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.

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

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.