Ana Forrest Intensives Day 1: Show Up and Breathe

Being sick was not how I envisioned starting off a week of morning intensives with my teacher Ana Forrest. In fact, I was pretty concerned the day before about whether I’d be able to do it. What I’d hoped was just a day or two of sniffles had turned into a full-blown bug. “All you need to do is show up and breathe,” I reminded myself. “All you need to do is show up and breathe.”

While blowing your nose after every other pose and holding off hacking attacks during forward bends isn’t the ideal way to experience a yoga intensive, it does have its lessons. Ana always says that “injuries are our greatest teachers.” If I extend that to having a cold, being sick for the practice taught me that when I mentally take the pressure off myself to do and instead show up and breathe, my practice actually deepens. I do not suddenly lose the ability to do poses that I used to be able to do. Nor is my practice ineffective or any less intense. It just doesn’t have that subtle overtone of “must accomplish something.”

The intent for the first day was to pick an area of the body to focus on sending breath and healing to. I choose the upper chest area where I was feeling a lot of congestion and mentally where I was having a lot of indecision about what direction I’ve been wanting to take my career and other parts of my life in. My intent coming into the week of practice was to remain open to what insights I was able to  glean around this indecisiveness. Moving my body on the yoga mat is sometimes where I can find the greatest clarity around such bigger questions.

We worked into a number of inversions including working with a partner in handstand, handstand twisted root and forearm balance splits. Sometimes I like to guess from the warm-up poses what apex poses Ana might be building us up to, but today she kept me guessing. There were a number of poses in the beginning that we don’t typically do as often. I love that even though key elements that keep the integrity of the style are always there, Forrest yoga is always evolving and taking sequencing in different directions. When you’re a yoga teacher, one thing I think is so important about going to other teacher’s classes (especially one like Ana with so many years of experience) is that it reminds you about other poses. It’s easy to get into a rut of teaching the same main repertiore of poses and sequences. I love being reminded of some pose I hadn’t thought of in awhile or experiencing a fun sequence of poses that I then incorporate into a class for my students.

After class, I actually felt better from moving and breathing, but simultaneously also in touch with my body and therefore, aware that I needed to take it easy.  As for my intention, I did hit on one clear message: “Don’t make any major decisions right now.” Congestion + lots of recent anxiety=not a good position to re-evaluate and overhaul life just yet. I’ll continue showing up and breathing for more…

Photo credit: Pictured is the amazing Forrest Yoga guardian, Ann Hyde

Ana Forrest Intenstives Day 2: Take Issue With It

I made the decision on Day 2 to skip the morning meditation and just come for the practice. I showed up feeling guilty, even though I knew I’d made a healthy decision for myself. Sleep was more crucial for fighting my cold and there wasn’t enough of my voice for chanting. However, I underestimated the travel time and showed up slightly late, creeping in during the beginning wrist stretches. As Ana started to set the intention for the day, I almost started crying. I hate being late and I felt so bad about it. “Here I am a Forrest Yoga teacher–and a certified one at that, yet here I am showing up late. I should know better. Who am I to think that I can be a good Forrest Yoga teacher when I can’t get it together?”

The intention for the day was working with an emotional issue. Gee, from the above paragraph, can you tell that there might be some ongoing emotions and self-deprecation that need addressing? Ana reminded us that when we’re working with an issue, it’s usually one we have to continue working with. Part of working with it is becoming aware of that self-loathing, critical voice that arises about how we should’ve gotten over it by now, etc., etc. “When that crap that you tell yourselves arises [notice, she didn’t say if],” said Ana, “Tell yourself, “Yeah, I’m not doing this today.”

Still wanting to cry, I was not happy with this intention. Sure that’s fine for other people to stop that self-degredation, but in my case, I deserve it and if I let go of feeling bad, then I’d really not have it together. For those beginning moments of the class, I truly felt like it was impossible for me to do.

But Ana has a way of getting you to do what you don’t want to do. So I started small. I figured I’d work with an intention of staying out of self-deprecation and feel for getting a more balanced and accurate perception of what I was experiencing in my emotional and physical body, but only for the duration of the practice. Sometimes I had to make it even smaller than that, “Okay, I’ll work this intention, but only for this pose.” One pose at a time, I continually tried to bring myself back to breath and out of the ongoing loop of self-criticism. At best, being in that spot is just not at all helpful with moving towards change. Or as Ana might put it, “That’s worse than useless.”

Backbends were the word of the day. We made use of a lot of props to get there, working a lot of boats and cobras while squeezing a block between the feet to keep length in the low back. Ana also combined the rolled-up mat with the block and us place the roll right between the ribcage and pelvis and lay over it for cobras, boats, and bow pose. “This gets you into your shit,” Ana said. “Literally.” From there we progressed to bow with a strap and wheel, playing with wheel walks (walking forward and back, in a circle while in wheel pose). I had fun with a group of us on the floor guiding an upside-down woman beside us trying to maneuver her wheel in a circle. Forget logic problems; wheel walks are the ultimate brain teasers.

Some tears came for me at the end of class and it was wonderful to have a fellow Forrest Yoga teacher there to give me the compassion I was struggling to give myself. I mopped my face, blew my nose, and set off for taking my intention into that next breath off the mat.

Ana Forrest Intensives Day 5: Lessons from a Kleenex box

The title is a bit of a misnomer since the fifth day of the intensives was the one morning I couldn’t make because of my teaching schedule. However, even though I wasn’t on the mat that day, I had some yoga of another kind.

Yoga demands that you re-connect inward and become aware of your body. Sometimes that doesn’t feel great because while you might be feeling some pleasurable stretching, you also are starting to tap into feeling where you’ve previously been numb and/or largely ignoring.

This is the longest I’ve been sick in recent memory. While my body felt better after the yoga intensives that week, it simultaneously also made me aware of just how congested and depleted I felt. This awareness forced me to slow down and focus on just getting better. Forced to slow down, I realized how much I haven’t been sleeping enough on a regular basis and spending a lot of energy worrying and trying to stay on top of everything. Having little energy made me be very conscious of where I spent it and very consciously address the things that needed my attention right away and which things could wait until I felt better. It was eye-opening to see that much of what I think is urgent for me to do in order to be a productive, reliable person is not actually all that dire.

So being sick has it’s lessons to teach. The other beauty reports from being sick include my getting completely hooked on Downton Abbey (if you have Netflix, the first season is on streaming). I added it to my queue after hearing several recommendations and finally got around to watching it. This is the type of show I would normally not really be interested in but it is fabulous: good writing, engaging characters, tons of sub-plots. Since I watched almost the entire season through my ordeal on the couch, I’m really glad the second season is currently airing so I don’t have to be in suspense for long.

Having a cold is also the ideal condition to be in if you’re laundering your husband’s hockey gear. Certainly no one can accuse me of being overly pale–at least not the nose part of my face. And it could always be worse–I’m relieved to not be at this school in San Francisco).


Ana Forrest Intensives: Day 4: What will you fill up with?

My cold took a turn for the worst so I’m a bit delayed in getting my intensives reports up, but look for more soon!

Day 4’s theme was breathing in the kind of energy you want to have in your life. When you do such deep work in the yoga practice, you clear out congested areas and open up some tight spots. So once you’ve created this new space in the body, “What will you fill up with?,” Ana asked. “Instead of filling up with the same old garbage, can you focus on taking in the kind of energy you want to have running through your body?”

Anyone that’s left yoga class feeling blissed out and wonderfully relaxed only to get into traffic and begin hollering four letter words at other drivers (ahem) knows of this phenomenon. It’s wonderful to go to yoga and get rid of all that built up stress and tension, but it’s only too easy to immediately go back into self-deprecation and our habitual patterns and reactions. What makes the practice truly transformative is to take this openness and start to change what we put back into our mind and body.

If Ana had just left it at that, it’d be a nice idea, but not one that was very achievable. Despite the greatest of intentions, how do you just stop habitual responses and start new ones? That’s why I like that Ana not only set this challenge but also gave suggestions and invited us to think what gives us the kind of juicy energy that we can feel supporting us in our intention. Ana related that one way she taps into this energy recalling the love she has for her partner and letting that wash through her with the breath. Another assistant shared that grounding through hands and feet in downward dog helped remind her that no matter what she does, she is never alone. These are just a few examples of ways you might start to connect to the energy of your spirit.

The practice was rough for me as I was really struggling with feeling physically sick.  As Ana set intention, the only thing I felt myself filling up with was more snot and phlegm. It was an ongoing battle for me to try to re-direct my attention away from feeling sorry for myself/deprecating myself for being sick. It helped me to re-direct when I connected to all the support I had around me, from my caring friends in the room to the compassionate assists from Ana and her team.

Our apex poses of the day were some inversion work with partners, exploring splits in forearm balance and handstand straddle, helping our partner to pike up and down in the straddle. We also played with assisting our partner from bakasana up into handstand. Inversions are not my favorite and even though I’ve practiced assists in the middle of the room many times, it still brings up fear for me, especially amidst a crowded sweaty room. I was so grateful to have a wonderful partner that helped me feel safe and accepted, regardless of how awkward my spotting or inverting might be.

While I was drawing on all this support, it never occurred to me that I might be providing the same for another person. After class, I got a text message from the wonderful Abbie who related that this class was rough for her too, but, “I saw you in head to ankle and the last pose and it kept me going.” I was surprised and also touched. Now I have another technique for reconnecting: knowing that the focus and intention of wanting to bring this brightening energy into a pose can also help another person around me. You never know who your spirit might touch and fill another.

Image credit: Earth Rainbow Network


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.