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

“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!

Do You Know Your Forrest Yoga ABCs?

abcsIt’s an altogether different kind of alphabet…

A is for Abs, naturally. A is also for “always”, as in, “Abs are always in a Forrest Yoga class.”

B is for Breath. Hands down, the most important part.

C is for Crotch, crotch, crotch. Yes, Forrest Yoga will say the word “crotch”. Yoga is about another C-word: connection. You connect to all parts of your body. That includes the crotch. So get over the shock of that word in a yoga class. Crotch, crotch, crotch.

D is for Deeper. You will go deeper into yourself and poses than you ever thought possible.

E is for Evolution. Not evolving is not an option in Forrest Yoga.

Fierce MedicineF is for Fierce Medicine. It’s what Ana delivers and it’s the title of her book. If you haven’t read it yet, now is the time.

G is for gravity surfing. You’ll know why you do all those abs when you can start doing some awesome arm balancing action from one pose to another.

H is for Healing. It doesn’t matter if your injury is a strained hamstring or a broken heart; you can use Forrest Yoga in the healing process.

I is for Intensity. Because breakthroughs don’t come from lying around. It takes intensity to move through issues in the body.

J is for Juicy. ‘Nuff said.

K is for Kick-Ass sequences. One of the major ways Forrest Yoga is unique is in its sequence which is designed to strengthen, heal, and delight.

L is for Lance Dodger. Have you met him?

M is for Mending the Hoop of the People This is the mission behind Forrest Yoga and Ana’s work.

N is for Native American spirituality. Forrest Yoga has deep roots in Native American spirituality and medicine.

O is for Opening Up. Tight areas of the body will open up and so will your heart.

P is for Paying Attention. The hardest part of the practice is it demands that you pay attention and be present in feeling.

Q is for Quantum Leap. When you stay with the work, these have a way of appearing.

R is for Rolled-Up mat. An essential Forrest Yoga prop that will surprise you. Who knew a mere roll could add so much intensity?

S is for Spirit. Yes, S is for strength and stamina, but way more important is a central pillar of Forrest Yoga: connecting to your spirit.

T is for Tie-Dye pants. An unofficial Forrest Yoga prop. You can usually spot a Forrest Yoga teacher by the tie-dye pants.

U is for Up=level. Just when you didn’t think there was another way to bring a pose to the next level, Ana pulls out yet another way to up-level.

V is for Victoria Keen. Victoria’s clothes are also becoming unofficial Forrest Yoga attire (I like that she has small sizes and the pronunciation of her last name).

windhorseW is for Wind Horse. Wind Horse is the annual Forrest Yoga conference, now in its second year.

X is for X-ray eyes. Ana is incredibly skilled in seeing energy. Take some classes with her and you will likely be wondering if she does indeed have x-ray eyes with what she can perceive.

Y is for Yowl. This is maybe the only type of yoga in which I’ve been encouraged to howl away in unison. It’s amazing what you can let go of when you yowl away.

Z is for Zero chance. As in, “There is zero chance you won’t be challenged and changed by Forrest Yoga.”

Now you know your Forrest Yoga ABCs, next time, I hope you’ll practice with me (in spirit, if not in person).


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!


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

Back to the Blog








But I’m back to blogging! There’s been a lot of changes for me in the past few months.

To back up a bit, a little over a year ago, I left a full-time job as an online community manager. I wanted to focus on teaching yoga, but was fairly sure yoga teaching wasn’t the only thing I wanted to do career-wise.

It’s been a great experience as far as deepening my teaching and growing a base of amazing students. Still, I also missed doing the online community work that I used to do and quickly discovered that I like having the structure and regularity that comes with a full-time, salaried job.

I was in the middle of the interviewing for a couple of non-yoga jobs when my husband and I left on Thanksgiving for a two-week cruise through the Panama Canal. There’s much more to be said about this fabulous vacation, but one wonderful part about it was that we were offline for the most part, with no cell access nor internet access (well, except for 75-cents-a-minute for what access might be there in the middle of the ocean). Unplugging is important to do from time to time.  But I digress.

I had an second interview mid-trip on one of the days we were in port. When our boat docked in Floria early on a Friday morning and I had internet access again, I came online to a job offer and was on a plane to Portland for training the next week. So it was quite the whirlwind. The universe can have a wonderful sense of humor when it comes to bringing you change.

Thus far, I am loving the work. I work for a nonprofit organization I’ve long admired and respected. I’m back working with a similar group of constituents and have been blown away by the warm welcome I’ve had from many people I know in this network. Best of all, I get to work remotely and have some flexibility with my hours which means I’m able to keep teaching away.

Right now, I’m still teaching a lot with a number of privates and group classes a week, so it’s busy and I’m juggling a bit to get into a routine with it all. That said, I’m loving it. Perhaps what I love most of all is teaching. I’ve re-discovered the joy teaching brings me. Now that it’s not the only thing I’m doing, I find myself excited again about coming up with juicy sequencing and exploring new assists. It feels like the best of both careers.

It took me a long time to get to writing this blog post. To be honest, I’ve been scared to talk about my new job and situation because I’m afraid: “What if it doesn’t work out? What if I blog about being happy about things are coming together so well and it all goes to hell?”

Ironically enough, as much as my fear makes me want to hide and not make a big deal out of things, I have two careers that are very public and require that I put myself out there, be it online or in front of a class of people. I can’t be hiding behind a curtain waiting for the other shoe to drop. What is a blog for if I can’t also be honest and put my truth out in words?

There’s a lot of stories out there about yoga teachers finding their path to teaching from another job. It may seem odd to find one’s path by taking a step back away from teaching, but that’s the way I’m finding my way and weaving my two careers together.

AND…I’m happy to be back to blogging and bringing in the beauty reports to come in 2013!

Tip Tuesday: What Yoga Videos Do You Recommend?

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.

Occasionally I get questions asking for yoga video recommendations. Some people may scorn videos as not being the same nor as good as being in a live yoga class. While videos aren’t a substitute for a live teacher, I think they are a fantastic alternative when a class might not be an option, time-wise, money-wise, or location-wise. Videos are also a good way to help you develop a home practice. They give you a place to start and once you get familiar with these sequences, you can do these on your own or weave them into your practice. I learned the Ashtanga yoga first series entirely from a video and practice manual before I ever went to an Ashtanga class.

Now there’s even more options available for video viewing. In addition to DVDs, there are a number of podcasts, vidcasts, and downloadable class mp3s and videos. Many are free, many are reasonably priced, considering that for the price of a regular yoga class, you can have a class to keep and practice at will. Netflix is also a great way to try out videos before you buy. I’ve test-driven a number of them this way.

Here’s the videos I usually recommend:

Ana Forrest’s The Pleasure of Strength is a great introduction to Forrest Yoga for beginners and intermediate students and includes a breakdown of the basic moves. Strength and Spirit is a slightly more challenging practice and also has an inspiring video of one of Ana’s yoga demos so you can see where all those abs might take you. Both are an hour so it makes it easier to work into a busy schedule. Ana also has a 5-CD set of advanced classes and class mp3s available. Most of these are much longer (two hours or more) and because you only have the audio and booklet, they can be much harder to follow along. I recommend these only if you’re a more experienced student and have some familiarity with Forrest Yoga. If that’s you, you’re in for some butt-kicking, juicy classes.

Yoga with Deborah Burkman is perfect for a beginning vinyasa practice with plenty of challenge, but also instruction so you’re not lost in the flow.  I also like Seane Corn for a deep, intermediate yoga flow.

Les Leventhal has a bunch of videos available on iTunes. Most cost a small amount, but you can save by buying a bundle of classes. There’s a few classes that are offered free so you can get the flavor of Les’ classes. They range in length, so I will often pull one out that works for the time I have available for practice. Most are all-levels, but offer plenty of advanced (and beginning) options.

Jason Crandell has a number of short helpful videos on Yoga Journal. They are accessible and useful for all levels. He also teaches weekly online classes through YogaGlo, though I have not tried any of these.

If you’ve got any favorites I missed, please share them in the comments.





Tip Tuesday: Yoga for the Holiday Season

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.

If the Christmas decorations in stores didn’t tip you off, the holiday season is officially upon us. I’m on pre-holiday holiday with my husband for a few weeks. So it seems like a good time for a round-up of Tip Tuesday tips, especially ones that can help you approach the season with a breath (well, lots of breath) of yoga serenity:

 3 Poses for When You’re Feeling Anxious

A Simple Way to Take Your Yoga Off the Mat

Getting Back to Yoga

Tip Tuesday: Reasons Why You Can’t Do Yoga De-Bunked

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.

A lot of people will ask me about yoga, express interest in trying yoga, but then have a reason for why there is no way they would be able to do it:

“I can’t do yoga because…

…I’m not flexible enough
This is like saying you can’t go to the gym to get into shape because you’re not in good enough shape. Yoga helps build flexibility; flexibility is not a prerequisite for practicing yoga. Props are there to help (and look around, you’ll hardly be the only person using them).

…Everyone will be looking at me
Ok, I know I just said “look around”, but honestly other students aren’t really paying attention to you. They’ll see you, they will see other people in the class, but they are focused on trying to do the poses, remembering to breathe, and maybe worrying how they look to other people. Chances are they won’t remember (or care) whether or not you balanced in crow pose. Unless you’re wearing some skintight booty shorts or other eye-catching attire, the teacher is the only one who’s likely to pay you much notice.

…the teacher will probably be correcting me the whole time
I used to take any kind of correction or adjustment by the instructor as a sign that I was doing the poses poorly and just wasn’t getting it at all. From practicing and teaching, I’ve learned to appreciate (and sometimes even love) adjustments. First off, if you’ve never done yoga before, you’re going to need some correction. You are not expected to get it immediately. There’s a reason people practice the same poses over and over–there is always something to learn and refine about a pose on any given day. Secondly, assists also can help give you resistance or a release that you can’t get by yourself. Finally, touch can be a powerful tool to bring you into your body and connect your breath to different areas of your body.

…I won’t be able to do the poses
There is always a version of a pose for everyone. It may not look like what everyone else is doing, but there is some version of the pose you can do. Even if a pose is out of the question because of an injury, there is always a related option to do that will give you similar benefits. In my advanced teacher training, even though we had a group of experienced teachers, you would often find at least five different variations on any given pose. People were always adapting the pose to accommodate physical ability, injuries, or other limitations so that practice was serving their needs.

…it’s not enough of a workout
There’s a stereotype about yoga class being a place where you just sit in lotus with your eyes closed chanting “Om”. While there are some gentle forms of yoga that don’t involve a lot of movement, let’s just say Forrest Yoga does not fall into that category. If you haven’t tried a Forrest Yoga class, I encourage you experience the sweat pouring out of you during the class and then assess if it’s giving you a workout.

“If you can breath you can do yoga.”
~David Beadle

Going Through the Motions









Recently I’ve been down in a dark hole. I struggle with depression on and off, but this was the lowest I’ve been in recent memory. “I know that I have wonderful people in my life and so many things to be grateful for and I am, so what’s my problem”, I will ask myself. Then I feel worse because I have no excuse to be so down in the dumps.

For me, being bummed out is a series of contradictions. I don’t want to go to sleep at night, yet don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I don’t want to do anything, but don’t want to not do anything because that will give me yet another reason to feel bad about myself. I want someone to reassure me that everything is okay, but I’m convinced that it isn’t. Being around people is the last thing I feel like doing, yet it’s when I’m with people that often I feel slightly better, even if it’s temporary.

The worst part is feeling like I’m just going through the motions of my life. There’s still work, responsibilities, and even basic behaviors like taking a shower and emptying the dishwasher. Yet I feel like I’m doing it all with a big cloud of sludge surrounding me.

This brings up another contradiction. I don’t want to be fake. It doesn’t seem very yogic. I don’t like putting on positive, cheery front, if that’s not being true to where I’m at. On the other hand, I still have to hold it together. If I’m leading a volunteer group or teaching a class, I need to be holding a positive space for people. So is it better to act upbeat even if that’s the polar opposite of how I feel?

A wise person pointed out to me, “What if you just were to be where you are? What if you do just go through the motions and accept that that’s where you are right now?” For some reason, this took some pressure off. I still show up. I don’t have to be the life of the party, but I do have to put myself out there and do the best job I can. If I feel like I’m just slogging through it, that’s how it is right now. Going through the motions is a way of keeping hope. Even if I don’t believe things will get better, if I keep doing it anyway, eventually I can begin embodying the effort I’m putting forth.

The fog has started to lift. Yesterday I had the chance to do a long yoga practice. Midway through I found myself giving out a big sigh as a huge block of sadness fell away. I kept going through the motions of my practice, but for the first time in awhile, felt present in my body and okay with myself.




Tip Tuesday: Breaking Habits

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 process of changing habits sucks. Just ask anyone who’s quit smoking. Although the end result is positive, it’s an uncomfortable re-patterning curve to get there. It never fails to amaze me how much our habits on the yoga mat often reflect our habits off the mat. For example, if you slump in front of the computer, you’ll frequently find yourself unconsciously slumping in poses.

When you’re faced with the often daunting task of breaking a habit, the mat can be a good place to start. You can consciously make small changes that are easier and not as emotionally hard to do. By practicing less dramatic changes, it gets you in the “habit”, if you will, of riding through the discomfort of change to prepare you for the next leap off the mat.

A few ways you can do so:

Clasp your hands in your non-habitual way Interlace your fingers, then move your fingers over one. It will feel weird because you’re in the habit of doing the other way. But like breaking other habits, it’s going to feel weird for awhile as you start a new behavior.

Mix up what foot you start on If you usually start off on the right on one-sided poses, do your left side first or vice versa. If you are doing sun salutations, switch off what foot you begin with. Kicking up to handstand or forearm balance? Make sure you also do it with your non-dominant leg.

Take the down-level That goes for advanced students too. Purposely do the more basic version of the pose. Re-connect to the basic mechanics of the pose. Observe if your mind goes crazy because you’re “not doing it hard enough.”

Change your focus For example, in triangle pose, instead of aiming to get your fingers to the floor, prioritize getting length in both sides of the waist. Or pick an area of your body to work with and find how you can connect with your chosen spot through every pose.

Know that it will feel awkward and wrong and you won’t want to do it. But if you can break a habit successfully on the mat, you know you can take a small step towards busting those larger bad habits.

You Gotta Grow Like a Lotus
















“The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in the mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud — the obstacles of life and its suffering. … The mud speaks of the common ground that humans share, no matter what our stations in life. … Whether we have it all or we have nothing, we are all faced with the same obstacles: sadness, loss, illness, dying and death. If we are to strive as human beings to gain more wisdom, more kindness and more compassion, we must have the intention to grow as a lotus and open each petal one by one. ”

― Goldie Hawn