I am often asked about Forrest Yoga and why I choose to teach this form of the practice from among the many different styles and approaches to yoga available. So I decided to write a short post about why I practice and teach Forrest Yoga. An easy task, right?
Wrong. No sooner had I begun to reflect on these questions when my inner procrastinator gremlin began to make itself known. That little voice, the one who will find a million excuses and urgent things to do before starting a new project. Anything rather than feel the discomfort of staring at a blank page. “Clean out your kitchen cupboards, hoover behind the fridge, eat the contents of the fridge,” it taunted. Then, just as I was about to indulge this little gremlin, I had a sudden flash of awareness. I was being drawn into a familiar and destructive pattern. I took a deep breath. I paused and took another. I knew what to do. “Get on your mat and start breathing deeply,” this time the voice of my wiser self. The moment I got on my mat and began breathing through my practice, I began to feel the fear and resistance in my body. Fear of messing up, of not getting my story right, of sharing my vulnerability and being rejected by others. By allowing myself to feel these feelings on the mat, I noticed their grip over me soften and fade.
I realised this was what I wanted to share. Forrest Yoga has given me so much more than physical strength and flexibility. It has given me awareness and choice. It has given me the courage to feel what I am feeling and make positive choices that help me become the person I most want to be. Forrest Yoga has taught me to ‘feel’ rather than ‘think’ my way through life. It has helped me get out of my head and back into my body, from where I make better decisions.
So how can Forrest Yoga have this impact? Here are a few simple components of the practice that support in learning new ways of being on the mat that are applicable to life.
Forrest Yoga draws its roots from Native American medicine. Every practice is used as a meditation or ‘Vision Quest’ – an opportunity to pick a specific focus and discover more about yourself. The intent for the practice will depend on what you would like to work on that day. Anything from focusing the breath on a particular area of the body in order to promote healing, to releasing resistance, or connecting to pleasure and practicing struggle-free.
Breathing is one of our most automatic habits and when we find ourselves in a difficult situation we tend to hold or shorten our breath. One of the keys to changing our automatic responses in life is learning to work consciously with our breath. In Forrest Yoga we use a deep Ujjayi breath throughout the practice. This has so many benefits – from cleansing and bringing oxygen to each cell in the body, to building heat and creating a relaxation response in the body. It also connects us to the present moment and supports us to feel more deeply. In my experience, the more connected I am to my breath, the more aware and present I am in my life – so whether I am outside enjoying nature or having a tricky conversation I am fully there.
A released, relaxed neck
In Forrest Yoga we practice with a relaxed neck in every pose. Primarily this helps release the layers of tension we tend to hold in our neck, shoulders, upper back and jaw due to high-stress lives spent hunched over computers and other mobile devices. By relaxing the neck we improve the energy flow between the brain and the rest of the body. This can enhance decision making by connecting us to what our heart and gut are telling us rather than just being stuck in our own heads.
Active hands and feet
Another important component of a Forrest practice is active, open hands and feet. Active hands help move blood and energy through the wrist and hand joints, and active feet provide support for the knees, hips and back. On an energetic level, active feet also help to send the flow of energy downwards and ground us in the present moment. One of my favourite Ana Forrest quotes from Fierce Medicine is, “When you choose to work with active feet, you being to feel how you walk through life. When you’re walking through a change – which is usually a most awkward time – you have a chance to walk with more integrity, grace, and in a way you can become proud of.”
Holding poses for longer than normal
In Forrest Yoga we hold poses for anywhere between eight and ten breaths, allowing the intensity of the pose to build and the energy to in the body to shift. Feeling the intensity and staying with any feelings that arise, rather than fleeing from the pose, is a great way of reconnecting with our own strength and power. I have found that, by practicing this on the mat, I have become more skilled at working through intense situations off the mat rather than running in the opposite direction!
In summary, for me and many others, Forrest Yoga is a therapeutic practice that supports me in living more consciously. It is fun and exhilarating, and helps me to feel the fullness of life! Of course it takes time, dedication and consistent effort to experience the benefits. It requires focus and commitment. There are ups and downs, setbacks and successes. That is why, for me, Forrest Yoga will always be a daily practice. That is why I am a student and a teacher. I share my story in the hope that it will spark curiosity in others to experience this practice for themselves.
So, if it has sparked something in you, I encourage you to try it out for yourself. Even if all that happens is that you breathe a little and sweat a lot, then that is a big enough win. Who knows you may even get closer to the core of who you are. Now that is definitely something worth practicing for!
There are many Forrest Yoga teachers across the world, each with their own unique story and offering. You can catch classes with me in Glasgow. Check our my regular group classes or email me for a one-to-one session at firstname.lastname@example.org.