by Lola Rephann
If the first time you ever heard the phrase “Forrest Yoga” you pictured people doing yoga in trees, you are definitely not alone. If you’ve never heard the phrase “Forrest Yoga,” that’s great! You don’t have any pre-conceived notions about it, unless the previous sentence now has you picturing yourself doing yoga in a forest. Anyway, in this blog post I can help you learn about what Forrest Yoga is, why it’s so awesome, and why you should try it.
1. Forrest Yoga is a healing system of yoga.
You may be thinking, but aren’t all systems of yoga healing? Yes, but not explicitly stated as such. All yoga brings healing and balance to the body, but Forrest Yoga surfaces this intent in each and every class. Forrest Yoga is designed to address modern-day ailments such as lower back pain, tension in the neck and core, anxiety, over-stimulation, and a sense of disconnection. Our teacher, Ana Forrest (see it’s not about trees: Forrest Yoga is named after her, the woman who synthesized the knowledge body that now carries her name) says Forrest Yoga is the best of yoga modernized for 21st Century humans. Ana Forrest is a Native American Medicine Woman who took a spirit pledge “to mend the rainbow hoop of the people.” Healing at all levels (emotional, physical, spiritual) is at the core of Forrest Yoga.
2. Forrest Yoga teaches you how to breathe.
You may be thinking “but I breathe all day every day just fine, thanks.” But that is unconscious breathing. Breathing is the one physiological function we can consciously control. Luckily, most of the time we don’t need to, but when we do, magic happens. Conscious control of breath allows us to shift our nervous system state on demand and downshift when we are high strung or uplevel when we feel dull or apathetic. Conscious connection to breath also develops a sense many people don’t know they have: interoception. Interoception is the ability to receive and react to stimuli coming from within. Breathing consciously helps build this link to feeling on the inside, into the parts of us that are unseen, but felt.
When asked to focus on your breath the way you’re asked to in a Forrest Yoga class, you may find that it feels awkward, stressful, or strange to pay such close attention to the breath. This is the doorway through which all Forrest Yogis pass to build an intimate connection to breathing, an act that keeps us alive and which, to a great degree, influences our level of vitality.
Manipulating breathing patterns to create different body-mind states is pranayama. Most Forrest Yoga classes begin with pranayama practice, and all Forrest Yoga classes focus on building a strong Ujjayi breath as the fundamental breath of the entire practice. This focus on breath has lasting and deep changes to our physiology and psychology.
3. Forrest Yoga teaches you how to feel.
Forrest Yoga roots out and targets our habits of disconnection and avoidance. By slowing the asana practice down and holding poses for longer periods of time than in other styles of yoga, feelings and sensations arise. As we slow down and realize our physical, mental and emotional patterns, we come to know ourselves as a constellation of feelings and sensations. We can be both open and tight; free and restrained. Within one body is a plethora of stories, sensations, and life experiences.
Sensation is not a verbal language, even though we may be able to apply some descriptive terminology to it. Sensation is an experience, and Forrest Yoga awakens sensation thru the method of practice. This approach teaches us about ourselves in a way that is not the typical cerebral language-based or Western approach to self-awareness; Forrest Yoga’s approach is more shamanic and symbolic. Forrest Yoga teaches us how to experience ourselves holistically as a human mandala, not as a disembodied bunch of parts. By learning how to feel, we learn to see ourselves more completely, more compassionately, as we develop the skill of empathy for ourselves: connecting feeling or sensing to inner guidance.
4. CORE WORK.
Core work is one of the defining elements of Forrest Yoga, one that is included in every single class and forms the foundation for getting into more complex or challenging inversions, arm balances, or back bending poses. Core work in Forrest Yoga obviously strengthens and tones the abs, but it is about this at only at the most superficial level. In Forrest Yoga, core work is about connection and getting out of your head and into your body. In our Western culture, weak or disconnected core is almost a given. We sit a lot as a people, and have cultural baggage around our bellies. If it’s not flat and fat-free, it’s yucky, to be avoided or smushed into clothes and forgotten about. By paying so much attention to the core, and to how integral it is in our yoga practice (Forrest Yoga cues the core in nearly every pose), Forrest Yoga helps the owner of said core reclaim this forgotten and disowned area and get reconnected.
Feeling strong and connected to the core is an exhilarating feeling which has positive implications for everything from standing to sex. Postural remediation happens at the core. Improved digestion happens at the core. A restoration of positive body identity happens at the core. I can’t say enough about how important core work is to the Forrest Yoga system, and how much people who practice Forrest Yoga come to love, respect, and appreciate this part of the practice.
5. Forrest Yoga is a living, growing system of yoga that changes as the needs of the people change.
One thing I’ve learned about Forrest Yoga, first as a practitioner and then as a teacher, is that the system is always changing. This can trigger people who like a set way of doing things. But Forrest Yoga is really good at triggering folks. We have a saying in Forrest Yoga, “never waste a good trigger.” Use these moments to investigate your thinking and emotional patterns, root out reactivity, and look for ways you have grown comfortable and habit-driven.
Aversion to habitual ways of doing things is built into our system. Cues change as new information on how and why to move the body certain ways becomes available. New poses are developed as either Ana Forrest or the teachers within the system create them to address needs. Even our ceremonial practices are changing as our founder’s personal interests, skills, and fascinations morph.
Forrest Yoga is not static. This can be unnerving to people who have learned how to do something a certain way, then are asked to try it another way. It can even create questioning within the teachers. Forrest Yoga is strong enough to take on this inquiry even from the people trained to carry on this system. By changing things up from time to time, the system stays fresh, adaptive, and relevant.
Forrest Yoga is a slow-paced vinyasa practice featuring pranayama, core work, and long pose holds in a heated room. If you’re looking to increase your strength and stamina, release tension and stress, improve your breathing, reconnect to your body, and build a personal healing practice, Forrest Yoga is a great choice. It is unlike other styles of yoga you have done, but you will recognize elements of other yoga styles within the system. Just be open to doing things a new way. You will come to understand and appreciate these ways of doing things.
Forrest Yoga is offered at Yoga in the Heights on Wednesdays at 7:45pm, Fridays at 6:30pm, and Saturdays at 9:15am. There is a one-hour Forrest Yoga BASICS class on Saturdays at 11am. I recommend that you take at least 2-3 BASICS classes before coming into the open level classes. The Basic Moves of Forrest Yoga are taught in the BASICS class, and when you are clear about what those are, you will be able to move more confidently in the open level classes. I look forward to seeing you in class!
Lola Rephann has been practicing yoga for over 15 years. Lola’s teaching is informed by mindfulness, the felt sense, and the breath. Lola studies Forrest Yoga, Yin Yoga, hatha/vinyasa yoga, thai yoga massage, and reiki. Lola seeks to bring each practitioner to a place of stillness and awareness, where healing happens naturally.