After a year of teaching yoga, I came across Forrest Yoga. After my first class, I knew that I wanted to teach this powerful and exhilarating style. I knew that was the kind of impact I wanted to have on my students. The intensity and creative sequencing resonated with me. I could feel my body changing as I learned to heal the chronic pain and injury in my shoulders. As a result, my inversion practice flourished while my neck pain diminished.
What is Forrest Yoga?
Forrest Yoga was created by teacher Ana Forrest in order to mend the rainbow hoop of the people. Ana created and amassed a rich tapestry of yoga practices aimed at healing by addressing the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of modern day people.
Forrest Yoga is founded on Four Pillars of Forrest Yoga:
- Breath, to connect in feeling with one’s body and ignite passion for living;
- Strength through intense core sequences and long holds of poses that generate heat and heighten the senses;
- Integrity in working with the edges of one’s practice, particularly around physical and emotional injuries, developing tools to deal with fear and struggle;
- Spirit to create a sense of freedom and “courage to walk as your Spirit dictates.”
Training with Ana Forrest is structured as a long healing ceremony. Class each early morning begins with meditation, calling in the four directions and the sacred ones, and chanting native songs while playing drums. We are called upon to yearn for our spirit through breath, mindfulness and yoga. Forrest yoga includes postures, or “moves” that are meant to address many common ailments such as low-back pain, neck and shoulder pain or weakness as a result of injury.
Classes include highly creative sequencing and generally take on a sort of theme, often building toward a variety of peak poses. This means no two teachers or classes are ever alike and every week as a teacher and a student there is an opportunity to try something new. in Forrest yoga class styles and intensities can range wildly, anywhere from a slower moving, hatha style, standing pose, deep hip opening type of practice, to long flowing sun salutations, inversions, twists, and backbends! I like to think of a forrest yoga class as a yoga adventure.
Forrest yoga includes pranayama, meditation, chakras, sun salutations, standing and balancing poses, arm balances and inversions, twists and backbends and forward folds, and vinyasa. It also relies on a variety of props, wall postures, as well as partner poses and hands on assisting.
Four aspects that make Forrest highly unique are 1. Spirit, Native American and Aboriginal Ceremony 2. Healing/ Medicine 3. Creativity 4. Diversity
Benefits of Forrest Yoga Include:
- Increased strength and flexibility (Poses are held longer and often repeated and gradually deepened)
- Healing chronic pain (learn to adapt your practice to injuries too)
- New awareness and new strength in pranayama. Ujjayi is specifically taught in depth in every class as an integrated part of “the moves” along with other pranayamas.
- Increased confidence in inversions and arm balances
- A new found joy and passion for intensity (get ready to sweat)
- Diversity, gift your body with a wide variety of tools and practices.
- Opportunity for deep emotional healing and release.
- And an invitation to put a call out to your spirit.
Do I Need to Be an Experienced Yogi to Practice Forrest Yoga?
Forrest yoga definitely has something to offer everybody at all experience levels. Not only does it offer intensity and depth for those who love sweat and handstands, but Ana also trains her teachers to instruct one on one sessions, how to work with injuries, and even how to work with the elderly or those dealing with trauma, disease or deformities. The important thing is to seek out the right instructor or class for you. The forrest yoga community is pretty well connected and you can usually ask your forrest yoga teacher about all the different teachers and options in your area.
And I must acknowledge that I did attend a 9 day advanced teacher training with Ana Forrest which was probably the most challenging training/experience of my life! The morning asana and meditation were five hours and very grueling. I feel like I accessed some of the deepest depths of my soul during the nine days with her from the asana ceremony alone, not even taking into account the many hours of coaching I then received on my teaching and assisting in the evening sessions.
By the end of the experience, I had learned many new tools on how to deal with struggle and more importantly how to help my students. Ana Forrest also gave me some very special and personalized gifts to develop my practice.
Key Poses of Forrest Yoga
Where do I begin? There are so many poses within the practice of Forrest Yoga! But for the introductory purpose of this article, we will review 5. If you are still reading this, it’s time for you to put your phone down, get out of your chair and try these poses. Ready? Here we go!
There are many abs in Forrest yoga but here is a basic ab workout you can start at home. This ab workout will require pranayama breath work as well.
- Step 1: Lie down, place a block, a rolled up towel or yoga mat between your inner thighs and raise your legs toward the ceiling and perpendicular to your mat. Cradle your head with your hands and allow the neck to relax and the head to be heavy.
- Step 2: Inhale
- Step 3: Hold inhale, squeeze the block, flatten your low back against the floor.
- Step 4: Exhale and lift your shoulders off the mat, curl the tail bone up, pull down the lower abdomen, and keep the legs vertical.
- Step 5: Inhale lower head and shoulders to the mat.
- Step 6: Hold inhale, squeeze the block, press sacrum down.
- Step 7: Exhale repeat step 4 and curl.
- Step 8: Inhale lower and hold inhale.
- Step 9: Exhale curl again or release shoulders down. Curl anywhere from 4 to 12 times before releasing.
#2 Bridge Pose (Done after abs)
- Step 1: Lengthen tailbone forward and up, inner thighs neutral, buttocks relaxed but toned.
- Step 2: Squeeze a block or use a block under sacrum for extra low back support. Keep neck relaxed. For extra challenge raise one leg. Hold for 12 deep luxurious breathes.
Part I: Begin on your elbows and knees. Grab your biceps to measure shoulder distance between the elbows. Flatten your forearms parallel to one another, or interlace your fingers to modify.
Part 2: Turn palms up and place a block between hands to deepen. Inhale expand upper back, exhale lift your hips. Hold for up to 12 deep breaths.
#4 Horse Stance
Step the feet wide on the mat, turn the toes out and begin to bend the knees over the heels and ankles. Make sure toes point a similar direction as the knees. Widen the knees like in warrior two or a squat. Keep your spine vertical. Hold for 12 breaths. Traditionally in Forrest yoga you would do a variety of shoulder stretches or uddiyana and agni sara while holding horse stance.
Lie down on your belly. Position hands about under the shoulders or just behind the shoulders. Hug legs together or squeeze your block. Press the feet down legs active. As you inhale lengthen each of your ribs forward. Low ribs away from low back, mid ribs away from low ribs, upper ribs away from mid ribs, collar bones open wide, shrug or squeeze shoulder blades back toward the spine as your reach your sternum (center of the chest) forwards, toward the front of the room. Avoid using your hands to push, instead your arms to pull your chest forward, using the upper back, shoulder blades back toward the spine. Keep the neck relaxed. Lift on inhales, lower on exhales. Do 5- 10 flowing, or hold one long cobra up to about 12 breaths. Avoid going too deep. You should feel no pain in the lower back when done safely. I recommend using cobra to touch the upper back, and shoulders most deeply and to keep the lower back safe and free of discomfort.
Fierce Medicine is Ana Forrest’s personal book on Forrest yoga. It is an intimate look at her own personal journey toward healing with yoga and how she created forrest yoga. It also offers many of the tools that she brings to her trainings and workshops.
Another inspiring book that you should check out is “The Black Elk Speaks” which tells the story of Black Elk an Oglala Lakota medicine man. This book will tell you more about Ana’s mission to mend the rainbow hoop of the people.
Places to catch Forrest Yoga classes in the Seattle area:
- Kula Movement in Ballard, Seattle
- Two Rivers Yoga Carnation, King County
- Ritual House in Capital Hill, Seattle
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