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Forrest Yoga Is Not About Trees

Post by Liliya Rudakova,  4 September 2014 ,  Articles
In this post Anne Haack, yoga teacher from Berlin, shares her thoughts on Forrest Yoga in general and her impressions of the Teacher Training she has recently completed.

Forrest Yoga has nothing to do with trees. It has an intrinsic connection to the nature of oneself, the nature of spirit and breath as a cure. The Forrest approach is quite radical and only loosely connected to yoga, apart from a few asanas that still keep their original Sanskrit names. It´s rather a mix of shamanism, energy work, intuitive attention to each student, lots of hands-on-assists and specially designed postures for injuries.

Anna Forrest
In the photo: Ana T. Forrest

Founded by Ana Forrest more than 35 years ago, as an answer to the limitations she encountered in other yoga styles, Forrest Yoga is a system that combines Breath. Strength. Integrity. Spirit and Going Deeper. The ultimate goal of Forrest Yoga is to bring up deep traumatic issues in order to release them, cure physical ailments and mental troubles.

Forrest Yoga Class

Classes are taught in Bikram style heated rooms and the asanas are assembled in a way different to any other yoga system. Traditional asanas are combined with several muscle building exercises and variations of asanas using a rolled up mat or a blanket between the legs or under the belly. Core focus is the core. As the core is the body's emotional centre, the aim is to get to the core of the core and to unleash all the hidden beasts, to transcend the past. 

Warm-up


The classes neither end nor start with an Om or any other Indian mantra, but with a shamanic four directions ceremony, calling in the Powers of the East, South, West and North to the “Yoga Ceremony”, followed by Native American chants. The actual (physical) class starts with seated forward and side bends in Baddha Konasana or Ankle to Knee (which has a different name in Forrest), as well as arm variations to release the muscles of the neck. What comes next is the integral part of the Forrest System – all sorts of ab-work in different variations: legs up, legs bent, one leg up, one leg bent, legs up with a roll squeezed between them, lying splits on the floor, lying splits on the floor with a roll pushed on the pelvic floor, and other funky ab-ercises, such as “Frog Lifting Through”. After different sets of ab-ercises and a few other asanas, the core is warmed-up for the following Sun Salutations. 

Going Deeper


Forrest includes either the classical Hatha Yoga Suns with a deeper lunge, or the Vinyasa A series in modified version. Sun Salutations A don´t include Chaturanga (push-ups), but lowering down to the floor, followed by Cobra instead of Up-Dog, and different Warriors. Basically, a Forrest “Vignette” has nothing to do with Vinyasa. There is no recurring coming back to the front edge of the mat, as well as no neutralising down dogs between the standing poses. It´s rather a combination of Warriors, pigeons, backbends, lots of Cobras over a roll (the roll is placed under your belly to push deep into the intestines where locked up emotions hide) and shoulder work. Surely breath too. Every pose, except for the down dog, is held for such a long time that quite a few students hit the wall. When struggle and quitting mode sneak in, locked away traumas or emotions are starting to come up to the surface. Forrest and her assistants deliberately leave students longer than usual in uncomfortable poses, assisting them through touch and breath, coaching to stay in an asana as long as the emotion needs to come out. Often one or another student would start crying, sobbing, sometimes so hard that half an hour later you would still hear the person letting the aftershock of this emotional unleashing out. Not because the body hurt so much, but the soul. 

The interesting thing about working so deeply on an emotional level with students is that oftentimes they are not even aware of the misery buried deep inside. Rationally, every human being is capable of putting unpleasant past events into words and describing them in a more or less detached, objective  manner. However, the emotional iceberg hiding behind the rational description of what, how, who, where, when can be so tremendous, that a human being sometimes has no idea how to deal with it. Or else, they are not even aware of the heavy load still hiding underneath the tip of the iceberg aka the factual description of the events.

Ana Forrest and her “Fierce Medicine”


This is where Ana Forrest comes in. Having gone through all possible traumatic life events one can imagine, Ana knows intrinsically how to push her students to the edge, where the only possible solution left is to jump off the cliff and let it all go. Which she literally did in her early 20´s in an attempt of a suicide. Ana survived on a pile of sand, which had not been there before, or so she claims in her book “Fierce Medicine”. Spirit helped. 

Now her mission is to “Mend the Hoop of the People”, something she started after she left the Native Americans, with whom she had lived for five years to learn medicine. And – she wants to help her students find their Spirit, in case it went missing. The clientele Forrest attracts to the Advanced Teacher Training and as clients is in majority people, who relate to her because they have gone through similar devastating events in their lives (drug abuse, bulimia, rape, suicide attempts, severe bodily problems). Events so horrible that Spirit would simply leave the body. 

Forrest Yoga Teacher Training


As mentioned above, Forrest Yoga is a mix of shamanism, energy work, intuitive attention to each student, lots of hands-on-assists and specially designed postures for injuries, such as lower back, sciatica, shoulder or neck problems, framed into a full power workout that engages a lot of muscles. Counter poses and neutralizing poses, a crucial part of yoga, are either modified or taken out, since the main aim of each class is to get the students to sweat. 

Heat is one of the factors that not only helps muscles to stretch faster and the body to release toxins through sweat, but it also helps the students to melt down quicker. The class room looks like a melted iceberg at the end of a Forrest Teacher Training class of 4 hours work-out through abs, Vignettes, handstands, crows, scorpions and more abs. A mix of sweat and tears. 

In the afternoons the training would focus more on group work, developing empathing skills, giving one-on-one yoga classes and techniques to release past stories in ceremonies and meditative techniques. The group work also consisted of designing a 1.5h Forrest class, group teachings in which Forrest assistants would challenge the students on turn teaching to do all sorts of unusual things, while teaching, like singing loudly, teaching only while being in one asana themselves, swinging a yoga belt like a whip or yelling at their students “to get the fuck on their mats” to break the usual “yoga teacher voice”.

What Forrest achieves through this rough mix of different techniques is a breakthrough for some of the students, all of them already being teachers. On a swing ride from nurturing to radically tough she gets to the core of deep wounds, deep emotions and deep breath. Quite a few students state it to be a life changing experience, if not a life saving one. Some go on to do the 4-week Forrest Foundation Training. Old habits, traumas or scars now got replaced by a new image: Forrest.


Thanks a lot to Anne Haack for sharing her experience and insights with us. Follow Anne on Facebook and G+.


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