BY SHAYNA SKARF
“Hey Shayna, your kind of yoga needs a rebranding,” a media pro told me a few months back. He'd been to one of my classes, and couldn't understand why the yoga I teach is called Forrest Yoga, after its founder, Ana Forrest. “Call it Power Core Yoga,” he suggested. “Or Hardcore Abs Yoga. It's all about getting a tight core, and who doesn't want that?”
“It's true, there's a lot of core work,” I told him. “You hold poses for longer and the sequencing can be intense, but having chiseled abs or a flat belly isn’t what it's really about.” I urged him to continue coming to class to experience the wider effects of his core work.
Core work is essential to Forrest Yoga, but all those abdominal exercises at the start of class and long-held poses are gateways to something more profound than a six-pack–something that is embedded deep in the cell tissue. Ana Forrest, in fact, reframes yoga as a kind of somatic hunt; we track sensations in our body, hunting their meaning. Through Pranayama and Asanas we feel for clusters of energy or prana that form blockages in the body. Working at the crossroads of the physical, emotional, and spiritual sensations, we feel for where our energy flares, dims, and pools in the body. In Forrest Yoga classes, students are frequently urged to “go deeper” in feeling and to “get curious” about the origin and quality of energy blockages.
The result of our hunt may be beautifully toned abs, but it’s certainly not the point.
I agree with the media pro: ‘Forrest Yoga’ is a misleading name. I’ve had many well-meaning yogis ask, “Forrest Yoga, as in yoga in the woods?” which, given all the newfangled hybrid yoga styles–Paddleboard Yoga, Naked Yoga, Hip-Hop Yoga, even Doga (as in, yoga with dogs)–is understandable. I’d like to believe that Ana chose to name it after herself as a way of pointing us in the direction of her biography, as if to say: this yoga is deeply personal. It was born of individual needs and a single body’s complex history, which is courageously chronicled in her autobiography, Fierce Medicine. Though it’s designed to address the chronic conditions that result from modern living–neck and back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, anxiety and stress–Forrest Yoga is meant to be individually tailored. In Forrest Yoga classes, hands-on assists, pose modifications, and personal adjustments are made to meet the physical and emotional needs of the individual. Over time, students learn to modify poses for themselves, making Forrest Yoga an empowering modality.
My Forrest Yoga practice began right here at OM Factory in 2007. I will never forget how Forrest Yoga Guardian Erica Mather adjusted me in Bridge pose. First, she directed us to keep shoulder blades and upper back flat on the floor, rather than tucking shoulders underneath the body to elevate the chest. Then, she instructed us to lengthen the tailbone in the direction of our heels and to curl the pubic bone toward the navel. Bridge became an entirely different pose for me that day: long and low instead of pinioned and arched. Erica came over to adjust me and between each adjustment asked, “how’s that?,” until I no longer felt pain in my lumbar region. Though I didn’t have the language for it at the time, what she did was co-create a modification with me.
(Point of fact, I was first drawn to Forrest Yoga because it relieved my chronic lower back pain. As a young gymnast, I was taught to arch my back in routines and, over time, habit became posture. Through Forrest Yoga, I learned to engage my core to support my lower back not only on the mat, but in my daily life.)
Fierce. Intelligent. Honest. Life-Changing. These are the descriptors that come readily to mind when I’m asked, “What is Forrest Yoga?” Above all, Forrest Yoga demands honesty–honesty with oneself about what will serve your highest good on and off the mat. The answer may vary day to day, month to month, year to year because it is a personalized, idiosyncratic practice.
In fact, it is so paradigm shifting that the media pro came back the next week and approached me after a sweaty practice. “I'm still going to come for the core work," he said. “But I now see the Forrest through the trees.”
Shayna Skarf, PhD, RYT-200, teaches yoga at Om Factory in the Fashion District Tuesday and Thursday mornings, 10:00-11:15 AM.