Life Lessons in Hair Pulling & Day 2!

Pulling-your-hair-out-girlOne early morning in Ana Forrest’s recent intensives, Ana related a story about a young girl, the daughter of a friend of hers.

The little girl was screaming and screaming while pulling her hair with her hands. She continued to cry and yell and wasn’t making the connection that she was causing her own pain by yanking on her hair. So the girl got more and more upset and increasingly frustrated, still crying out in pain.

Ana paused at this point in the story. “Yeah, there’s a life lesson.”

Where I think our yoga practice comes into the story is becoming aware that we’re pulling our hair. We may still be yelling away, but slowly we start to make the connection that we are causing our own frustration and pain.

The next part of the story? We quit pulling our hair. Maybe not right away, but we start yanking less often and let go sooner. And maybe stick our tongue out about it.

***

Day 2 of Forrest Yoga Handstand 365: Badha konasana with penguin.

day2

 

What’s the Apex of Your Day?


“How do you do all you do: traveling all the time; spending so much time teaching workshops and teacher trainings, AND still stay connected to your spirit?”

This was the question posed by a student in one of Ana Forrest’s workshops during a brief question and answers session. Ana took a pause and a deep breath as she always does before responding:

Some people may wake up in the morning and just be excited to jump out of bed. I’m not one of them. So when I’m lying there still growly, I like to ask myself, “What’s the apex of my day? What is the important high point that gets motivated and out of bed in the morning?” Well, you guys [my students] are my apex. Teaching and training is part of my personal mission.

Not being a person who springs out of bed in the morning with a glow of optimism, I have now added a new ritual to my morning routine. Along with my usual turning the alarm off and wallowing in my deep desire to stay in bed, I’ve started asking myself this same question, “What is my apex today?” I’ve found in helps me focus in on what is really important to me. Yesterday my apex(es) were attending a morning yoga intensive alongside many yogis in their last weekend of teacher training and being as fully present as possible with my family during a funeral and reception. Sometimes my apex is coming up with juicy yoga sequences to try with my students or something as small as thinking of something funny I can email. Focusing on my apex also helps me get through the things I’m not always so thrilled about doing (like getting out of bed), but are necessary to experience the pinnacle of my day.

When I start the work day at my job, I find it’s also helpful for me to think about what the apex for my work that day is. Before I get sucked into email and pulled into different directions, I like to write down a few tasks that are most important for me to complete or put some time into so I’m clear where I need to focus my energy. Of course, sometimes priorities change, but starting with this written framework gives me a place to refer back to and re-align myself when I find myself spending time on smaller tasks that aren’t as important or don’t necessarily need to be done immediately.

But it’s also important to have an apex of your day (or at least a mini-apex) that is not just rewarding tasks or work you feel passionate about, but something that is truly for you. Maybe that’s spending twenty minutes reading a book. Or taking the time to pour your tea into a little tea pitcher or special mug. Even turning on your favorite music mix or putting on a scented lotion you enjoy are ways to add small peaks to different points of your day.

So what’s your apex for the day?

You Must Evolve : Assisting Ana Forrest at the Yoga Journal Conference SF

assisting
“And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?””
–Talking Heads “Once In a Lifetime”

There was a moment during one of Ana’s class sessions where I looked out at the room of a hundred students and wondered how I got here. I’d been a student in these sessions many times and now, here I was assisting! When I first took a workshop from Ana, I was in awe of the assistants and impressed with how much attention they gave to students. I never imagined that I’d be one of them–clearly someone must have made a mistake, right? I mean, me? Assisting?

Despite those nagging doubts, I felt so lucky to be there as art of a six-person team of assistants (with a seventh, my teacher Colleen, joining us on Saturday). San Francisco is a much bigger conference than San Diego (the first place I assisted Ana), so it was a different kind of energy working with a larger group of both students and assistants. This time around, I was a little less nervous because I knew what to expect, although I was still was apprehensive about wanting to do a good job and help make it an incredible class experience for the students.

The biggest challenge as an assistant is staying present and really tapping into the energy of the class. In the seat of an observing assistant, I had a number of insights about the weekend:

1) People are really stressed out. As a general rule, people are incredibly hard on themselves, even in a yoga practice. Tight necks were almost universal. Keeping a relaxed neck when you’re not used to doing so is really a challenge. I put a hand alongside the head of a few students and asked them to rest their head completely into my hand. Even then, it usually took a few more, “No, really let your head hang completely” before they really could let go. It touched me how powerful a single pose can be–even finding just one a moment of being free of pain or stress can be such a tremendous relief.

2) No one is off the hook. Everyone gets challenged in Forrest Yoga to push their edges. Several very obviously fit and experienced students came to the class with an air of confidence. These very same students were sweating away and struggling to stay with the intensity as the class wore on. Forrest Yoga has a way of humbling even the most advanced yogi. We assistants were not immune either. As we did the yoga practice in the early hours before the conference sessions, we encountered frustrations, corrections, and trying to get our brain around new poses and variations. As a result of my own struggles, I felt myself really empathizing with the challenges that the students of all abilities were experiencing, and feeling for how I could find that balance between supporting them, but also encouraging to stay with it and ride through the intensity.

3) Another key thing I’m learning to do is receive feedback. My first instinct when Ana (or other people who I really respect) say something critical to me is to immediately feel terrible and assume the worst: “Ana must think I’m screwing up right and left. She’ll probably never want me back as an assistant. Everyone else is probably wondering why I’m on this assisting team.” Instead, I’m working on having a different reaction. When I start to go into that immediate reaction, I’m trying to catch myself and take the feedback as what it is: part of the learning process. I try to put the feedback in it’s proper place. Ana told me to change something or not do something. Period. I can take that to improve instead of going down my usual spiral of doubt, shame, and assumptions, which not only isn’t helpful, but takes away from the kind of confident, attentive presence I need to be a good assistant.

4) Evolution isn’t optional. Ana is demanding of her students, mentors, assistants, and trainees alike. However, she is equally demanding of herself. Every time I practice with her, I notice a way she has refined her teaching, changed something, and/or added something new. She is continually evolving and refuses to settle for any of the rest of us not doing the same.

The weekend left me exhausted, but full of gratitude for the experience of being around a truly inspiring teacher, colleagues who I have tremendous respect for, and the roomfuls of courageous students willing to dive into Forrest Yoga with us.

Evolve On!

I Just Got in From the Yoga Journal SF Conference…

…and boy are my arms abs tired!
Whew! For the past three days, I’ve been assisting my teacher, Ana Forrest at the Yoga Journal Conference San Francisco. This was the second time I’ve gotten the opportunity to assist Ana (my first time assisting was this past July). Right now my brain is in the process of taking in the whole experience: learning new poses and assists, bonding with my fellow assistants, and the connections I made with students and friends, and of course, getting more pearls of wisdom from Ana. As my brain is also fuzzy from days of getting up before 4am for the conference, look for a more coherent recap of my amazing weekend soon.

Oh, and GO NINERS!

fyyj

Here I am with my two amazing friends and Forrest Yogis, Abbie and Sandy

Find Your Fire Song: Monday morning at Wind Horse Conference

On Saturday night at the conference, we didn’t have the planned fire circle. Our gathering had to be indoors due to fire safety conditions. No fire.

Except there was.

Alex and Chenoa gave the Forrest Yoga community a new song called, “Fire Song.” We didn’t have the words written down, but Alex and Chenoa patiently led us through the chant. Despite my wariness about chanting, I found the song to be beautiful and soothing in its rhythm and repetition. I was also deeply touched. In Native American tradition, songs are used as a means of identity and ceremony, but they are also gifts. To give a song is to give a piece of yourself.  Therefore, it is a high honor for the Forrest Yoga community to be gifted this chant.

Speaking of fire, there was plenty of it heating up at the Monday morning practice, the last part of the conference. We were a smaller group as many folks had to leave before then so we gathered in a smaller room. For what we lacked in numbers, we made up in energy. After a weekend of soaking up the yoga and community, I was juiced up and pumped for our last gathering. Ana reigned us in to settle down as she set intent: “Can you let yourself be enough? Can you allow yourself to delight in the pose and let that be enough?”

We moved into some, as Ana would say, “deep and exciting places” in the hips.  I had an absolute blast playing with all kinds of challenging poses from weather vane to road kill to a new pose Ana called, “Archaeopteryx.” Now I can’t pronounce it, but I was excited to actually rock out in this pose, which is a variation on yoga dandasana where you straighten the leg of the foot on the floor and move it around in a circle. I’m still in disbelief that I did it!

[Correction: Originally I had written this pose as Coelophysis. While also an early dinosaur, this is not the correct dinosaur inspiration for this pose.]

The icing on the cake was Alex and Chenoa joining us at the end of the practice for some final chants together. As we joined our voices in the fire song, it struck me how well this song fit with the overall theme of the weekend. Our first night introduced the fiery energy of the guardian teachers. Saturday’s theme was about bringing life to the areas of our bodies where we self-deprecate and dull our inner brightness. We stoked the fire on Sunday by exploring where we block off our gifts that we have to offer and re-kindled our spark.  With the blazing energy of the final practice, we ignited our community together in the joy of the practice. Finally, singing together we ended the ceremony and smoldered the coals, but we each had a match to take with us: the fire song.

As I sat on the plane home, I was filled with feelings. Happy anticipation to be back at home. Yet fearful about being back to the same work uncertainties and challenges.  As I felt a cloud of sadness start to dim my happy afterglow from the conference, I found myself humming the fire song.  The vibration soothed me and reminded me that even amidst the darkest feelings, there’s a powerful song I can connect to. I can breathe, hum to myself,  and let that be enough.

A Mighty Wind Horse Conference A-Blowin’: Sunday Reflections

What gifts do you have to offer the world?

It’s a worthwhile question to contemplate and one that Ana posed to us this morning: “What’s keeping you blocked off from sharing your gifts? If you notice you go into thinking that you don’t have anything worthwhile to offer or that you’re worthy enough of receiving love, can you recognize these thoughts as the lies they are?”

As we moved through the morning practice of backbends, we focused on connecting into what gift we have to give and working to remove the blockages that stand in the way of our doing so. Since I’ve been in a state of being confused on exactly what I want to achieve and have my career life look like, this was a helpful way for me to work on getting out of my default mode of feeling incompetent and hopeless. Instead, I started looking at how I can use confusion as a way of getting curious about what feels right in my life.

We did a lot of new variations of backbends with neck traction. I found that dropping my head back in many of these backbends felt great on my neck. Even though Ana was not cueing us to do so, I felt empowered to go with what felt good for my body as long as I wasn’t compromising my breath or my intention to do so. The backbends built to an apex of two strong poses for me: king and queen pigeon poses. It was empowering to me to feel successful and proud of the persistence and long work it took me in my practice to get to the full expression of these poses.

I was eagerly awaiting the afternoon sessions and they did not disappoint. The first session taught by Brian Campbell was on anatomy, bodywork, and yoga. We learned a number of different techniques for releasing the low back and hips. After a brief presentation and demo, Brian had us work in partners to practice a number of hands-on bodywork adjustments. Hands-on assists are the biggest challenge for me and I’m nervous about trying to replicate a move even after I’ve just watched a demo. However, Brian made it a comfortable environment for experimentation. “Anyone can do bodywork,” he said and encouraged us to have fun with it and meet our partner with the breath and explore what works in each other’s bodies. It helped me to explore with an understanding partner, both as a receiver and a giver of the assists.

Through Brian’s teaching, I truly got a sense of the parallels between bodywork and yoga. With an assist, you hook in with the hand and when you meet the first point of resistance, traction with the hands. Gradually you may be able to work in deeper as the body releases. The same is true in a yoga pose. You go into the pose to that edge of resistance, breathe there, and perhaps deepen into it as you release into the pose. Brian also pointed out how bodywork is a form of meditation. Rather than shutting off the mind or staying in the “thinking mind” that is scattered all over the place, bodywork focuses the mind by connecting in with another person in a beautiful way. Keeping this in mind helped keep the bodywork a learning and explorative process instead of a nerve-wracking, “am-I-doing-it-right” experience.

The second session of the afternoon was on empathing and seeing energy with Willow Ryan, Kelley Rush, and Suzi Zorbist. The three both have an engaging and playful style and good rapport with one another. First off, they explained that everyone is an empath, although we all have different strengths and ways we perceive energy. People tend to be very visual (“I see”), auditory (“I hear”), or kinesthetic (“I feel”) with how they empathy. We looked at the five different means of empathing (hands, eyes, inner ears, heart, and overall sensing/empathing).

Some signs you might be very empathic: “Have you been told you’re too emotional or overly sensitive? Do you find you take on the feelings of others?” We explored ways of honing our empathing skills to strengthen the areas in which we aren’t as empathetic, yet at the same time, finding a way to use our empathing strengths as gifts without depleting ourselves in the process. For example, using your compassion and intuition to connect to a person, without taking on their feelings and emotional baggage. Through partner exercises, we practiced using empathing skills and then shared with our partner what we observed. “Even the best healer only gets it right about 70% of the time,” Kelley said. Empathing is not a perfect science, but it’s a way of practicing and refining our intuitive skills.”

I really related to Willow’s comment that often people who are sensitive to the emotions in an environment tend to close down and zone out as a response. Zoning out and going into “doing” mode is a common coping pattern of mine. A big part of my work in Forrest Yoga is to keep myself from spacing out and staying in my body and present in the moment. This workshop helped me to think about techniques that can help me strike a balance between keeping emotional boundaries without closing myself off to powerful emotions. Both sessions were good compliments to each other for exploring ways of focusing the mind on one of the most worthwhile focuses out there: connection with other people.

Speaking of connection, one of the observations my partner shared was that she sensed I was connecting big time this weekend. She was stunningly accurate. From hanging out with my roomie to chatting with new folks, to looking around a workshop room and being excited by the folks there who’d been in teacher trainings with me, I felt my fingers tingling with charges of connection.

And connection is what yoga is to me.

Windy Wind Horse Conference: Saturday Recap

Sometimes Ana makes these general comments to the class in workshops where it feels like she’s looking right into my brain. “How does she know?”, I wonder, when there’s a comment that feels directly exactly towards me.

Ana set the intention for the practice to have us select an area of the body to focus on for the morning practice. “Easy”, I thought. My right hip has been a bit tweaky lately. There’s my spot. Then Ana said, “If your hip is tight, but there’s an ache in your heart, your hip is not the thing you need to focus on.” So much for easy.

Breathing into my upper back and heart is an ongoing challenge for me. As we moved through the practice, Ana cued us to, “breathe into the spot where you self-deprecate and limit yourself.” Again, I wondered if she might be reading my mind.

The practice hit an apex head to ankle pose with an up-level to move into weather vane. I worked pretty deeply into the pose, so a few poses later when we went into savasana, my hip and lower back did not feel right. I took a laying down spinal twist and shifted around to try to ease it. Just then my mentor teacher and guardian, Colleen, gently eased me to stay still and she breathed with me. I focused on my area and sending the breath there and exhaling it down to my hip. Colleen stayed with me and I felt my back and hip easing. Flooded with gratitude, I left the practice with a new understanding about how that tight spot in my hip has some other origins.

Colleen in Twisted Weather Vane pose

My first afternoon workshop was some juicy arm balances with Catherine (Cat) Allen and Ann Hyde. I was expecting a sweat-fest of killer arm balances, but instead Cat and Ann really broke it down to the basics and we did a number of poses to help us engage the chest and arm muscles and the abs to work into arm balances versus just using momentum to muscle up into the full pose. We spotted each other in forearm balance and handstand. The point wasn’t to balance, which many people could do. Rather it was to sharpen our partnering skills. We practiced using a partner and a block under the foot to pike (not jump) up with one leg.

The block came into play again when we practiced eka pada bakasana by placing the block under the toes of the bent front knee and worked on hiking the hips up to lift the back leg. Cat and Ann also did a terrific job of explaining transitioning from eka pada bakasana into astavakrasana and turn signal into astavakrasana. For the first time, I feel like I really got the right form of turn signal. I came away with all kinds of information and tips for how to guide my students in many of the preparatory poses as well as the arm balances.

Cat Allen in Turn Signal

Heidi Sormaz’s workshop on sparking the desire to practice was my last workshop of the day. Heidi started with a loving-kindness meditation where we called up an image in our minds of something that fills you up with love and compassion. She gave an example of picturing a box of puppies with a, “take me home” sign, but invited us to use any imagery that worked for us (or change imagery if an image stopped working for us). “You are more likely to show up to the mat when you can work in away of self-caring. If you’re beating yourself up the whole time, you’re not going to want to be on the mat. The practice is about longevity: showing up on the mat and being okay with how you show up that day and trusting that you’ll continue to progress over time.”

We moved into a backbend practice loaded with poses that are likely to trigger you to mentally move into a place of suffering. Just as we were moving into the practice, nature intervened with an added challenge. It began raining, lightly at first, then pouring down all the while with the wind howling in the background. We were in an outdoor tent with astroturf on the floor so while we weren’t getting wet, it was very cold and a mic was brought in so Heidi’s voice didn’t have to compete with the wind.
I think this nature was having a good laugh at us because this could not fit in more perfectly with the theme. What do you do when circumstances are making you shy away from the mat? How do you not let yourself off the hook from practicing, yet still keep it from being a miserable experience? Can you say to yourself, “You poor thing, you’re cold. frustrated. How can this pose care for you”?

I was incredibly cold. I kicked myself for not having my fleece in my yoga bag and debated whether it was worth venturing out in the rain to grab it from my room. Arrow lunge felt agonizing. But I stayed. I kept breathing. Midway through the class, the rain stopped, the wind died down, and the tent began to warm up. Just as sadness, frustration, or whatever emotion it is can pass, so to can the rain. And we can breathe through it.

Top 10 Ana-isms from the Wind Horse Conference

Photo credit: Forrest Yoga

10. Forrest Yoga is about feeling

9. If you’re leg is quivering, congratulations! You’re moving energy.

8. Ask yourself, “What can I do in the pose? What part of this pose can I do?”

7. Yes, I said put the block on your crotch. Crotch, crotch, crotch

6. Those of you cranking your neck up to the ceiling, this is a particularly ugly ceiling to look at. Nothing to see here. Relax your neck

5. Don’t try to do it perfectly without a mistake because that would be a mistake

4. Many of us look for other people to do us. Learn to do yourself. You can take that however you like.

3. Some of you are using your neck to get in the pose. Good try, but wrong set of muscles

2. Re-shaping your mind is one of the best kinds of flexibility

1. When you are feeling like you aren’t enough, can you accept that for the mental racket it is? It’s just not true. Let where you are be enough.

 

You can check out some of my past Top 10 Ana-isms here and here.

Tip Tuesday: Where to Find Out More About Forrest Yoga

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

When students ask me more about Forrest Yoga, I share with them and usually them to the Forrest Yoga website for more information. It’s a good place to start to find out more about the Forrest Yoga mission, find local teachers and see upcoming events. In addition, there’s a ton of Forrest Yoga resources out there beyond this site. Here’s many that are worth checking out:

Forrest Yoga blogs

Friends of Forrest Yoga

Caroline Myss Caroline Myss is an author and healer who has written extensively on healing and energy medicine. Several of her books are on the Forrest Yoga teacher training reading list.

Alex Turtle and Chenoa Egawa: Native American teachers and musicians and friends of Ana Forrest. They have a CD of their music together and will have an upcoming video out soon.

Victoria Keen Designer of many a pair of Ana’s pants and a very nice person!

Videos and Interviews

Stalking Fear with Dr. Sara Gottfried and Ana Forrest A must-listen teleconference that combines Ana’s yoga and healing background with Dr. Gottfried‘s medical and holistic health background to give concrete tips for combating fear. Part 2 of the call covers Q & A.

Turbodog Yoga YouTube Channel Forrest Yoga senior teachers, Talya Ring and Steve Emmerman, owners of Turbodog Spirit Center in Chicago have a number of instructive (and sometimes playful) videos available.

Yoga Pages Podcast Interview with Ana in 2006 An older interview that I keep in my iPod when I’m in need of inspiration.

Riding into the Wind Horse Conference

Abbie is already inspired

There’s a certain kind of person who radiates an infectuous kind of aliveness.They can command a room and capture your attention with contagious enthusiasm. You probably know someone like this. Now imagine you had fifteen of these individuals all in one room rocking out. Imagine the kind of excited energy that would create.

That will give you a good sense of the amazing power coming at the conference attendees as we gathered together for the evening kickoff to the Wind Horse conference. Assembled in a large gymnasium with towering mountains around us, Ana welcomed us and introduced her staff and the stars of the conference: the thirteen (and two in training) guardian teachers. Forrest yoga guardian teachers are individuals that Ana has hand-selected to carry on the Forrest Yoga lineage. These teachers are committed to mentoring, teaching, and evolving the practice of Forrest Yoga. While Ana is teaching morning classes at the conference, the spotlight is on the guardian teachers who will be teaching their own workshops. I’m eager too experience how this very diverse group of practitioners have their own interpretation of Forrest Yoga. The guardians made dramatic entrances, striking all kinds of joyous yoga poses as they were presented.

Ana’s medicine brother and sister, Alex Turtle and Chenoa Egawa, both Native American healers, are also playing a key role in the conference, leading evening ceremony gatherings. Tonight they led us in two different chants. The first chant involved a lot of drumming and everyone getting up and dancing around. Frequently this was interrupted by hugging and loud exclamations as people recognized and embraced people they knew. I ran into a handful of people from my teacher trainings, as well as a whole contingent of folks from the bay area.

Now to the uninitiated, these whole proceedings may seem a bit cult-like. I admit the first time drums came out at a Forrest workshop, I squirmed uncomfortably and hoped the yoga part was coming soon. And I’m still not totally into the ceremony thing. What I DO get out of it is that free sense to just let loose a little in a safe space with others who are trying to break free from wondering how silly they look and sound. Chenoa reminded us that while we might feel self-conscious aboiut singing if we don’t have much singing ability, in Native American tradition, it’s taught that everyone has a voice to sing. So off-key and all, I joined in the celebration.

I am fortunate enough to be traveling with and rooooming with the awesome Abbie, aka A Grateful Yogi. We will both be to live-blogging more from the conference, so be sure to check out her dispatches as well as further beauty reports . This is the Penguin signing off.

Me and my awesome roomie and fellow blogger, Abbie