a healing element of change and transformation for seven generations into the future.
• Teach my students (and embody) deepening our relationship to our Spirit.
• Entice my students into building Good Medicine relationship with Earth, Sky and the Sacred Ones.
• Use my practice to fulfill my needs … of healing, adventure, delight and Vision Quest.
• To spread the sparkle of Good Medicine everywhere I go.
Forrest Yoga is renowned as an intensely physical and internally focused practice. Naturally, one might expect the creator could be “intense and fierce”! Ana may have a tough outlook, yet she is a compassionate teacher. It is clear that she aims to inspire her students to go deeper to find the truth, encourage them to carry such transformative experience off the mat and into daily life. Asana is grateful for Ana to talk to us amidst her busy schedule to share her wisdom.