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A Conversation with Ana Forrest: Yoga InstructorAnn Stevenson
©Yoga People, LLC 2017
Ana Forrest does not have a hit TV show. She is not into the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. You won't find her a topic of gossip on the nightly entertainment news programs.
Ana is a down-to-earth, "real" person, just like any of us. Yet she also happens to be one of the world's most-sought yoga instructors. Her followers revere her, and even casual Forrest Yoga dabblers hold her in high regard. How did this regular, girl-next-door-type woman become such a celebrity? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that everything she teaches comes from her very being. Sometimes yoga masters are not born devout and virtuous. Sometimes they have obstacles to overcome, whether emotional, environmental, or physical. Sometimes an exceptional person can take seemingly insurmountable obstacles and not only overcome them, but realize the lessons in them.
Ana Forrest, born in New York in 1956, grew up drinking and doing drugs. She laughs that her favorite subject in high school was how to get out of school. She also enjoyed tamer activities like driving tractors, riding horses, and learning about horses and the horse world. Horses became a major part of Ana's life.
"I started riding horses at five or six years old. I started as a stable girl cleaning stalls, but progressed into learning how to groom horses and show horses. I showed and eventually trained hunters and jumpers. Horses became my passion and profession, not just a hobby."
"When I got on my first horse, I fell off. I didn't have the leg strength to hold onto the horse. I loved riding horses -- I had such weak legs, but when I was on a horse riding, I had four strong, powerful, fast legs under me. It was exhilarating. At first, I didn't have money to ride or own horses, so I worked in the stables. I learned about how to care for a horse and work with a horse. I earned the right to ride the horses from the hard work. Cleaning stables is hard work for a young 14-year-old who was also crippled."
"Through caring for horses, I started associating the healing of the horses with the possibility of my own healing -– both physically and spiritually. I worked with horses whose spirit had been destroyed and I would bring them around. I also worked with their physical ailments and worked for their healing. I segued into the thought that maybe I could be healed. That became my question, 'Can I do this for myself?' The answer was yes, and Forrest Yoga was born from asking this question."
"When I was around 14, a girl at school, just some girl in the hallway, challenged me. She said 'I have something you cannot do.' I looked at her. She was short, a little overweight, and soft. I said, 'That's impossible.' Back then, someone throwing down the gauntlet like that compelled me to take them up on it. She told me about this yoga class and I went. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't even touch my knees (I grabbed behind my knees). There I was in this class with all these 'old' people who could do it; they were much more flexible than I was. At 14, of course, 'old' meant 30 and older!"
"The truth is, this was the point of one of those magical interventions -- that girl introducing me to the class -- where magic came in, called me off my suicide road, and slowly pushed me in the direction I needed to go. Why did I keep going back to the yoga class? Challenge, curiosity, maybe -- I didn't really know. I do know that it was something tasty, something intangible . That is why I say it was a magical intervention."
This young girl (or angel, perhaps?) that challenged Ana on that day changed Ana's life forever. "Yoga got me off of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes. It compelled me to study diet and nutrition. While I was doing yoga, I started alleviating my physical pain. It was getting me to do something for myself which felt good and was healing. This act of doing something kind for myself would have never occurred me to even try before."
Today Ana teaches the yoga that has become irrevocably woven into her own life. Her classes are packed wall-to-wall, and she travels worldwide to reach eager students. When Ana looks back at her childhood, she sees that teaching yoga was inevitable for her. "I began teaching at a very early age. I taught horseback riding at eight years old. I was born a teacher. As soon as I had something worthwhile –- when I was a kid that 'worthwhile' would be how to steal or how to pick a lock -– I grabbed someone and made them learn it. As soon as I learned yoga poses, even remotely, I was forcing people around me to try them. I was very awkward and without grace in my teaching. But I was teaching. I've always been a teacher. If I have something of value I have to pass it
"I started teaching yoga almost immediately after I started doing yoga. I started teaching before I was certified as a yoga instructor in 1975. I started by substitute teaching for other teachers, or teaching people I was hanging out with. Truth is, at this point I was still in my drinking stage (I was still in my teens). So I'd be out with friends and others, and drinking with them. And while we were out, I would get them to do yoga poses."
"Also, I would go to other yoga classes. When the teacher found out I could teach, they would ask me to substitute for them. I did a lot of that, and also would take over their classes if they needed that. After I did my teacher training course, I started teaching anything and everything that was available for yoga in 1975. At first, students came to my classes because it was a class time they could attend, but eventually they started to come to class to work with me, specifically. I started teaching at a yoga center which was easier than having to rent space by myself."
In 1993, Ana met with a serious setback. It was another of those challenges in life -- much like the little girl who challenged Ana so many years ago -- only this time it was not a little girl, it was a horrific accident.
"I had an accident May 1993, Mother’s Day, at restaurant called A Votre Sante. The chair I was on went through a rotting floor board. It caused my legs to be paralyzed. Actually, what happened is I herniated the L3 and L4 discs in
"It was a pretty difficult time for the first year. My emotional reaction? I was pretty horrified. I was completely freaked out and at that point I couldn't imagine anything worse. Because it was just the most frightening thing that 'Oh my god, I’m crippled again!' I had thought I'd rather die than be crippled again."
As Ana had met the challenge from the little girl at school, she faced this challenge head-on as well. "I created yoga poses to help my healing process, because I had to design poses that specifically addressed my needs. That's where Forrest Yoga cobra pushups, abdominals series, and shoulder shrugs came from. That's when I came up with so many different aspects of Forrest Yoga, like perfecting how to breathe into a pain place and create healing there, and how to connect to your spirit. I had great chiropractic and acupuncture treatments to help me through, but I had no traditional medical intervention. I refused to do any surgery or back fusing or any of those options."
Ana's teachings and travels keep her extremely busy, but she does have time for a personal life, too. She is married to her business partner and fellow teacher, Jonathan Bowra. "I met him in at a 'Dance Home.' He absolutely loves to dance. He is also a zen meditation teacher. He is my co-teacher for my teacher trainings and workshops, my road manager, and my business partner."
"We have no children, no plans for children. I have students. That is my dharma. Protecting children and educating and nourishing the mothers is part of my life work and dharma."
Ana's hobbies include riding her motorcycle. "It is a Yamaha 1200 VMax –- fast and big. I also enjoy wandering and becoming part of the wilderness as often as possible." As for animals, Ana says "I love animals and love to hang out with the wild ones."
I asked Ana what some of her favorites are in different categories.
Book/Author -- Charles de Lint , The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Stephen Hawking, the physicist
Movie -- Princess Mononoke and The Matrix
Color -- The rainbow spectrum all colors, especially mixed with each other
Food -- Buffalo, deer, elk, kabocha squash, grapes
And finally, what are Ana's future plans? Her new DVD (untitled right now) will be released in 2007. In addition, "I'm continuing to develop and expand the Forrest Yoga Educational Library. This will be my work's legacy. It will include all my teachings of Forrest Yoga and will consist of DVDs, teacher manuals, workshop materials, etc. This is an ongoing development process and will be released through the rest of my lifetime."
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