This weekend Ida and I went to Chicago to spend 3 days with Ana Forrest. The weekend was split into 5 classes with slightly different focuses: Celebrating Your Practice, The Heart, The Core, The Back and Inversions.
The first thing that a person notices about Ana is her no-nonsense style. She is not afraid of plain language, even cursing. She tells us not to indulge our usual 'shit' and to stay present and in our bodies. She tells us to be stronger, because letting our weaknesses define us is selling ourselves short.
The room is full of women. In a group of about 100 students, I am one of 5 men. The energy is palpably feminine. Ana's love yourself, heal yourself message apparently speaks very strongly to women.
In regards to the postures that Ana teaches, she is set apart by 4 things: 1) Long holds, and I mean long. There were times when we spent more than 10 minutes in variations of Warrior 1 and Warrior 2. 2) Abdominal work. Every class has substantial ab strengthening near the beginning. It warms the body and strengthens the midsection. 3) Active Feet. She encourages engaged feet with toes spread and pulled back at all times, in every posture. 4) Relaxed neck. Almost always, she doesn't want us holding up our heads or twisting our necks. They stay relaxed and drooping, stretching the neck muscles and staying away from tension.
Every class started with a significant Pranayama/Breathing section. She usually put us into a hip opening seated posture like Cow Face (she calls it Knee Pile). We proceeded to practice breath retention, balancing breath, even Uddiyana Bandha. I was so happy that she taught Uddiyana. I haven't found anyone else that incorporates it into their classes. She even did Agni Sara (Breath of Fire) during two of the classes.
Ana's practice is very advanced. She can demo every single posture that she teaches, and her demonstrations are deeper, stronger and stiller than any of the students. Certainly a mark of a great asana teacher.
There were 3-4 assistants for every class. They walked through the students, adjusting postures and assisting. Their strength, calm and understanding was amazing. Their touch and guidance never failed to move a student deeper or more correctly into a posture, and their control of energy was also apparent. If nothing else, the depth of understanding of the Forrest Assistants speaks very highly of the training that Ana offers.
My least favorite part of the experience was the boisterous way that many students approached the classes. There was more than a little moaning during long holds, loud sighs of relief on their release, and all out cheering when the abdominal section was finished. It was a bit tribal for my conception of yoga practice.
Over the course of 5 classes, I grew very fond of Ana herself. She is tough and uncompromising while also being incredibly gentle and patient. Her joy and generosity in teaching is inspiring.
This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga