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Ana Forrest on Fierce Medicine and her journey through yoga

Forrest Yoga creator Ana Forrest tells quite a story. She started practicing yoga as a young teenager, became an instructor and has been involved in the yoga world for almost forty years; today, she'll sign a book containing her life story and innovative healing techniques, Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit, at the Tattered Cover LoDo, 1628 16th Street, starting at 7:30 p.m. And you can catch her through the weekend at Root Yoga Center, where she's hosting a series of yoga workshops on everything from inversions and arm balances to core work. We caught up with Forrest to ask about Fierce Medicine, her journey through yoga and turning karma into dharma.

Westword: What was your inspiration for this book?

Ana Forrest: It's multi-faceted, so I'm organizing my mind around that. It started with me doing what I call a fear asana, in other words, stepping forward and working with my fear. I use pieces of my life as stories, telling what I learned, gleaning the treasures of wisdom from those experiences and teaching those to my students. Many times over the years, students would say to me, "why don't you write a book about this," or "when are you going to write a book?" At the time, my answer was "never," because it was so deeply personal and difficult just to speak this story. As time went on, my answer changed. I remember one student in particular asking me that same question, and I just sat there thinking the answer was different, and I thought, "Now," the answer is "Now."

Why is now the right time?

It became evident to me -- and this is what got me excited about doing it -- that the book could become very much a part of my Spirit pledge, which is to do my part in mending the Hoop of the People. Through Fierce Medicine, I could reach people who weren't necessarily on a yoga mat, and that became very compelling to me.

Can you explain what the book is about?

At one level it's about my life, which is made up of strange and interesting stories. It's also about learning how to be resourceful and turning around what happens to you into something useful. Fierce Medicine teaches life transformation tools and how to use them; specific tools, not just philosophy to play around with in your head. I teach what works.

In other words, "here are some really intense experiences that happened to me, here's what I learned from them, here's how I turned these difficult experiences into wisdom, and here are the teaching tools that can help you with the challenging times in your life."

Is there yoga in the book?

There's a lot of Forrest yoga written into this book, though it's not a yoga book. Creating Forrest Yoga saved my life and gave me a reason to live. Fierce Medicine uses Forrest Yoga as one of the many teaching tools that I offer. I can't help but teach, because inherently, that's who I am. If I find something of value, I want to share it with other people. Hey, this worked for me, give it a shot!

Can you explain how you were introduced to yoga, and how your journey was shaped from there?

When I was around thirteen or fourteen -- and the reason I'm a little shady on that is it's behind the drug and alcohol curve, my time sense is not pinpoint-accurate -- a girl that I knew in school, but she wasn't a friend, just someone in school with me, said to me one day, "I have something you can't do." Which was really odd, because I wasn't a particularly friendly kid, and I didn't start conversations with people. And I looked at her, and she's shorter than me and very soft-spoken and kind of pale and a little overweight, and I just said, "That's impossible." And during all this I was doing this whole little dance, I took out one of my cigarettes, tapped it down and lit it, doing my best tough-kid act, and stood there glaring at her, but also really bewildered, wondering what's going on, why is this girl talking to me? And she said, "Yoga. Want to come to class with me?" It was so random.

So I went to class with her. It was very shocking to me; here were all these ancient women in there, they had to be at least thirty, ancient! They could reach forward and touch their toes, and when I would reach forward, I could grab right behind my knees. I remember clinging on to my thigh muscle really hard because I couldn't reach. I didn't know I was hooked, but I kept going back. That was actually a really huge step, because I didn't have extraneous money. My money situation was pretty desperate. I don't even remember how much the yoga classes were, but they were a cost that had nothing to do with my central focus in life, which was training horses. So if it wasn't related to horses, I wasn't spending the money on it.

I kept going back to yoga class, and Robin -- who was the girl who brought me -- just kind of faded out of my life. She was sometimes there and sometimes not; we never went together again. It was a very strange intercession in my life, and how I look at that now as a Medicine person is as an intervention. The Sacred Ones brought this person into my life, and if she would have said, "I can help you quit smoking or help you feel better," I would have told her to get out of my face. But she threw down a challenge, and that was irresistible. It was a huge turning point for me; I didn't recognize that at the time. I was mostly doing what I could to become a good horse trainer, I was also doing what I could to stay as numb as possible, and self-examination was not really where I was at the time. It was more about dulling the suffering.   How long have you been practicing yoga?

That was around 1973 or 1974. A long time.

Tell us about the title of Fierce Medicine and what that signifies.

I'm using Medicine as a Native American term, not the American Medical Association term. In the Native American world, the word means following the Medicine ways or following the Sacred ways. The Medicine Way teaches walking in beauty, which means living in alliance and respect for the natural world including the different peoples of the world, the animals, the life forces of the plants and the planet and cosmos itself. Part of the Medicine Way is vision questing and a deep introspection into finding out who you are, what do you need to do in the world and what is your purpose. These teachings call for a fierce quality of attention and also a willingness to fight for one's own freedom.

My life and the challenges of my life have been difficult. That's an understatement. It has taken some pretty fierce medicine to come through those things and turn what has happened to me into Beauty. As a teacher I call it turning karma into dharma, turning something that happened to me into something useful. I have healed in myself abuse, alcoholism, bulimia, and being crippled and epileptic. Therefore, I can give people tools to work themselves out of their deepest despairing times and into becoming the person they most yearn to be. Through Fierce Medicine, I offer many of the things I've learned. Some are Forrest Yoga, some are processes for going inside. Learning how to heal and grow and evolve yourself is the hottest, sexiest game in town.

What do you hope people will take away from this book?

Many things. I would say one of the primary things is to really get just how precious the gift of your life is. I used to think of myself as this infected cancerous scab on the earth. Self-esteem wasn't even part of my reality. But I have come around to feeling and seeing what a gift my life is, and finding what's worth living for; learning how to love and learning how to heal myself and other people, and learning how to be nourished by the beauty in the world. That's miraculous.

Do you have any forewarnings, disclaimers or advice for people before they pick up your book?

I don't really have any forewarnings or disclaimers, but what I would like to say is that we have a blanket of apathy that stops us from doing things, and underneath the apathy is a fear of failure. My request of each and every person who reads this article is to grab ahold of your courage and start to use these tools I'm offering because they work. I promise it's going to be fascinating, sometimes messy process. Go for it!

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Come to the workshops I'm doing in Denver -- that would be a great place to learn something fabulous and new! One of my assistants is Denver's own Forrest Yoga Guardian teacher, Cheryl Deer. She is awesome. It doesn't matter if you are a raw beginner or a great yoga teacher, we will find something to challenge you. If your internal dialogue says, "I'm not flexible enough, I'm not this or that enough," my request is to trust me and my team and our expertise in being able to shepherd and guide you through a process that is sacred, sweaty and fun.

Learn more about Ana Forrest at www.forrestyoga.com.

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