Fierce Medicine: Ana Forrest Wants You to Clear the Stuck Stuff with Forrest Yoga

Via on May 27, 2011

My first impression when I met Ana Forrest in 2005 at a yoga workshop in St. Helena, CA? FIERCE. I gathered with 75 other yogis, mat-to-mat, in a hot room as Ana coaxed us to clear the junk, the stuck emotional debris, that hardens us and eventually sickens the body. My companion at the workshop was having a migraine, and sat on the sidelines. I took a break to check in with her (I’m a gynecologist and occasionally helpful with such things). While whispering in her ear as quietly as I could, Ana walked up to me and hissed, “Stop the chat!”

Fierce, indeed. At first, I wanted to smack her. But as I softened to her sometimes abrasive style, I got her message load and clear: this isn’t the prettified, Shiva-Rea-esque lovefest of yoga. This is Fierce Medicine. Time to listen up, pay attention with every cell, and no hiding allowed behind the doctor persona! Get conscious, not the sanitized version but the one big enough to hold the ugly and hidden truths, the fears and reasons I go numb. We all have them.

No surprise that Ana’s new book carries the title, Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit, just published this month by HarperOne.

Why is Ana so fierce?

As she describes, abuse got her drinking alcohol by age 4, weed and pills a few years later, migraines, bulimia and epilepsy. Physical abuse, horrible sexual abuse, and some vague mention of prostitution. She’s not a typical yogi, but Ana has found great solace, direction and beauty in sharing her dark truths – and being a holder of the space for our shadow sides. She doesn’t care if you’re seeking a Christy Turlington butt or seeking relief from ferocious addiction. She’s got fierce medicine for all of us. Her version of 12-Step? The Sun Salutations.

I’ve heard many of the stories in her book from either Ana or her many California-based disciples, including Michelle Cordero, Colleen Millen, Jessica Medros, Marisa Zink and Alice Joanou. I’ve done all the practices and they are incredible. Unlike anything out there yogically. Here’s why they captivate me, as both a doctor board-certified in all things that can go wrong with the female body and as a yoga teacher, trained in the vinyasa lineage.

What’s different about Ana’s teaching?

Putting my doctor hat on for a minute – Ana teaches very long, consistent breath patterns. Not just what you learn in Ashtanga and vinyasa, the prolonged ujayii pranayama and hold of the bandhas. I’m sure ujayii and bandhas works well for many of you, but as a female of a certain age – it just feels so male to me. Why would I want to hold my pelvic floor in a tight position for 90 minutes? Why does that make sense? Range of motion is what I’m interested in, and Ana’s practices of kriyas, such as agni sara and uddiyana, captivate me. They help me dig deeper and explore the energy flow on level I’ve not found in other practices. Kriyas, described by Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way, as spiritual earthquakes, get me embodied and clear faster than any other spiritual practice I’ve encountered.

As a physician, what is particularly helpful about Ana’s story?

Two things. First, Ana’s path out of the disordered eating of bulimia has a crucial message for all of us who suffer over eating. I think that’s at least 80% of the female population when I last checked! Not sure the rate of disordered eating – compulsive overeating, food addiction, restricting, bingeing, purging and the like. Do you know? Tell us in the comments section. Ana has healed her eating disorder, and I often refer my patients to her workshops – to work on the fear, doubt and insecurity that usually underlies our weirdnesses around food.

Second, Ana’s approach to addiction is profound and broadly relevant. Not just for the addictions of hers that I’ve mentioned – to alcohol, drugs, food. But to the ways that we try to numb out from our pain. With blogging (note to self!), for instance, or being online. A psychologist recently mentioned to a friend that online connection can fill a void left by a childhood trauma with an imperfect parent (Imperfect parent? Weren’t we all imperfectly parented?). Being online can appear to be the benevolent parent we always hoped for. Newsflash: It doesn’t work that way. Get conscious of your habitual patterns, the ways you check out, and, as Ana says on p 215, “disobey the dictates of your conditioning.” Learn why you check out and how, and change it. She shows us how.

What else is Ana’s original contribution?

Here I’ll don my doctor/yoga teacher hat.

Ana helped me reclaim my body after two kids. I can’t emphasize this enough, or express sufficiently my gratitude. I have had searing insights in her workshops after kids. Lying on the mat, preparing for one particular arm balance (in her workshop that she aptly titles, “Gravity Surfing”), a small feather floated onto my little eco mat. I stared at the feather, thought about my recent child birth, and decoded the message, “Don’t take yourself so damn seriously, Sara! Light as a feather. Feel it, find it.” Up I went into a complicated arm balance that previously defied me.

Another important contribution: Ana is keen on unlocking your chronically stuck spots. For most of us, that’s neck, shoulders and hips. Her warrior shoulder shrugs? Genius. Neck release? Incredible. Lunge at the wall? Crazy good.

Bad back? Ana’s sequencing for releasing the low back are not found elsewhere. She takes your through incredibly hard abdominal work, then a back-bending series, followed by innovations such as cobra push-ups and back release. She gets me more deeply released than any other teacher, and I’ve had my share of great teachers.

What is new in the book?

Ana’s book is a fantastic opportunity to work with her and heal – particularly for people who aren’t able to make it to her classes, or, like me, need doses of her fierce medicine more consistently than we can get with her living on Orcas Island.

I loved a section that runs through most chapters entitled, “Dharma Jousts.” She uses this term to reframe a situation by asking: “What can I do differently, right now, to disobey the dictates of whatever is trying to lead my life?” I won’t steal Ana’s thunder by giving her jousts away here – you’ll have to buy her book.

Ana also features some new sequences and is always innovating new ways to do asanas or yoga poses in a way that is least likely to injure the body. Preventing or healing injury, particularly in the midst of a yoga revolution with millions practicing yoga in a way that may cause harm, is worth the price of the book alone.

In summary, buy this book. Ana is a a master healer, guide and teacher, and draws far beyond the scope of orthodox yoga to both Native American wisdom and her own tumultuous path to get you, in her words, to evolve or die.

About Sara Gottfried, MD

I believe in evidence-based ancient wisdom. I believe in eating your leafy greens rather than popping synthetic pills. I believe in Ayurveda and integrative medicine. I believe in botanical therapies over synthetic hormones. I believe you deserve to feel sexy, ripe and delicious. I believe in tending your flame. I believe that proactively managing and optimizing your health is your divine responsibility and a path to personal power. I’m a mother suspicious of processed sugar and a yogini hotly pursuing lithe, lean lusciousness. I’m committed to deep green, organic living. I’m a scholar and a seeker of truth, vitality, hormonal balance, sacred balance, spirituality and divine self-actualization. I’m Sara Gottfried, MD and you can find me at my website or love my Facebook page.

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19 Responses to “Fierce Medicine: Ana Forrest Wants You to Clear the Stuck Stuff with Forrest Yoga”

  1. Chelsea says:

    This is one of the first book reviews I've read in a long while that actually makes me want to go out and buy the book! Thanks, Sara. I love the unique perspective you bring to your posts as a medical doctor. Look forward to reading more, both from you and Ana!

  2. Brilliant and direct as always. It's an honor to teach with you, and I can't wait till the next workshop! Thanks for being so gracious in your review and personal revelations – you inspire me.

  3. Jen says:

    According to NEDA, aprox. 10 MILLION females and 1 MILLION males are struggling with either anorexia or bulimia. I am not really a fan of Ana. I find her to be more harsh than fierce. I like my yoga friendly, thanks! It is great that her methods help people, though.

    • Yogini5 says:

      Agree, Jen. Left a harsh style myself–they were in the business of creating foot-soldiers out of yoga practitioners. Despite the fact that by far I took the most classes in that style in the past few years, mostly its mindful orientation remains; informing my home practice every time.

  4. Terrific review, Sara. Very powerful.

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  5. Interestingly, I just heard of Forrest Yoga for the first time yesterday, when an upcoming workshop was mentioned in class (and I made a wiseassed remark–asking if the workshop would be taught in a forest). Think I might check out that workshop…

  6. siddhipeopleyoga says:

    Me too.I'm buying the book

  7. Carol Horton says:

    As a certified Forrest Yoga teacher, I really appreciated this review. Putting in your perspective as both student, teacher, practitioner, and MD was really interesting and valuable.

    I would add that I think that Ana's method is better than anything else that I've encountered in yoga with regard to learning how to create a strong mind-body connection and actively use it for physical and psychological healing. The synching of breath, long pose holds, connecting to internal feeling states, and learning to hold steady through a challenging experience is in my opinion both practical, brilliant, and effective.

    While it's true that there are aspects of this method that can be off-putting – and sometimes for good reasons – it's very worth getting past that in order to learn what it has to offer, which is really a lot.

  8. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  9. megs says:

    This is a great review of the book! I bought it last weekend and tore through it in two sittings, so hungry was I for her particular blend of fierceness and compassion. I unequivocally recommend it to anyone who might be even slightly interested in what Forrest yoga's all about.

  10. secularyogi says:

    sounds interesting. i took some forrest yoga classes but stopped going because it had too much woo for my taste. the instructor "tried" different religious practices every week: prayers mentioning the christian god, indian sweet grass ceremony, gongs..(I am an atheist..I don't want to pray to any god(s)) this article sounds very different from that practice, this sounds more reasonable and helpful. I think I'll look into it again.

  11. warriorsaint says:

    AF fierce? I remember her as incredibly funny. Although true be told I came to yoga from a martial arts background so I may have a thicker skin than the next yogi. I took a YJ workshop with her in Colorado a few years ago. Her directness was refreshing and inspiring.
    I have bulky shoulders and upper arms. From the front of a packed room she noticed me grimacing in a pose that often involves gazing up at the ceiling , arms overhead. She came to me and said something to the effect that she was sure the ceiling will hold up quite nicely without me staring at it. You will not "zone out" of your body in her class. She will coax you back in with a firm hand between the shoulder blades and a stern "get back in your body".

  12. Ayaba says:

    I am a huge fan of Forrest Yoga. Although I haven't yet had the chance to practice under Ana, I look forward to the day the opportunity arises. I appreciate the review although I feel that it is malinformed on certain levels, for instance:

    "I’m sure ujayii and bandhas works well for many of you, but as a female of a certain age – it just feels so male to me. "

    If I understand your standpoint clearly…. I believe that Ana actually does teach bhandas- she definitely teaches ujayii!!!! Perhaps some deeper research into what they are and do will clarify for you. Bhandas are essentially important at least to have an understanding of. Part of it is learning to contain our vital energies. This is neither male nor female. It is healthy. Many folks work strengthening their abdominals but have no strength in their pelvic floor- ESSENTIAL for low back issues and hypermobile folks (like myself). Great for toning the female organs and the digestive system. And spiritually/emotionally they help us to know where our energy begins and other's ends. Preservation, Generation and Circulation of vital energies can heal many imbalances!!!

    There was one other comment that I take issue with in the review-

    "this isn’t the prettified, Shiva-Rea-esque lovefest of yoga"

    It comes across as a shot at Shiva Rea, which doesn't reflect well on the reviewer in this public forum. I am not saying that I agree or disagree, but maybe you could have taken the name out of it. I'd assume that you're not here to tear down other yogis, but to support Ana and to be a cheerleader for a healthy movement, no?

    That being said- I can't wait to read the book, and I can't wait to meet Ana.

    Vanessa

    • Yogini5 says:

      Thanks for that,Vanessa. In particular about Shiva Rea. I wasn't going to say anything, but Shiva does not deserve being called the leader of a lovefest. Her teachings are serious and influence disciplines complementary to hatha yoga.

  13. [...] Fierce Medicine: Ana Forrest Wants You to Clear the Stuck Stuff with Forrest Yoga [...]

  14. Lou says:

    Great piece. And I love Ana’s book. She’s quite the revolutionary in terms of going after emotional healing. Funny you mention the feather. Until this summer Ana was in my mind another vinyasa teacher ala Shiva Rea, oof how wrong I was. Once I had heard her speaking (on Yoga Teacher Telesummit) I began reading Fierce Medicine and even found myself at some of her morning intensives, but the cutest thing was I started to find feathers everywhere – beside my mat in Savasana was a favourite place for them to turn up – even when inside and seemingly nowhere near anything feathery!

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