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

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!

I’m assisting Ana Forrest at the Yoga Journal conference

Photo credit: Forrest Yoga

Wow. I just found out that I will be assisting Ana Forrest at the upcoming Yoga Journal conference in San Diego.

Holy crap.

Ana is my main yoga teacher and phenomenally skilled teacher and healer. To be a part of the energy she weaves in her workshops is an amazing experience as a student and I am beyond excited to take part this time as an assistant.

Ana is also hardcore. I’m not quite sure when she sleeps or if she ever gets tired. Rare is the week that she is not traveling somewhere conducting workshops or teacher trainings. and trust me, both of these are intense.

So what business does a person like me have assisting her? Can I really do this? Will I be able to do a good job assisting students–even in an all-day intensive? Despite my excitement, these are the kinds of questions running through my head.

It occurred to me today that I actually have a choice about being nervous. Ok, maybe not about whether I feel nervous, but what I do with that feeling. I can be nervous and spin into self-doubt. Or I can acknowledge, “Yup, I’m scared and nervous” and choose differently. What if I tapped into my nervous energy and directed it towards dedicating myself to being 100% present to the best of my ability to the students, Ana, and the assistant team? What if I decided to believe, or at least act as if, I can be a great assistant? And what if, just maybe, I exceeded what I thought were the limitations of what I could accomplish?

 

 

What’s Intuition and What’s Mental Crap

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend a workshop with Seane Corn at the SF Yoga Journal Conference. Seane’s workshop on intuitive flow yoga

Seane asked everyone at the beginning of the session, “Who thinks they are intuitive?” There was a sprinkling of hands raised, but Seane dispelled the notion that only some people are intuitive. “Everyone is intuitive”, Seane said. “The thing that blocks us from intuition? Self-esteem. When we got caught up in self-judgement and insecurity we block that intuition that is innate in all of us”.

This theme really resonated with me since I am continually indecisive and uncertain and questioning what the right thing to do is, whether it’s deciding what to have for dinner or how to schedule my time or bigger questions about what I want my career to look like. I don’t feel like I lack intuition completely, but I have trouble identifying what it is.

Complicating the matter further is the fact that getting in touch with intuition can also be tricky if you struggle with any kind of anxiety or depression. When I’m totally anxious or depressed, my feelings feel like reality. The negative thoughts and worries are overwhelming and it feels very much like it’s intuition. Otherwise, why would I be having this kind of bodily and mental reaction? But anxiety and depression when taken to an extreme are not to be taken as clear perception. Just as you should be skeptical of feelings and behavior when you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you also have to be skeptical of life assessments made while there’s a chemical imbalance in the brain leading to severe anxiety or depression. I can’t trust that when I have that I’m accurately assessing my wiser innate intuition during these times.

So it gets confusing. How do I know it’s intuition and not just me being overly anxious and insecure? How do I know I’m doing what I’m intuitively guided to do and what is skewed by my negative, depressed outlook?

Yoga practice is one way of practicing cutting through all of the mental “stuff”, if you will, and moving more into a state of feeling. We practice on the mat being guided by the breath as we move through poses and using our breath and feeling to gauge how far or not to move in a pose; how to make little micro-adjustments in the body, and settle into a place of challenge, yet ease in each pose. It’s a physical practice that’s a tool to find mental clarity by focusing our attention on direction to move the body (“Step the foot forward. Turn the toes in 30 degrees.)” and feeling with our breath (“Inhale into my tight shoulder. Exhale, drawing my shoulder down away from my ear).” By practicing keeping this feeling focus (easier said that done–I know I’m having to get out of my thinking mind repeatedly), we can get a better perspective having cultivated that internal connection.

I’ve been exploring the theme of intuition in the classes that I’ve taught to students this week. Based on my own experience, practicing with this intent, I’ve come up with some telltale signs of what is NOT intuition:

When the realization is couched in “shoulds.” “I should do this. I shouldn’t keep trying to do that when I’m not very good at it. I should be doing more.” Insights don’t come in shoulds. They aren’t conditional or based on the expectations of myself or others.

The decision stems from guilt. “Yeah, but I’ll feel guilty if I don’t.” “I feel bad if I don’t take this on.” Guilt that stems from violations of my personal moral code is one thing. Guillt that comes from obligation or concern over another person’s reaction is a sign that the decision I’m making is based on fear versus my internal guidance.

The guidance comes in a voice that isn’t mine. If it’s a parent, my spouse, a friend, a boss, or someone else other saying it, chances are it isn’t coming from inside me.

When the life assessment comes in a time of depression or high anxiety. When I’m in this state, it isn’t the time to make major declarations or decisions on my life. When I’m feeling better, that’s the time I can re-evaluate.

What IS a sign of intuition:

The answer is scary.
I think I often wall off from my intuition when what I’m feeling called to do is frightening and pushing me out of my comfort zone.

I’m not sure how others will react to it. My intuition isn’t likely to always make people happy, but it is likely to make me content and living in a way that is congruent to my values.

It doesn’t seem logical. Reason is the main way I try to assess my decisions. I like to have everything planned and figured out. I have to remind myself that I won’t ever know how things will go or whether they’ll go as planned. I have to trust that even if I don’t know all the answers or how things are going to come into place, but to instead trust that the universe will reveal itself in time if I keep taking the next intuitive step as best I can.

What about you? What helps you get in touch with that innate intuition? What are the signs of what it is or isn’t for you?

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