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Yoga and the Art of Creating Embodiment: An Interview with Ana Forrest

02/12/2015 02:32 pm ET | Updated Apr 14, 2015

Internationally renowned yoga teacher Ana Forrest is the creator of Forrest Yoga and a pioneer in the applications of yoga for emotional healing. Forrest Yoga infuses traditional yoga asana sequences with a strong vision of yoga as an avenue for creating greater embodiment and connect with our spirit. Ana is the author of the book, Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit. In this interview she talks about the process of creating embodiment and how it relates to the teaching of yoga.

Q. Some people are concerned that yoga is turning into a purely physical practice, and that we are losing sight of the potential yoga holds for spiritual deepening. What would you say to them?

Ana Forrest: It doesn't really matter why people come to yoga. For example, I have a lot of doctors that refer their patients to Forrest Yoga and I'm very honored to have that interfacing with the medical world. If a person has a health issue and they need to get healthy, yes, yoga can help. But no matter why they start, they will get so much more than they bargained for!

In Forrest Yoga, we do work on emotional clearing as well, getting to all the emotional backlog that's archived in our cell tissues. We help people learn to listen to their intuition and to their heart, and eventually to connect to their spirit.

This is a profound life priority, and yet we don't even make it a priority because we haven't even recognized that we've lost that connection. And what is really wondrous is beginning to get those flickers of connection, until it's moments and then it's a whole class. Eventually you get really more advanced, and begin to look at how you can connect to your spirit when you're off the mat.

And so whatever brings people in to yoga is fine. If it's a knee injury, if it's losing ten pounds from binging over the holidays, great. Whatever brings you in, just stay. Give some of your time and attention to being on the mat on a regular basis and you will get more than you ever even imagined. People begin to nourish their starving heart. And that's profound. They begin to rejuvenate their organs. They didn't even come for that, but it happens.

But it takes that ongoing application. Just like if you wanted to change your diet and nutrition, it's not eating one good meal a month. You need to change how you eat every day and then you start to feel the difference.

Q: How did you begin to connect to spirit in your own practice?

Ana Forrest: I had to bring it in myself, because I wasn't getting that in yoga. I went into a number of different modalities at the beginning of this exploration, but it was through Native American medicine that I was able through ceremony to connect to my spirit. That's when I began to explore how do I bring this onto the yoga mat, so I can help my students quest and connect to their spirit.

So, that's part of what I brought in. There's talk in yoga classes about spirit but most of it is not genuine. It's just somebody reading something. That's a start but it easily turns into a sort of New Age blather. But when the teacher can get confident enough to teach from her own or his own truths, then whatever they have to say is so much more profound.

Q: Imparting a sense of the spiritual aspects to your students without seeming pretentious is a challenge for a lot of teachers. How do you do that in Forrest Yoga?

Ana Forrest: It is a challenge and what a great challenge. If you're feeling like you are uneducated regarding your own spirit, go on a quest. Go on a quest for coming into a relationship with your own spirit and don't teach it until you know it.

Learn about it for yourself. Go on a quest. Go work with people that can help you. Go to a Forrest Yoga class, we'll give you some tools but the inner work still has to happen. It's not like someone's going to come along and tap you on the head and, just like that, you're going to connect to spirit.

You need to go on quest. It's work. But do the work because, oh, my god, your life will be so much richer! Do the work for yourself and then you will begin to quest for how do you speak honestly and authentically in a way that can help your students quest also.

Q. You often talk about connection of spirit in terms of creating greater embodiment. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Ana Forrest: One of the most important things you can teach is to help your students feel themselves. Bring it into feeling and their body. Everybody can do that, including newer yoga teachers. Teach them to feel their breath. Teach them to feel their feet.

People are disconnected from feeling their body and it has created terrible problems in our life, because we've gotten so stuck in our head. Our head, our brain needs that feedback from the rest of the body in order to make wise decisions.

When we cut the body off at the neck, we don't get that information from the rest of our power information centers that's all through the body. As a result, the brain is misinformed and makes some bad life decisions.

So as a yoga teacher, a key thing is to focus on helping people to access their body. Can I coach someone to experience their body more fully via their breath? That is life-changing right there.

That's where I start every class, whether it's a beginning class or an advanced class. When you start focusing on the breath, you give the mind permission to be quiet. Not turned off, it's more like shifting gears in a car or a motorcycle. We teach the mind different ways of perceiving and turn that on throughout the class. And that's really exciting.

This is an excerpt from a longer interview with Ana Forrest on the process of creating greater embodiment and connecting with spirit. Download the full interview here: