Learn from Forrest Yoga

Senior teacher Erica Mather shares a backbending sequence designed to empower.

Erica Mather

Ana Forrest isn’t one for heady explanations. Forrest Yoga is a feeling practice: Some answers are found only by doing; talk simply can’t accomplish what breath and experience can. This doesn’t mean that Ana eschews thinking; her style of yoga is a profoundly thoughtful system. That said, Ana’s spirit pledge is to mend the Hoop of the People—attributed to Black Elk­, a holy man of the Oglala Sioux—to help heal people’s shattered but undeniable connection. This vital mission won’t manifest through pretty ideas, debates, or philosophies. Action brings our visions and dreams to life. Getting our breath going, blood moving, sweat flowing, and spirits lit are embodied steps for accessing wounded regions that dwell deep within our mortal coil. Breath goes places words never will.

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When asked about her teachers, Ana cites lightning and thunder. She’s not being evasive. She’s being honest: To learn about the world, it helps to look beyond our human illusions, deceptions, and entrapments. That said, Forrest Yoga’s asana stems from the lineages that shaped Western yoga—Sivananda, Iyengar, Ashtanga—all of which Ana studied deeply around the world with their originators or primary disciples.

She applied these systems to her own life challenges—alcoholism, anorexia, bulimia, sexual abuse, and epilepsy—and found them lacking. In her years living off the grid on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington State, Ana trained in traditions that honestly confronted the root of her horrific challenges: disconnection from her spirit.

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In turn, Forrest Yoga emerged in 1989 as a blend of efficient asana and First Peoples’ wise spirit medicine. It addresses modern physical ailments such as back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome. Through helpful coaching, Forrest Yoga strives to unite us with our spirits, which may have been slowly starved by life or shocked out of our bodies through trauma. Forrest Yoga is a path that calls the spirit home. It’s an evolving system, with a living founder and 14 senior teachers, called the Guardians, whom Ana has chosen to carry on Forrest Yoga’s tradition long after she’s gone. It also now includes Ana’s husband, musician Jose Calarco.

Keeping up to date on Forrest Yoga requires being in the presence of a teacher. Please study the sequence that follows, yes, but seek a teacher near you so you can learn the practice by feeling, doing, and embodying.

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SEQUENCING METHOD

The first question in Forrest Yoga is always related to where you want to go. For example: How can I learn Kakasana (Crow Pose)? How can I relieve my back pain? How can I learn to trust myself? How can I let go of heartache? How can I live a life I’m proud of? Your goal will be accomplished through the synergy of asana and intent: The poses address what you do with your body; the intent addresses what you do with your mind. Asana and intent cooperate to reveal the path through which you’re able to answer your primary question. Breath binds the two.

Forrest Yoga has predictable elements: It follows a blueprint and has at least one peak pose, or apex. It also has surprising elements, none of which are arbitrary; Forrest Yoga is true vinyasa—vinyasa krama, which means a step-by-step progression toward a goal. Specifically, the practice has a codified warm-up, during which the nervous system settles. Every practice begins with a short pranayama. Early breathwork makes the rest of class much sweeter. The sequence progresses to either a standing-pose series or vignettes, which connect standing poses. At least one apex happens during this time. The practice then includes a warm-down and, finally, a cool-down. Poses are practiced first on the left side of the body: We live in a right-hand-dominated world, so this approach helps create more balance. There is no single Forrest Yoga sequence. What follows is an expression of a sequencing structure rich in variety and choice. The practice is usually done in an environment that is 80–82 degrees.

PRACTICE WITH ERICA

About our expert

Erica Mather is a Forrest Yoga Guardian, one of 14 lineage-holders worldwide, and author of Radical Body Acceptance: End the Time-Sucking, Confidence-Crushing Pursuit of Unrealistic Beauty Standards and Start Living Your Life. (New Harbinger, April 2020). She lives and teaches in New York City. To learn more, visit ericamather.com.

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