Photo used with permission by Kelly Shroads Photography. Ana stands in the center in the teal pants, holding the drum. I’m all the way top left on the wall, behind the guy in the red shirt.
It wasn’t until after I arrived home from the Wind Horse Conference that I found myself in tears.
From Aug. 18 to 19, I spent all day with a tribe of Forrest Yoga yogis focused on connecting to spirit and healing. I had read Ana Forrest’s book Fierce Medicine earlier this year, so when I heard about the conference in my backyard, I jumped at the chance to attend.
The highlight of the weekend for me was taking two 2-hour Master Classes with Ana, Forrest Yoga’s creator, until I could feel every fiber in my back and hips. Abs in a yoga class? Oh yes. Plenty. In each savasana, I savored the in-between space along with 150 others in a fluorescent-lit YMCA rec center in the Rocky Mountains.
I cried when I got home because I could feel that connection slipping away.
It’s jarring to experience 48 hours of non-stop yoga in the mountains and return to your home in a busy city with laundry that you need to do, and bills that need to be paid, and work that needs to get done.
It’s hard to plug back in, especially if the things you’re plugging into feel like they’re draining your battery rather than re-energizing it.
But life is not a 24/7 yoga retreat for most of us.
While retreats can reboot us, we’ve got to find a way to make our life as it is right now serve the same purpose. We’ve got to find the happy in the moment or we’ll keep rocking back and forth on our heels, waiting for our next vacation in order to feel good again.
So how do you walk with happiness, rather than play hide-and-seek, in order to make your ordinary life extraordinary? Ana and I discussed the idea while sitting at a picnic table with a view of the Rockies.
She is at once dynamically playful, kind and direct. Oh yeah, and hands down the most flexible, honest yogi I’ve ever had the honor to meet. (Just watch her in this YouTube video!)
Me, with Ana Forrest
Pretend you’re the woodchuck who visited with us on a rock as we talked about life’s big traumas — and how to overcome them.
Caren: Can yoga so fully transform our lives so that we no longer have traces of former trauma within us?
Ana: Sometimes trauma can release in a big block; other times it happens layer by layer. When you release trauma in yoga ceremony — and then learn to live and incorporate the release and epiphany — there is a faster and deeper unwind.
Then you come to the next layer that needs to be worked. It’s important to not get caught up in the “I already did this” because if something comes up, there is some layer of toxicity that is now ready for you to release.
If we return to indulging in old, bad habits of thinking, it just re-imprints the poison into our cell tissue. Be courageous enough to step out of prison and learn to live in freedom. Consciously incorporate new release from cell tissue and new patterns of thinking and moving into your daily life.
Caren: Where does the trauma go, once we dig it up?
Ana: The poison you bring out of your cell tissue becomes fertilizer for your tree of life.
Caren: I surfaced from depression through my yoga practice and stopped associating with the disease. I believe it is no longer part of me. But things still happen that trigger those old, depressed habits…
Ana: And when those triggers happen that means, here’s the next portion where you can wipe the web of your life clean from the shards of your depression. So when you get triggered, use it.
It’s like when you stop drinking alcohol and you start drinking it again. You are poisoning yourself. So when you’re slipping into old behaviors, you’re setting yourself up for depression. You start eating certain kinds of foods. You mess up your sleep cycles. You go and visit whomever is a real drag in your life.
Depression is a build up of consequences. How many who are depressed eat well? Exercise on a regular basis? There are a number of things to do to help break it and you can find some really good pathways through yoga.
You have to do something that quickens your blood daily. You need to start to hunt and stalk what excites you, and then do something that excites you every day.
One of the teachings of Forrest Yoga that I am enchanted with is learning how to become the architect of your own pharmacopoeia. Learn how to work your chemistry because you’ve got a chemical issue going on here. Whether it’s through your eating or lack of breathing or screwed up sleep cycles or depressing thinking — it creates a certain chemistry.
So what do you do to change your chemistry? For a lot of us it’s drugs. And they have some really vicious kickbacks. What I feel about them is they’re a good holding plate. If someone is so depressed that they’re suicidal, then take the drug to stabilize you. Go into therapy. Do your yoga. And as soon as you have enough tools, then you start tapering on the drug. [Caren’s note: See your physician before starting/stopping your medications.]
Caren: How can someone who’s depressed get started doing yoga?
Ana: With depression, if you put seven things on a list to-do list that will just add to the depression. But what can you do?
You wake up and you lay there and breathe. Do some poses laying on your back in bed. Then get up a take a pee… [laughs] and then maybe brush your teeth, and then maybe hang in a forward bend so you can get some blood in your head so you aren’t such a slug.
That may be all you can do. But that’s a really good place to start. Start breathing deeply.
One of the advantages of depression is you’re really not feeling much. But what’s under the depression is where the excitement is. Depression is not the problem, it’s the symptom.
You could say, well it’s a family thing and yes, genetically you could be predisposed to creating some chemicals, but there’s probably a family trauma that went with the family depression. It doesn’t come out of nowhere.
Caren: One thing you say often in Forrest Yoga is “Never waste a good trigger.” What can triggers do for us?
Ana: Triggers lead us to what needs healing. So instead of being ashamed of being triggered, get excited because you have a clue for where to do your work!
When people get triggered, I see their eyes start darting everywhere; the breath gets erratic; their movements get thrashy and abrasive or they get a dead stare that means they left their body. “I can’t” is a big trigger point.
I’ve been a fairly reactive person for a good part of my life. Pain was a pretty good trigger for me. If I got hurt up to a certain level I’d go berserk. It took me a long time to examine that trigger because I was so ashamed about it.
I started finding out that if I didn’t just touch in on [my pain] and bolt away, but if I touched in and started to track it like I learned how to track animals, then the layers of the trigger would unfold and unfold.
I’d be on this incredible, scary quest where I would learn stuff about myself. And if I kept tracking I would gain parts of me back and it started to build my self-respect. This is what I am teaching people so they don’t have to go through the same mess I had to go through in order to heal.
Caren: For those new to yoga and dealing with emotional trauma, what is your best advice to help them get started on the path?
Ana: Care enough about yourself to get to a good Forrest Yoga teacher. Really make it a priority because it is life changing. Whatever your reasons for not doing it, whether it’s your children, job, spouse, recognize that everyone around you will benefit from you doing this work because you will transform your relationships with everyone from this process.
I know sometimes it takes a while to care enough about yourself and believe you can heal. I am telling you that you can heal. Now, take the action. CARE ENOUGH TO TAKE THESE ACTIONS; YOUR LIFE IS PRECIOUS.
What touched you about this interview, or what would you ask Ana? Tell me in the comments.