In this interview, Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D., Co-Founder of Yoga U Online, speaks with Ana Forrest, an internationally recognized pioneer in yoga and emotional healing about how to tap into the deep heart and spirit yearning inside to heal the body and ignite the spirit within.
Ana Forrest is the author of Fierce Medicine—Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit, as well as the creator of Forrest Yoga—a unique fusion of traditional yoga, new poses and sequences created by the author, Eastern wisdom, and Native American medicine.
Q. In your book, you show us how, indeed, life sometimes serves up some fierce medicine! But ultimately your book—and your path in life—seems to be about teaching others to reconnect with our bodies, cultivate greater balance and start living in harmony with our spirit. That’s a wonderful message! Of course, spirit means different things to different people. Talk a little about what, to you, is soul or spirit.
Ana Forrest. I consider spirit to be the sacred essence within each person. And yet, there are people who have lost contact with their spirit.
Forrest Yoga ultimately is about trying to teach people how to embody their spirit. This is crucially different than most of our religious teachings. What I teach is how to get back to a visceral feeling sense, a visceral sense of embodying your spirit.
What does it feel like when your spirit is in your body? And how do you spread it through your whole body? Through your fingertips, down into your genitals, up into your brain. Your brain absolutely needs to have spirit in there because it’s a little bit like the insane dictator up in its ivory tower. It must connect with the rest of you so it’s not so nutty.
Q. How did this focus of cultivating your connection with spirit become a central theme for you?
Ana Forrest. When I first started yoga, I had no clue how to connect with my spirit. And as I actually began to think about that, I couldn’t find my spirit anywhere in my body because it wasn’t in my body. It had fled. It took a whole lot of work to generate enough care for myself to do this work.
I had to learn to be aware of when I would be doing things or thinking in a way that would drive my spirit out. When I would be thinking in a way that I was spewing smog internally, in my own internal wilderness, my spirit would leave. And I didn’t know that.
I didn’t have anybody really teaching me about spirit. I didn’t know that once I connected to my spirit, it wasn’t permanent. Just like any other relationship, it’s one that needs attention and love and cultivation, and study. If you attract someone to you in a loving way, if you then ignore them, you lose them. It’s the same in building relationship with your spirit. It’s a part of you to interact with every day. It will make every aspect of your life so much richer. Will it solve all of your problems? No. But going through your problems, embodying spirit, and having that brilliance and that wisdom and that sacred energy is part of your resources for solving the challenges in your life. That makes a huge difference.
I had to do the work to clear the backlog of painful past experiences, at least somewhat, to make some room for my spirit. I needed to put out a really deep heartfelt call over and over again. It’s almost like putting out a light to guide your spirit home.
Q. And in your experience what drives away that sense of connection with spirit?
Ana Forrest. You have to be really be mindful of not creating filth internally which would drive my spirit back out. So each time, I would have to catch it, like, “Wait, I’ve lost touch with my spirit and all I’m doing is I’ve been raging for days and days and days.” I’m very comfortable in rage because at least that makes me feel strong which is much better than feeling a victim. I would much rather default to rage than feeling my pain or helplessness. But what I noticed is that when I have that sort of diversionary tactic going on, if I indulge that for too long, I lose touch with my spirit.
You also have to make a warriors choice. As soon as I can recognize that I’m doing that, to go, “Whoa, let me take a breath and reset. This is stuff so important to me that I will let it drive my spirit out in order to indulge it,” because I’m basically having a tantrum inside.
I had this experience once, where I basically realized that I was creating psychic smog all around me. This happened at a time when I had my yoga center in California, on Montana Avenue. I was walking from my yoga center down to the health food store to go get something to eat. And I’m walking down this sunny, pretty street. Inside, I’m totally raging. And I’m having a fight with my business manager. I’ve concluded that fight to my satisfaction. Of course, I won because it was inside of my own head! And then I just went right on to the next person I was pissed with, basically shooting everybody I was annoyed with.
As I was doing this, this really amazing thing happened. I was having a vision in the middle of this whole crazy thing. And there’s a part of me that stepped about forty-five feet back from this woman in boots and yoga clothes stomping down the street.
I could see myself walking down the street but I could see the energy that I was generating. And it was absolutely filthy.
It was very shocking to see because it’s like, my spirit pledge is everything to me. I had made this pledge to bring mending to the hoop of the people. But instead, what I see myself actually giving to the world at that moment is filth!
That’s when I realized, “This is something I can responsible for right now. I can stop spewing this filth into the world.” Instead of beating myself up about it, which perpetuated the anguish, I finally just recognized it, and stopped it.
Ultimately, you hurt yourself the most, because when I am doing my psychic smog thing, I am running filth through my blood stream. I am hurting my organs by the way that I think.
Does that mean, if you get angry once in a while, that you’re hurting yourself? No. But if you are a perpetually raging, then yes. If you’re always in fear, yes. You are hurting yourself because you are running your adrenal glands into exhaustion. We’re sending all this other stuff into your brain and into the way you respond to your world.
So it’s very important to begin to honor that the way that you think and the patterns that you think, it’s worth hunting them. And I call that tracking and hunting. It’s worth really studying them because it’s fascinating. What we do and how we use our thinking are filters for perceiving the truth in the world because our thinking is seldom connected to the truth. But it is very much connected to our life experiences and our decisions we made about them. And so, to choose to perceive more of the truth, even when we are triggered, is quite a warrior stance.
Q. You have this beautiful principle, which is almost the opposite of creating psychic smog: Learning to “walk in beauty.” How can we learn to “walk in beauty?”
Ana Forrest. I learned to “walk in beauty” from the Navajo people, and it comes from a ceremony called the “Beauty Way.” It helps the person that’s in the ceremony to re-establish the balance in their life when they’re ill or depleted or sad.
It doesn’t negate that there is tragedy, unfairness, illness, sadness and there is craziness. But to walk in beauty is connecting to your breath and then finding something during your day to connect to that beauty. You deliberately allow it to dance in your heart. So it could be playing with kittens. It could be doing your yoga in a way that your heart dances. It could be choosing to have an interaction with a friend.
One of the assignments I give to my teacher trainees is to gather beauty reports. In other words, as you go out and do whatever you’re doing in life, look for beauty. When you go to Whole Foods to buy lunch, can you have something that you connect to in a beauty way?
It could be tasting freshly-squeezed carrot juice, like having that fresh, wonderful, nutritious flavors that’s exploding on your tongue and feeling how your cells just go, “Ooh, that’s really good. I really need that.” That could be your experience.
Or to see a flower and drop your feeling and your numbness and your blasé attitude in the face of the wonder that flower truly is. Or to maybe look in the mirror and actually see the person that you are, to see the truth of all of who you are, if only for three seconds.
Creating beauty is the exact opposite of the spiritual smog experience. And ultimately, it’s a wonderful way to connect with spirit
This is an excerpt from a longer talk Ana gave as part of Yoga U Online's Sadhana Sundays Series. For more information on how to get the recordings of Ana's talk and other talks in the series, go here: Sadhana Sundays Series.
Ana T. Forrest is an internationally recognized pioneer in yoga and emotional healing. The creator of Forrest Yoga—a unique fusion of traditional yoga, new poses and sequences created by the author, Eastern wisdom, and Native American medicine. Ana teaches worldwide at yoga conferences, workshops, retreats, and teacher trainings.
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