Wind Horse Conference! PS: I’m Scared


It’s hard for me to believe that it is mere days before I leave for the Wind Horse Conference, the first ever Forrest Yoga conference. I’m going to get to meet up with old friends, connect with many people who I’ve only heard of or met online, and take classes with senior teachers that I’ve always wanted to learn from. It’s amazing and I am excited.

And I’m scared.

Perhaps it would be logical that I would be scared about all the yoga that I’m going to be doing: three 2-hour workshops a day. But after completing Ana’s foundation and advanced teacher training, this amount of yoga seems like small potatoes by comparison.

No, what has me scared is being around so many people all day, all evening, and all weekend long. Which doesn’t make much sense. After all, I’m a very outgoing person. I get really energized from being around people. Plus, I was around people all day in the aforementioned intense and rigorous 24-day foundation training. But here’s the difference: at the end of each training day, I could go home and be alone if I wanted to. At Wind Horse, there’s dinner and evening ceremonies each night. Everyone stays in the lodges. That means people are around me for a long time.

Even when I’m having a great time in social situations, there’s this rising sensation in me that is wary of having it go on too long.  At a certain point, part of me wants to go escape and be in a little hole all by myself. There’s my fear that if others were to be around me for too long they’d see right through to the real me. Then maybe no one would want me around. They’d be shaking their heads that they could ever have had such a false, favorable impression of me.

I realize how ridiculous a lot of this sounds as I put it in writing. Still it remains a very real fear in me. Since Forrest Yoga is all about facing up to what we fear, this conference is an opportunity to face up to what scares me.

While I was thinking about the conference, I got curious and looked into the Native American tale about the Wind Horse. It’s a beautiful story, but there was one part that struck a cord in me:

The Boy, who had no name, could not believe that this beautiful Horse would come to him as a friend. All his life he had lived alone, for with his bad leg no one wanted him. As he rode the wind on the horse, he could feel the good feeling that Wind Horse felt. It was as if he were whole and that he was with family.

It occurred to me that in spite of my fears, this beautiful Wind Horse, like the Wind Horse of legend, has come to me as a friend. I will be with family: the Forrest Yoga community. And I can feel the good feeling it is to be a part of it.

Tip Tuesday: Playing With Your Edge in 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.

The Edge (but not the edge in yoga)
Photo credit: (AP Photo/Robert E. Klein)

Frequently in yoga classes, an instructor will talk about “playing your edge” in a yoga pose. But what does this really mean?

A great explanation comes from yoga philosophy. In the Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, the second sutra says, “Sthira sukham asanam.” Loosely translated this means, “The posture [should be] steady and comfortable” (Translation: Georg Feuerstein). In yoga, you seek to find that juicy point in the pose where you’re making an effort and challenging yourself, but not pushing yourself beyond the edge of where the breath gets laborious and the pose becomes painful.

Playing your edge is a skill. We have the tendency to vacillate between both extremes: pushing ourselves too hard, sometimes to the point of injury or bailing out amidst a challenging pose. Mentally it can be tough to tell, especially when you’re habituated to either (or both) of these patterns.

One of the questions Ana Forrest received at the Yoga Journal Conference was: “How can you tell if you’re going deeper in a pose because you are embracing the challenge or if it’s just your ego wanting to push further? How do you know when you’re coming out of a pose because you’ve reached your edge or if you are merely avoiding the intensity?” Ana responded that is a process. “As you start getting in better touch with feeling into the body, you begin to discern the difference between where your brain wants to go and where your body thinks it should go. There will be some trial and error as you learn where you may go too far in a pose and tweaking and then you know that was too much or going out of a pose and realizing you were avoiding the intensity.”

So be edgy in your yoga practice. Be cutting edge. Just don’t “edge” your bets.

Yoga Journal Conference San Diego Day 3: Forrest Yoga Celebrate Your Practice

Image credit: Cleavland Groove via Yoga Journal

It’s amazing how the third day of getting up at 4:30 AM can start to feel normal. Today we prepared for the morning’s workshop: Celebrate Your Practice.

Backbends were the order of the day. Which meant many juicy lunges of more varieties than you thought were possible, getting into places in your thighs and hips you didn’t know existed. This being Forrest Yoga, you know there were also a lot of abs. Throughout the weekend, I got to meet several Forrest Yoga teachers and reconnect with a few folks that I knew from my teacher trainings. Having them in class only added to my enjoyment of being there to assist.

I was sad this was the last workshop as I felt like I was just starting to get into a groove with assisting. Just as in yoga, you are challenged as an assistant to move out of a place of thinking into a place of feeling. Ana caught me at one point getting caught up in thinking, hesitating as to what student to attend to next. “Put your hands on someone,” she said to me. That did the trick–from there on out, I felt very connected and moving more intuitively, sensing for where an assist would be helpful. I found it to be an ongoing process of keeping a wide perspective on the room, but at the same time narrowing your focus in on the more subtle details of a pose.

I learned a lot from assisting with Brian. Brian would calmly observe the room for a few moments, sense someone whose energy was blocked in some way and go in for the assist. He is a brilliant body worker and anatomist so it was instructive to watch him out of the corner of my eye as he worked with students. It’s a skill to be able to see and read the energy of students, not just whether or not their feet are in the right place (although that is important too). My ongoing intent is to tap into and continually strengthen the kind of energetic seeing of which Ana and Brian are so masterful.

Following my own seeing, I did a neck assist during savasana for a student who I had observed had a lot of tension in her neck. After class she came up to me and said, “I don’t know how you sensed what I needed, but my neck feels amazing. It feels so much better.” Needless to say, I left the workshop on a high note. Helping to facilitate an experience where people can find relief and even delight in their yoga practice, well, that’s something to celebrate.

 

 

 

Yoga Journal San Diego Conference Day 2: Revitalizing Arm Balances and Inversions

The inchworm only looks innocent
Image credit: http://nopsa.hiit.fi/

Saturday was a nonstop conference whirlwind! Right after the early AM practice, we were off to back-to-back workshops followed by Ana’s book signing.

The morning practice was rough for me. I can do some pretty advanced poses in my practice, but the class we did incorporated some of my most challenging poses. Ana introduced us to a new pose called inchworm. It was a pose that did not look like it should be that hard, and yet it left me frustrated and pissed off that I couldn’t do it. In some ways, my frustration was a good thing as it gave me an understanding of how students might be feeling when trying the pose.

Ana kicked things off with an Arm Balances and Inversions workshop that brought a packed room full of intermediate and some very advanced yogis itching for some serious arm balancing. They were not disappointed. Handstand straddle, scissors, and insect on a windshield, were among the poses making up the sweaty upside-down goodness. I enjoyed watching some very accomplished students moving into some beautiful poses. My favorite part was spotting a student up to handstand and helping another get the hang of twisting scissors pose.

And yes, Ana taught inchworm pose. My frustration came up again as Ana and the other assistant demoed the pose. “I should be able to demo this too,” I scolded myself. I observed many of the students, even those who were executing advanced inversions, struggling with inchworm.

Later Ana said something to the class that was almost as if she was speaking to me directly, “When you are shown advanced options of a pose, some of you may be going into internal dialogue of criticism and self-judgement. Can you choose not to go there and instead get fascinated by what version of the pose you can do?”

Revitalize Your Health and Well-Being was next up. Ana had students pick a spot in the body in need of revitalization as a place to focus on and brighten up through the practice. She led the class deep into the hips with poses like twisting shoelace, bird of paradise, and cross-bow. Students were pretty cooked (especially the ones that had been in class with Ana on Friday or in the first Sat. workshop). The challenge for me as an assistant was negotiating the right amount of push: encouraging students to stay with the pose and ride the breath through the intensity, but also honoring their limitations when they’d had enough.

Image credit: Cleavland Groove via Yoga Journal

Ana’s book signing was a success! In fact, she had to stop signing as they sold out of copies of her book, Fierce Medicine. I recognized a number students who’d been in one of the workshops in line to buy the book. After experiencing some fierce medicine firsthand, it was heartening to see them inspired to receive another big dose through the book.

 

Yoga Journal San Diego Day 1: Journey to the Core Forrest Yoga Intensive

I wake up with a start.

“Oh no!,” I yell.

My husband jerks awake. “What’s wrong?”

“Do you realize what time it is?,” I scream. By now the whole hotel was awake. “IT’S 8:30 AND I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE AT THE CONFERENCE AT 5:30! THE SESSION STARTS IN HALF AN HOUR.”

“But Megan, it’s Thursday. The conference is on Friday.”

Luckily that was my nervous Wednesday night dream and not the real beginning of my conference experience. I’m happy to report that I was not late nor did I wake up the good people staying at the Sheraton San Diego. I arrived at the conference for my 5:30 AM practice with Ana Forrest and the other assistant, Brian Campbell, one of the Forrest Yoga Guardian teachers from Los Angeles.

The purpose of the early morning practice session is for us to practice one of the workshop sequences Ana is teaching during the day. It gives us all a chance to have the class in our body and get a sense of what we’ll be assisting with (and thinking ahead to props the students might need, modifications for beginners, etc.). It’s also an opportunity for Ana to tweak the class plan as needed.

Friday’s workshop was an all-day intensive, “Journey to the Core”, that consisted of a long morning session and an afternoon session after a lunch break. The fun part of this format was that we had mostly the same students for both sessions and it was a smaller group than the shorter conference sessions. That meant we were able to get around to everyone and give people a lot more hands-on attention.

The morning workshop went deep into backbends with all varieties of lunges and deep core work. Backbends are rough. In Ana’s classes, you get in deep with intense poses that demand a lot of internal focus.  As such, it was hard at first for me to gauge how students were responding to my assists. However, I could see the impact the poses were having. Looking around you could visibly see people releasing all kinds of tension and emotions.

In the afternoon, the workshop delved into the hips. Folks were definitely feeling the earlier backbend class, but going upside down in downward dog at the wall and handstands brightened everyone right up.

I felt so incredibly proud of everyone. They all worked so hard in the practices. It felt so gratifying to be a part of their inward journey (or as one student put it, “an odyssey”) as a guide to help steady them along their path. One woman looked as if a lightbulb got turned on internally and she walked out of there radiating a new sparkle.

People were so receptive and grateful. So many students came up and thanked me afterwards and several even commented on how much they enjoyed my assists. My aforementioned gratification overflowed.

After the workshop, San Diego sunshine and water called out, so Ana suggested a walk out by the water. As we walked, it became apparent to me how much Ana really walks (pun intended) the talk. In Forrest Yoga, you are constantly redirecting your attention to feeling and paying attention to what is happening. On our walk, Ana often pointed out interesting things, be it the trees with branches like curling snakes or paper-like bark or the boat skeleton being erected near the marina.

I realized how often I blow right by little details of life sometimes because I am too wrapped up in thinking and not being focused on the here and now. The whole day for me was a good lesson in remembering that I want to be truly present in my life for all those cool moments: a student releasing tension, an amazing tree that makes you want to climb it, and taking in this challenging new assisting experience.

 

Yoga Journal San Diego Here I Come

Getting ready to head to Yoga Journal San Diego where I’ll be assisting Ana Forrest for her workshops. The up-side of the long car ride down there is that I don’t have to worry about packing light! There’s a lot of gear when there’s sweaty yoga going on!

The big things on my packing list:

  • 4 pairs tie-dyed yoga pants, plus 2 other pairs of yoga pants
  • Bright yoga tops
  • Mat
  • Strap
  • Block
  • Rolled-up mat
  • Large water bottle
  • Laptop (for blogging the event!)
  • Deodorant
  • Notebook & pen
  • Forrest Yoga Teacher Training Manual for reference
  • Awesome hubby willing to drive down with me AND shuttle me to conference in the wee hours. That’s love for ‘ya.

Stay tuned for more updates from San Diego!

Statues are for marble

“A pose without spirit is a statue”–Ana Forrest

How many times have you been in yoga class just hanging out in a pose, wondering when you will move to the next pose or how many minutes are left in class? When you’re going through life, do you feel like you’re going through the motions? Merely surviving instead of truly living?

I love this quote because it reminds me I don’t want to be a statue. Even if my spirit feels buried, I can re-connect to my breath and know that’s the first step to inviting my spirit and spark back in.

Image credit: 29cm

Get on your wind horse this August


If you’ve ever been to a class with Ana Forrest, you know it is not your typical yoga class.

The Wind Horse conference is not your typical yoga conference.

Wind Horse is the first-ever international Forrest Yoga conference. Held this year from August 17-20 at Snow Mountain Ranch, out in the Colorado Rockies (outside Denver, Colorado), the conference brings together Forrest Yoga teachers, students, or anyone just curious about yoga.

It’s a chance to take classes from the Forrest Yoga guardians. Guardians are a group of hand-selected individual teachers for whom Ana has chosen to carry on the Forrest Yoga lineage. Being a guardian takes a truly special person and involves no small amount of dedication, skill, and hard work. At the conference, you’ll be able to experience the teaching flavors of different guardians and see how they have infused the Forrest Yoga tradition with their own unique spirit and approach. If you want a little sneak preview of some of the good guardian stuff in store, go read guardian teacher, Erica Mather’s moving blog post on why you should attend.

Forrest Yoga incorporates many elements of Native American medicine and ceremony. Wind Horse offers the rare opportunity to experience Ana’s Native American Medicine brother and sister, the Native American Medicine chiefs, Alex Turtle and Chenoa Egawa who will be leading participants in ceremony.

So what does the name of the conference, “Wind Horse” mean? In Forrest Yoga terms, wind horse means riding your breath into vision quest and the great mystery of your self. In practical terms, that often means that moment in class where you think you can’t hold that dolphin pose any longer or you couldn’t possibly breathe any deeper and your mind and body both want to bail. It’s the point where your regular horse is physically and emotionally pooped and wants to retreat. That’s when you have to call upon the wind horse and ride it even when you think you can’t. It’s at those moments of intensity where you go deeper and crack open these areas in yourself you might not have even known you had.

Most conferences will tell you in their brochures and informational materials what to expect from the various sessions and what your take-aways will be. At Wind Horse, you only know that you will dive into and explore some powerful medicine. Beyond that, you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen or how it’s going to go. There’s no telling what surprises, challenges, or insights might surface for you. As Ana puts it, “I don’t know how it will work specifically for you, but it will work in a good way because that is how Good Medicine works. (PS, that is part of the juiciness and why it’s called a Great Mystery– we don’t know!)”

If you’re ready to dive into the Great Mystery that is Wind Horse, register away! Early bird registration ends May 31st. Check out further information on lodging, travel, scheduling, and other details here. You can also to join the Wind Horse Facebook group which is a great way to connect with other attendees, find lodging roommates, talk travel plans, etc.

Giddy Up Wind Horse!

Snow Mountain Ranch

Ana Forrest Intensives Day 3: Choosing Differently

Today was the third day of morning intensives with Ana. I’m happy to say this is the first day my cold has been significantly better, minus a few hacking fits and pile ‘o Kleenex beside my mat. I was relieved to be early today and was able to settle in a more relaxed state.

I loved that it worked out that by chance I was practicing alongside the other two teachers who teach yoga with me as part of the Lemonade program over at SF Juvenile Hall: Nora Dwyer and Sandy Till. We wished  we’d had a camera there to take a picture to show the boys our epic practice today.

Today’s theme was selecting an area in the body in need of attention to focus on for the duration of the practice. Ana related a teaching story about how in the practice she’d had some old feelings of hurt and . “So I let myself wallow in it for a good five minutes or so, she said. “Then I decided I needed to choose differently and consciously started breathing the feelings of love that I have in my life into my area.” While we all have our areas, be they emotional and/or physical, but Ana relayed the story to remind us that we always have the opportunity to choose another path. This is one of the key ways I find Forrest Yoga to be empowering: you really can choose to change your energy. It’s also heartening to know that I’m not alone in throwing myself a big pity party sometimes. Even someone as accomplished as Ana has her moments. The key difference I took away from this story is not that you’ll never get caught up in old baggage, but rather how fast you decide to get out of it and do something different.

The practice included a lot of fun arm balances including scissors, twisting scissors, twisting crow to twisting scissors, and titibhasana. Ana did an awe-inspiring demonstration of transitioning from titibhasana into astavakrakasana on both sides and back.

As the sweat poured and we began to move into the more advanced peak poses of the practice, I overheard Ana say to another student, “Yeah, you know you can flex right into that pose and balance, but can you breathe in the pose and really move some lines of energy out through the body?” Now Ana is known for having eyes in the back of her head in the way that she can see energy in a room, but I wonder if she knew that she could have just as easily been addressing that comment to me. Boy did this hit home for me. I’m naturally quite bendy and years of yoga practice and a propensity for arm balances has left me with some arm strength and ability to do a number of advanced poses. However, this was a new challenge. I started to approach the arm balances not as something to muscle into and glide out of perfectly just so I could have that mental satisfaction that I did it and could cross it off the mental checklist of Poses That I Should Always Be Able To Do Without Error. Instead, I concentrated a lot on set-up and getting into a pose, taking my time to get there (it helped that I had to stop periodically to blow my nose). Once I was there, I tried to focus on just breathing and staying there, reaching out through my legs, but not feeling like I “had” to do anything other than that.

And wouldn’t you know it. I held some balances today longer than I ever have. I even rocked some of that aforementioned gravity surfing from titibhasana to astavakrakasana and back on one side before falling and laughing as I attempted the other. Even though I’m sure I’ve done more hardcore arm balancing in a class before, this felt different. I wasn’t gripping my way through it mentally determined to hold it for a precise amount of time. Instead, I felt like a ray of energy, immersed in my breath and moving my body. For a few brief minutes, I was completely present in the flow of the practice.

Of course, choosing differently most of the time is a lot of work and often you’re having to out-shout the part of you that wants to just stay in the old ways of thinking and acting. Yet today I got a taste of the exhilaration that is also part of taking that other road.

 

Ana Forrest’s Comin’ to Town

My wonderful yoga teacher, Ana Forrest, is coming to the SF bay area, not once, not twice, but three times in January 2012! She’ll be at the SF Yoga Journal conference Jan. 12th-16th (if you don’t sign up for whole conference, you can drop-in to one of her workshops for $60). The wonderful Kristin (Kiki) Lovelace’s wonderful new studio in Berkeley, Innerstellar Yoga, will be hosting Ana’s workshop and book signing event on Thurs. Jan. 19th. Then from Jan. 23rd-27th, Ana will be at Namaste Yoga Grand Lake in Oakland for a continuing education training (you can sign up for just the morning intensives that are open to the public if you are not doing the full training).

While I was getting excited about getting to see Ana again, I got to thinking about her amazing seeing powers. She has this incredible way of seeing and feeling energy. Ana can be in the back corner of a room during class and still see someone towards the front not relaxing their neck. My awe and appreciation of Ana inspired the below song. Enjoy!

Ana Forrest’s Comin’ to Town (sung to the tune of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”)

You better watch out
You better not bail
Better not pout
I’m teling you why
Ana Forrest’s comin’ to town

She’s teaching some abs
And doin’ ’em twice
Gonna find out who’s [not] breathing or tight
Ana Forrest’s comin’ to town

With little foam blocks
And firmly rolled mats
Sweaty sweat sweat and poses with straps
Ana Forrest’s comin’ to town

With passion and strength
No coddle nor coo
Chanting and touch
Fierce medicine too
Ana Forrest’s comin’ to town

She sees you when you’re spacing
She knows when you’re not awake
She knows if you’re in struggle mode
So sparkle up for goodness sake!

SO…

You better watch out
You better not bail
Better not pout
I’m teling you why
Ana Forrest’s comin’ to town