Finding Balance: A Q&A with Ana Forrest Yoga
“Ana Forrest has been changing people’s lives for nearly 40 years. An internationally recognised pioneer in yoga and emotional healing, Ana created Forrest Yoga while working through her own healing from her life’s trauma and experience. With thousands of licensed practitioners around the world, Forrest Yoga is renowned as an intensely physical, internally focused practice that emphasises how to carry a transformative experience off the mat and into daily life.” In this enlightening Q&A, Ana has kindly taken the time to tell Liforme about her relationship with Balance.
How can a physical characteristic like strength or balance that is cultivated on the mat move into other aspects of life?
I designed Forrest Yoga to equip people with tools they can use in their daily lives. For example, in Forrest Yoga we hold poses for usually 5-10 breaths, depending on the kind of sequence. This cultivates strength and balance on the mat. Here are some of the benefits and how to use them off the mat:
Connecting to breath
On the mat: You have time to connect to your breath and build skill in breathing into the areas that need to release entrapment and uptake new nourishment.
Off the mat: Your breath gives you time to think before you react to a situation or person.
Feeling the pose
On the mat: The longer holds enable you to really begin to FEEL the pose. You feel your body. You feel the workings of your mind. You have time to drink in the sweetness of the pose. For some of us that is a whole new and wonderful experience.
Off the mat: You become able and willing to open up to a rich spectrum of feeling, rather than defaulting to the behaviours that numb you out.
On the mat: When you stay in the pose, the big muscle groups that you habitually rely on will tire. We coach you to track and turn on the non-dominant muscles. You tap into new depths of balance and strength. It’s empowering!
Off the mat: You learn to switch on new personal resources. For example, different ways of supporting yourself through challenges or new ways to problem-solve them.
Sometimes you hit your sh*t
On and off the mat: Your brain may tell you it’s time to quit. It’s not! Learning to ride the wave of intensity in a yoga pose, in a pain-free, struggle-free way serves you in every aspect of your life.
Image credit: Bella Zanesco
Forrest Yoga is deeply invested in transformation. How do you keep your balance during times of change?
Change and transformation can be scary business. When faced with fear, these are some of the best tools for recalibrating and finding your balance:
1. Active Feet: When we get fearful, we get caught up in our chest, neck, and jaw. Keeping your feet active makes the energy travel down to some of the biggest bones and muscles and makes you rooted, grounded. It also keeps you more aware, because you’re breaking a habitual posture. Do it right now! Spread through the ball of the foot and the heel, pressing down into the earth. Now lift your toes and spread them out, until your whole foot is awake!
2. Deep breathing: When we’re afraid, we hold our breath, literally making ourselves gasp for air. This keeps you from being clear-headed and centered. Deep breathing changes your physiological response to fear, making you better able to think clearly and take right action.
Do this: Put your hands on either side of your rib cage. Exhale everything out, feeling how the ribs move towards each other.
Slowly, consciously, inhale very deeply through your nose. Feel how your ribs press against your hands as you expand your ribs sideways.
On exhale, pull the belly in. Do this for ten breaths right now. Every time you feel fear starting to percolate through you, or you feel unbalanced as you move through your transformation, take ten deep breaths with your hands on your ribs and change your chemistry immediately!
3. Relax Your Neck: This is essential for changing your response to fear. A perpetually tight neck and jaw send fear, stress and anxiety signals throughout the body, which stunts your ability to transform.
Stand or sit up straight, get your feet active, take a deep breath.
Exhale. Move right ear toward right shoulder, keeping shoulder down. Relax eye muscles and brain. Feel the stretch on the left side of your neck.
Breathe into your neck, relaxing a little more with each breath. Each exhale, release shoulder blades down the ribs. Do this for three to five breaths. Cradle the right side of the head with the right palm. Inhale, use the hand to lift your head upright to centre. Now do the other side.
Image credit: Rose Yuen
You are well known for your handstands and arm balances. Why are these poses important to you? What do they bring to an asana practice?
Handstands and Arm Balances are some of my favourite poses (I don’t normally teach Headstand because I don’t like the compression on the top neck vertebrae).
Inversions, for example, build strength, a sense of empowerment, are tons of fun and they’re exhilarating! They are great poses for chasing depression right out of your cell tissue. Going upside down gives you a lot of energy — a wonderful replacement for coffee. These poses nourish adrenal glands and kidneys, not deplete them! I love teaching people to be the “architect of their own pharmacopeia.” In other words, rinsing out the stress chemicals like cortisol and turning on the feel-good chemicals — the endorphins. The endorphins make us feel more resourceful and happy to be alive. Inversions give us a wonderful brain wash and refresh. Develop a daily practice with some inversions. You deserve to be thrilled and exhilarated every day!
Ana will be gracing London (18th-20th August) and offering 5 workshops hosted by Indaba. Find out more information here.
Feature image credit: Bella Zanesco