Exploring Softness Within My Strength

Name: Kristi Johnson
Location: London, England
Occupation: Forrest Yoga Teacher

I remember my first yoga teacher training like it was yesterday. I didn’t feel like I was flexible enough to be a yoga teacher. I was struggling my way through the morning intensives, surrounded by ex-dancers, flinging themselves in and out of everything without a decent warm-up. My body chugged and screeched alongside them as I muscled my way through. Signing up for the training felt like a decision I had made against my own best judgment.

At some stage during the training I was called to the centre of the group and asked to demonstrate Chataranga. I went in and held it, strongly. As everyone ooohh-ed and aahhh-ed I continued to hold it. My muscles were pumped and my mind determined to keep the shape for as long as it took, to demonstrate “perfection.”

It was in this moment that I acknowledged my “strength,” and identified with it as my driving force.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Within my first year of teaching, I was partaking in a class and got badly injured. The teacher stood on my back leg in a lunge, pressing down hard and fast, which resulted in a herniated disc in my low back. I was in absolute agony. I couldn’t even stand up straight in the beginning. Every footstep sent nerve pain down my entire left leg for almost a year.

Being so firmly routed in my quest to be strong, and hold everything together, I pushed myself through it. I was teaching on average 22 yoga classes per week, practicing intensely every day, and indulged in spinning classes, boxing classes, and boot camp classes several times a week as well.

My practice sucked. I would grit my teeth through Wheel Pose after Wheel Pose, as my teacher barked at me to use my legs more, tuck my tailbone more, to trust him, it was the only way to heal. I was feeling pretty burnt out, in my practice, in my teaching, and in my life. I literally felt like I was on a treadmill, running hard and fast, but going nowhere. I knew that something had to change, and I truly questioned whether to go on and hone my skills as a teacher, or walk away from teaching all together.

Many of my friends and fellow teachers had studied with Ana Forrest and raved about her. I wasn’t convinced that holding a pose for a long time, being still, and breathing into my genitals was really my thing. Regardless, I took their advice and signed up for her Advanced Teacher Training in Hong Kong, where I was living and teaching at the time.

On day one of the Advanced Teaching Training, I introduced myself to the circle of trainees in such a bubbly, confident, and convincing manner; even I was fooled. As soon as I began to share my injuries with the group I fell apart, unexpectedly, into a puddle of tears, while mildly hyperventilating. Everything that I had bottled up, even my fear of crying in public, came to a head all at once. I went from not having cried for a very long time, to a blubbering mess for nine days straight.

I can’t explain exactly what happened, but something had shifted, in a big way.

My journey from then on became an exploration of softening—a huge learning curve for all things in my life. Forrest Yoga was a pillar of support in this sense, and as I have discovered, feeling supported plays a crucial role in my ability to soften and be vulnerable. The intents woven into the Forrest teachings like “Work Struggle Free,” and “Feed Your Spirit” became solid building blocks in my quest to embrace and honor softness and vulnerability.

I had always seen softness and vulnerability as a great weakness.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Forrest Yoga being strong, grounding and intense, fed the intensity junkie in me, but required deep feeling breath, and an element of softness to hold the poses for any length of time. Without these ingredients, I found, it is just a great big struggle.

Simple exercises like sitting on the side of my bed each morning as soon as I had woken up, with closed eyes, and a deep breath, were golden. To feel into what my spirit needed that day, reconnected me with my intuition, and knitted my spirit back together—a spirit that felt like it had been left somewhat in tatters.

Moving on, my personal mission to embrace softness and vulnerability, has shone a great big light on the immense power that comes from weaving in these elements. I feel super strong, but in a different way.

I can hold a solid Chataranga, but that strength no longer fully defines who I am.

I feel my power, and know that it lives in my spirit, my intuition, my heart, and in my vulnerabilities as much as it does in my legs, arms, or abs.

Finding softness within my strength is still a daily practice. I move much more slowly, in all areas of my life. I teach much less. I don’t numb myself out with ridiculous amounts of exercise, and I am no longer getting burnt out from my teaching. My teaching feeds me greatly, and I am hugely grateful that I did not walk away from it.

The place where my softness and strength meet is where I am committed to sharing from right now. I feel stronger, more grounded, and more vibrant than I ever have and I’m committed to empowering others in the same way.

Kristi Johnson Bio picKristi first discovered yoga in her native country of New Zealand. She traveled to Hong Kong and China in 2003 where she explored more deeply the physical, emotional, and spiritual practice of yoga. Kristi taught at PURE Yoga in Hong Kong, gathering a rich amount of experience teaching group classes, privates, and workshops, while furthering her training with teachers from all over the world. She experienced her first Forrest Yoga teacher training with Ana Forrest in 2010 and from then has never looked back. Kristi currently lives and teaches in yoga studios in London and Europe, and assists Ana Forrest in trainings and workshops around the world. You can also find Kristi’s Forrest Yoga classes online at Movement For Modern Life. Connect with Kristi here:

Website: www.kristimaeyoga.com
Blog: www.kristimaejohnson.tumblr.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/people/Kristi-Mae-Yoga/100011147582087
Instagram: www.instagram.com/kristimaeyoga/

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Shredding “Shoulds” and Embracing Life

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Name: Katie Boyle
Location: Glasgow, Scotland
Occupation: Forrest Yoga and Yoga Nidra Teacher, Learning Consultant and Writer

Katie Boyle photo1.JPG

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” The words of the famous American writer, Joseph Campbell, ring in my ears as I sit down to write about my yoga story. Quite simply yoga has shown me a way to let go of the life I thought I had planned and given me the courage to explore a different path.

Until I found yoga I didn’t realise the extent to which my life was dictated by the word “should.” I was a good girl. A perfectionist. A high achiever. I held myself to standards and expectations that often weren’t my own.

Then in my early thirties, life, as it tends to do when you’re heading down the wrong path, took an unexpected turn. The nine-year relationship I was in began to break down. There was a quiet voice within me that started to hint that maybe this relationship wasn’t quite right. How could this be? Surely I was crazy? My partner was the perfect person to marry and have children with. How could I possibly throw all that away?

The more I rejected this whispering voice inside me, the stronger it started to speak. I found myself crying. A lot. I got sickMy body’s way of telling me that I couldn’t continue like this. Life as I knew it was crumbling. I was scared, confused, my heart was breaking. I fought against it until I couldn’t fight anymore and I made the decision to leave.

This wasn’t meant to happen. Surely that “should” have been my path. Shouldn’t it? My hopes and dreams were in tatters. I felt like I had let myself down, and in the process hurt the person I cared most deeply for in the world. The guilt and shame was unbearable.

When there was nowhere else to turn, I turned to yoga. My mat felt like the only place where I could find solace and grounding when everything else was falling apart. Magically, at that point, an opportunity emerged to attend a workshop led by Ana Forrest, the founder of Forrest Yoga. I was new to Forrest Yoga but my body was telling me that there was something powerful about the practice. So, although apprehensive, I jumped at the chance. My heart gave a huge, resounding “yes!

When the student is ready the teacher really does appear. At the workshop Ana Forrest explained that the word “shoulders” has the word “should” in it is because it is the area of the body where we tend to hold all of our responsibilities and burdens. Her words touched me deeply. I could feel the weight of my own “shoulds” bearing down heavily in that area. As Ana coached us to breathe into the areas of tension in our shoulders and relax our necks, I could feel the first layer of “shoulds” beginning to release. Tears of hurt, grief, guilt, and shame started to flow. The relief was immense.


This experience changed everything for me.
 Since then Forrest Yoga has continued to provide me with practical tools to let go of my expectations about how life “should” be and embrace a life that is even richer and more aligned to who I am. It has opened me up, connected me to my spirit, and showed me that there is a different way.

Katie yoga - 02

Through the continuous journey of self-exploration and discovery involved in becoming a Forrest  Yoga and iRest Yoga Nidra teacher, I have learned that the whispering voice within me is the voice of my spirit, my intuition, my heart’s wisdom. My practice has given me a way of connecting to and welcoming that voice rather than being afraid of what it is has to say. I’m learning that I don’t need to follow a path dictated by what I think I “should” be doing just because I’ve reached a certain age or because everyone around me is doing it. This doesn’t mean I don’t value other people’s advice and opinions, but it does mean that rather than blindly following the road most travelled, I get on my mat and ask my body what feels right for me. I don’t need to search outside. All the answers I’m looking for lie within.


When I’m not sure of the path to follow I ground myself through active feet. When I set
 my vision and intentions for life, I focus on my active hands, and it reminds me not to grip too tightly to my plans and expectationsInstead to remain open to the possibilities that life has to offer. These are often much greater than what we thought we wanted in the first place. When I feel disconnected and low in mood, I connect to my deepest breath and do some Forrest Yoga ab workouts. This gets my energy moving and reminds me of how alive I am right now.

It’s not that my path is now a linear, upward trajectory in which yoga provides a miracle cure. Of course I experience challenges. There are times when I still feel confused, uncertain, and fearful of the future. But now I have a way of welcoming in and working with those feelings, rather than pushing them away.

Yoga has allowed me to unravel and accept my story so far. It has also given me a way of taking full authorship of the next chapter. I get to choose how it will unfold. The fact that this chapter involves teaching yoga and helping others to navigate life transitions, while remaining grounded in who they are and what they want, is exhilarating!

Katie Boyle bioKatie is a Forrest Yoga and iRest Yoga Nidra teacher with a passion for sharing the healing power of yoga and helping people connect to feeling in their body. Katie combines her yoga teaching with her role as a Learning Consultant at Insights, an organisation which works with some of the biggest companies in the world to improve the performance of their people, teams, and leaders. Katie’s unique combination of skills in facilitation, coaching, Jungian psychology, yoga, and mindfulness enable her to create powerful development experiences – be it those in the workplace or on the yoga mat. Please follow Katie here:

Website: www.wellbeingwithkatie.com 
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/yogabykatiesarahboyle
Instagram: http://instagram.com/katiesarahboyle

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Out of the Forrest. Into the fire.

Name: Lizzy Nichol
Location: London, UK
Occupation: Health coach and Forrest Yoga teacher

Lizzy Nichol yoga poseI am teaching a yoga class in the style of a chicken.

I am not a yoga teacher…yet. So just the “teaching” part is challenging enough. In front of me, the other trainees are laughing so hard they fall from their down dogs onto their knees.

I walk through the line of mats clucking and squawking, red faced, teetering between humiliation and hilarity. Between tears of laughter and tears of everything and anything else.

Just when I think it can’t get any worse, the trainer who decided I would teach chicken-style whispers in my ear, “Don’t forget to flap your wings.”

This is a typical afternoon on Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training. Think of it like the yogi military. First you must be broken down before you can be rebuilt. The breakdowns happen daily. Only now more than a year on do I see that yes, I have been entirely rebuilt.

A day or two after that chicken class, I am teaching again. Only this time I am to bark orders like a sergeant major.

Only I cannot do it.

Suddenly I would rather teach 100 more sequences as a chicken than just this one in charge.

I start. I stumble. And then I cry.

There is a saying in Forrest Yoga – “Never waste a good trigger.” Over the remainder of the training I began to unravel the knot I unwittingly located deep inside myself when asked to be a sergeant major – When I was triggered.

Turns out it’s been there since 1988.

I am five years old. My teacher, a young, French, willow-the-wisp woman named Miss Allport is standing in the middle of the classroom screaming my name.

EL-IZ-A-BETH!

The class holds its breath.

I don’t remember the transgression. But I can make an educated guess: I am talking, loudly, when I should be listening. I have declared, loudly, that the exercise she has set is dull. I have told someone, loudly, I think they are stupid and how they can do whatever they are doing, better. I am being a bossy little so-and-so.

There’s the word. “Bossy.”

The first time someone called me bossy was the first time it occurred to me that that, perhaps, was what I was. And clearly this was not a term of endearment. Clearly this thing that I was was undesirable. Clearly I needed to change.

So “bossy” and all its accoutrements went into a box – A box that I would fill over the years with other labels. Arrogant. Loud. Judgmental. Selfish. Each time I nailed it firmly shut.

Twelve years later I would stand in front of a quarter of my school as an appointed head of house and mumble through my curtains of long hair, looking down at my feet.

By accident, it seems I had also put confidence, self-esteem, authority and leadership into that box. Along with all my opinions. Along with my voice.

There was a new willow-the-wisp in town.

Now I am sitting in a circle on teacher training, another twelve years on. The talking stick is moving steadily, minute by excruciating minute, towards me.

[Forrest Yoga rules – whoever has the talking stick will speak uninterrupted for their allotted three minutes on a given subject before passing it to the next person.]

Kneeling, I press one end to my heart and begin.

I tell them about that kid in the classroom. And the girl with the long hair. I tell them how I have realized – just at that moment – that I have been running from my own voice since I was five years old. That I became a writer so I could speak without speaking. And wrote for brands, in voices not my own. I say that I seem unable to form an opinion, sitting permanently on any and every fence. I say that I thought I was an introvert who could pretend to be an extrovert, but perhaps I’ve been an extrovert all along. An extrovert in hiding.

On the last day of training we hug and cry, fearful of going back to our lives where the hard work will commence. Where we must make good on our intentions. Where we must build our broken-open selves back up.

I didn’t know if I would teach. If I could. I had insight now, but I still did not have a voice. I did precisely nothing about becoming a teacher …

Until four things happened in quick succession.

February: My teacher asks me if I would like to assist a class a week.
March: A friend asks me to cover her classes at a well-known studio.
April: I find, audition for, and get, a teaching job in a studio.
May: I fall into (and in love with) a public speaking training program.

Lizzy Nichol cobra poseIn the months just gone I have stood on stage in front of 80 global executives from a well-known charity and spoken for an hour. I have gotten to the final of a speaking competition telling a story about my Grandpa. I have sold out a retreat and designed a workshop. I have been on a radio show. I have branched out from blogs to tele-seminars. I will give my new opinions to anyone who asks, or will listen. And I have taught many Forrest Yoga classes.

It is less than three years since I stumbled on Ana Forrest’s book, Fierce Medicine, at the London Yoga Show and read it cover to cover in days, appalled, entranced, and certain I had found my practice.

I could never have predicted then, that in finding my practice I would also find my voice.

Lizzy head shotLizzy Nichol is a health coach, writer and Forrest Yoga teacher. She helps women reunite with their bodies and get the energy and confidence they need to do awesome stuff with their lives.

 

 

 

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How Yoga Helped Me View Pain As a Gift

Name: Natalie Edwards
Location: London, United Kingdom
Occupation: Life Coach and Certified Forrest Yoga Teacher

Natalie Edwards namasteOur pain is a great teacher. It tests our resilience and endurance, something that anyone with an injury, physical limitation or condition has to have in abundance on their journey through life. And that’s really how I’ve learnt to view my scoliosis through yoga. It’s a journey on which I have had to learn to navigate and love my curves, even when they are giving me the most excruciating pain, and learn to listen to the many messages my pain has brought me over the years.

My first memory of back pain was around the time that my parents’ divorce became particularly turbulent. I remember thinking that I was partly responsible for their break-up and the chaos that followed. At the time, I made no connection between shouldering that responsibility and my pain as I was just 12 years old. But over the past few years, every time I’ve been to see a specialist in search of more help with my pain and alignment, the first question they’ve all asked me has been, “Was there something else going on in your life at the time you were diagnosed?”

Once told by osteopaths that my scoliosis was idiopathic and directly related to a growth spurt, I’ve since found out that my condition was congenital, meaning I was born with it. After studying baby pictures with my Rolfer at the time, Jennie Crewdson, and uncovering more trauma after discussing the difficult events of my birth (my mother nearly died in childbirth, I was in an awkward position in the womb for most of her pregnancy, and I was born breech and yanked out into the world with forceps when I should have been born by caesarean), there was no doubt that the scoliosis had been there all along and had gone unnoticed. I experienced a huge amount of sadness, anger, and frustration at this news because I’d only just found out at the age of 30 that I’d had this condition in my body since birth. So why had no one noticed it when I was little? But something I had to begin to do was start to learn to love my spine rather than continue to get frustrated by it, whatever new information I found out. To appreciate it and accept it for the way it was meant using it as a guide and a gift rather than fighting with it or continually looking for someone to ‘make me straight,’ and although it’s still a work in progress, my yoga practice has helped me achieve this.

I let my scoliosis define who I was for a long time. It was almost as if it was the main facet of my personality. For years, I was living in that same constrained, frustrated, and hyper-vigilant state that I entered the world in as a baby. I was often scared to participate in things or worried that certain movements would aggravate my back, and I was even told to avoid yoga when I was younger, becoming more and more frustrated and locked in my body and for many years using drugs and alcohol to numb that frustration out even more. But slowly, I began to become aware that my violent internal negativity towards my spine then in turn made the physical pain worse, and from no one did I learn this more truthfully than from my teacher Ana Forrest.

Natalie Edwards arm balanceBefore my teacher training, I hadn’t realised how much I had been ignoring myself and treating myself in such a disrespectful way. I had become an expert in not only suppressing my daily physical pain and a huge emotional backlog of crap and trauma that I had exhaustively tried to submerge with drugs, partying, a job I hated, and pretending to be someone I wasn’t, but also in the self-deprecating way I had been talking to myself for years. I was the queen of apologising for not being good enough, not being strong enough, and not being worthy enough.

I discovered Forrest Yoga via one of my first teachers, Charlotte Speller. She made me realise that my scoliosis was a gift rather than a curse and suggested that I use it to help other sufferers. Even at that stage I was still making assumptions that having scoliosis meant that I couldn’t take on big physical challenges. During my training, something that came up for me that I wasn’t expecting was anger. I’d had no idea how angry I’d been at being in pain all those years and part of me was angry that I hadn’t been able to articulate that pain when I was younger or express how it had left me feeling on an emotional level. I was also angry with myself for abusing my body the way I had up until I’d discovered yoga and how to feel again. Ana Forrest’s teachings helped me begin to explore that anger and made me realise that if you’re fully committed to healing yourself and coming face to face with your dark side, anything is possible.

Her focus on relaxing the neck instead of holding it up was like a coming home for me. Until my first Forrest class I’d had no idea how much habitual tension I’d been holding in my neck, the point in my body where the second curve is most visible. One day Ana whispered, whilst tractioning my neck, “she needs to relax; she doesn’t have to carry everyone else’s problems anymore.” Studying Forrest Yoga also helped me to realise that scoliosis is not just about the spine. When we’re having a bad pain day, we tend to pour all of our frustrated and hateful energy into that one area, but our body is a whole and we need to work with it that way. And so I was completely unaware of the tension I had been carrying in my hips and jaw until beginning a yoga practice. Now, keeping my hips open and supple is essential to managing my back pain, as well as doing regular backbends, which is something I didn’t think my body could ever do or was even ‘allowed’ to do after being told to avoid them. Ana’s intelligent sequencing showed me how to move into them safely and now they are one of the most therapeutic, rejuvenating, and loving things I can do for my spine.

Through Forrest Yoga I’ve learnt to heal parts of myself that I didn’t know were broken, emotionally and physically. But most importantly of all, Ana taught me how to reconnect with and heal my broken heart. My lack of love for myself ran deeper than just my disgust with my spineit was in my very core, and I had forgotten how to be kind to myself and be grateful for my body. I now have a toolbox that has helped me to re-frame and manage pain and I’ll be forever thankful to Ana for that.

Whilst away on my training, Ana held a signing for her book, Fierce Medicine. Inside my copy she wrote, “Dear Natalie, navigate the curves with awe and fascination.” I invite anyone with scoliosis, or anyone who is experiencing and being limited by any kind of pain, to do the same.

Natalie Edwards bioNatalie Edwards is a transformational coach and Forrest Yoga teacher. She specialises in working with women with the same negative body image issues and feelings of low self-worth which held her back in her life and career for many years. Fascinated by the body-mind connection, through powerful mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and health coaching, she helps people reconnect to their bodies, uncover the hidden parts of themselves, and come back to a more inspired and truthful way of living. You can find out more about Natalie at www.natedwards.co.uk.

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/nataliecatherineedwards?ref=hl
Twitter – https://twitter.com/NataliecEdwards
YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCI_Avs5iIkzbdQApFPYNlAQ

Do you have a story of healing or transformation through yoga? The Yoga Diaries wants to hear it. Click here to submit your story.

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How Forrest Yoga Changed My Life

The Yoga Diaries is proud to present the winner of the
Forrest Yoga transformation story contest:

 

Name: Kaitlin Morris
Location: Riverhead, New York, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

When I was 13 years old, I was trying desperately to accept and love myself. Having determined that I was officially “too fat,” “ugly,” and generally not conforming to what I perceived to be the ideals of my peer group, I joined a weight loss group and began to exercise with my mother’s encouragement. Although my parents were loving and supportive, I interpreted their support as criticism—I had to be thinner, smaller, and quieter. I had to get better grades in school and pick up more slack around the house.

A few years passed … I lost 35 lbs by taking my weight loss plan to an extreme, sometimes eating as little as 1,000 calories a day and exercising vigorously on a daily basis. Seeing these changes in my body and attitude as positive, I made other positive changes in my life. I stopped slitting my wrists, I began to help out my parents more with the household chores, and I began to work harder at school to improve my grades.

It was about this time that I decided that I wasn’t enough. Even though I had lost weight, even though I seemed intelligent and well-adjusted, I still wasn’t good enough. Taking this painful conclusion to heart, I began to exercise more and seek out alternative ways to tone and strengthen my body, whipping it into a shape that I could accept. I tried weights, aerobics, cardio machines, and, luckily, yoga. I tried an inexpensive yoga class geared towards beginners at my library and I began to notice changes not just in my posture but also in my thought patterns. As I continued the practice, slight decreases in anxiety and stress, negativity, and improvements in my self-esteem were my surprise rewards.

I kept taking yoga classes through the years, but eventually the stress of college and other aspects of my life somehow expressed themselves as a desire to lose more weight, to go further, to seek a more distant “edge” physically and mentally. I began to lose faith in yoga, feeling bored and injured by the level of instruction and styles of yoga available at the time. I considered giving it up completely, favoring more physically challenging exercises instead to further reduce my body to a tight nub of muscle and skin.

I decided to branch out, to seek other styles, and to look for new teachers. Somewhere along the way, yoga had left me looking for something deeper, something that was missing. I was sick of checking my watch throughout class as I waited for that “yoga elevator music” and the dull, simple poses to end. I was sick of flowery language and cues that didn’t make sense. I was sick of, as a biology student, knowing more about alignment and health than my teachers. So I bought a membership at a studio further from my house and began to search for whatever it was that had become lost along the way.

On a rainy FKaitlin Morris backbendriday in October, I chose to skip my obsessive cardio exercise. Instead I took a yoga class labeled “Advanced” on the recommendation of another yoga instructor who also enjoyed a good challenge. It was here that I found what I had all but given up hope of finding—yoga that physically, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally came together with my body and my mind and melted into my soul.

With the first round of abdominals, I was hooked for life. I could feel something, deep inside, that I had never felt before, something that no other physical or spiritual path had ever given me a touch of. I felt like I would be okay, like I was good, like I had come home to somewhere safe and warm.

The class was my first Forrest Yoga experience, and I spent the whole time alternatively laughing and crying. As I drove the long way home, I knew that I had found my saving grace.

That summer, the teacher of that class opened her own yoga studio (Good Ground Yoga in Hampton Bays, NY) even closer to my home, and I had the unbelievable opportunity to practice Forrest Yoga with her several times each week until this day.

I felt my life unfold, new opportunities arose, and I leapt at them. I took more difficult, intimidating college courses. I finished my undergraduate degree. I cried through savasana as I felt my sister’s hands in mine, healing from her sudden death years before.

My eating disorder became something that I could work through with the breath, consciousness, and the new-found courage that the practice gave me. I thought about it long and hard, and then I took the leap.

Kaitlin Morris handstand croppedHere I am, now teaching yoga myself, no longer sure that I will die any day and be better for it. Now I have the hope, strength, love, and power that only Forrest Yoga could have given me. I have the tools to not only face life with my head up, but also to carve the life I choose to live. I can recover, I can heal, I can connect, and I am capable of anything.

That is what practicing Forrest Yoga did to change my life.

Kaitlin Morris bioKaitlin took her first yoga class at age 13, hoping to ease anxiety while trying a new workout. Initially skeptical, she quickly learned to love yoga and began to use the practice to handle the stress of college, the intense grief of losing her sister, and the raw struggle of healing from an eating disorder. In 2011, she took her first Forrest class with Leslie Pearlman and was hooked for life. When Leslie opened Good Ground Yoga in 2012, Kaitlin moved in and never left. Kaitlin now teaches at GGY and several other studios. www.kaitlinmorrisyoga.com.

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Present on MY Mat

Name: Rebecca Fisher
Locations: Fort Worth, Texas, United States
Occupation: Senior at Texas Christian University

Photo by Amber Shumake.Due to my hectic schedule, I had been missing my 8:30 yoga class so I decided I needed to figure out which evening classes were going to work into my new “big-girl job” life. On this particular night, I walked into the studio and the class was full. I made my way to the back of the class and two lovely women made room for me.

I looked up from my mat and there was a woman who was my child’s second grade teacher. She knew me when I was happily married, a stay-at-home mom, the school’s PTA president, a beautiful time in my life before my marriage fell apart and I was thrown away, to be replaced by my best friend. My ex-best friend still works at her school.

Along with the teacher’s instructions, my inner dialogue went something like this:

Teacher: “Come onto a block and go inside.”

Me: “Oh no. Please do not let her see me. I want to run from this room. What if she recognizes me? What am I going to say? Am I really going to say, ‘I am great? I lost two of my kids. I miss them but they live with Michael. You remember him; I am sure Veronica talks about my family’….Wait! Maybe she does not recognize me.”

Teacher: “Come into your breath.”

Photo by Amber Shumake.Me: “I cannot breathe, Amber! I am in pain. The pain is flooding in. Tears are starting to form. Oh gosh, what if Amber calls me out in class? Will she say my whole name? Wait! I am safe. She is not going to use my married name. I can be invisible. I will not stand out. I will just blend in. Amber is talking about my neck and tension. Ugh, can she feel my tension?”

I finally shook off the inner dialogue and I had a break through. How many times have I listened to my teachers speak about staying present on your own mat? I have never known what the heck they were talking about! I decided to stop the inner voice that was not serving me. Could I let it go?

Then the dialogue went like this:

Teacher: “Bring your shoulders straight up to your ears.”

Me: “I left a situation in which I did not feel love. I have made it through college and not any college, but I chose a college which has challenged me and made me step out of my comfort zone. I have met amazing friends and people. I am a badass and she probably has no idea who I am. I am going to enjoy this class and smile. I am going to stay on MY mat, not her mat. I will focus on my breath and not on thoughts that do not serve me. I will smile and I will have a great class. Can I focus on my core the whole class and lift my toes? I can do it!”

Rebecca Fisher coreWe continue through the neck releases and I hear the teacher say, “Let’s lie back, core work!”

Me: “Woo-hoo!”

I smiled. I had a great time! I held my handstand for ten breaths. I got my big old head under my ankle in head to ankle prep. I stayed on my mat and my teacher even commented on my smile.

75 minutes flew by! I was present the whole time on my mat. And it was a beautiful class.

I left Karmany Yoga that night, a strong, happy badass!

Rebecca Fisher bioRebecca Fisher is currently a senior at Texas Christian University, graduating in May, 2013 with a degree in Early Childhood Education. She is a mom to three wonderful boys. Rebecca describes herself as obsessed with Forrest Yoga and is working on spreading joy to her friends, family, as well as to future friends. She enjoys writing and hopes that her words heal a heart or bring a smile.



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Edited by Jeannie Page.
Yoga photos by Amber Shumake.

Breaking Patterns

Name: Anonymous
Location: Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Occupation: Mother, Wife & Yogini

Photo by Margie Woods Brown.

Photo by Margie Woods Brown.

I’ve learned a lot of amazing things on my mat, with incredible Forrest Yoga teachers and friends in my community. These women are inspiring; sharing and being authentic in the quest for wholeheartedness and vulnerability. Yes, vulnerability. It’s something most people let shame them, yet on our mats we sweat out more than just the toxic substances in our bodies. We sweat them out of our hearts and minds.

As Brené Brown says, by giving a voice to your story it can no longer shame you. We are talking about her book in our bad-ass group of women that comes together weekly to commune on our mats, sharing laughter, our thoughts and dinner afterwards. I’ve decided to drop my sh*t story and let go of the shame that I have allowed to hold me back. So here goes a bit of authenticity for ya: I am a foodaholic. I have let myself eat to numb out for too long. I am done. Really done. Not just “ok, yeah I do this and it sucks but I will stop…for a while,” but Really. Effing. Done. Continue reading

Uniting the Facets of Who I Am

Name: Amber Shumake
Location: Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Occupation: Yoga Therapist / Photographer / Writer / Lover

Photo by Flickr user ups2006.

Photo by Flickr user ups2006.

For several years as an English teacher, I taught To Kill a Mockingbird, to my 8th grade students. My passion for the prose, I poured into the teaching of this classic. I’ll never forget the year that a student – one of my favorite suns {a pun used to describe the endearing male students who brightened my day} did the unthinkable: having read ahead of the rest of the class, he blurted out the ending, shouting, “Tom Robinson gets shot!” My mouth dropped in dismay because I was disappointed, certainly, but more so because I thought I was going to have to restrain the other students in the room from lynching him. Continue reading

Enter the Lion: My First Steps in Forrest Yoga

Name: Colleen Millen
Occupation: Forrest Yoga Guardian Teacher, mother, graduate student
Location: Northern California, USA

I had envisioned a yoga class on soft supportive bolsters – different variations of lying over things, close to the floor. After all, the workshop was called something like (one might call it “mislabeled”) “restorative yoga.”

Instead, I found myself at one point in a lunge lion – a lunge hugging the back foot in by the sit bone and stretching the tongue out to the chin releasing a seismic roar out the mouth. Dripping with sweat, I went for the sound full-throttle. The burning from my thighs seemed to explode like lava from a volcano out of my mouth until I felt every cell in my body was popping with rage. We released and flowed to the other side. I noticed my thoughts: “This teacher sucks! It was supposed to be restorative yoga! This whole conference sucks! What the hell am I doing here?” I whipped forward out of the pose and onto the ground panting.

Then it hit me – this was my anger. This feeling had nothing to do with this teacher I had just met. For the first time in my life I had just tapped into a layer of feeling so intense that a part of me was working overtime to project it onto everyone but myself. I knew this anger was mine. And the truth of it – even though I had to hit the proverbial brick wall in the pose to find it – actually helped me to breathe deeper. I just had to move past the feeling of smacking into a brick wall of my truth.

After class, somehow I had the hootspa to march right up to the teacher and without preamble I announced: “I spent almost the whole class being pissed at you. It was the most rewarding yoga experience I’ve ever had.”

Ana Forrest looked at me, I thought equal parts shock and amusement on her face, and said: “I’m doing a teacher training in Chicago in the fall. You should come.”

***

The yoga mat has been my doorway to healing. At first, it was mostly a place where I could move my body without physical pain. I found that I could build strength and fluidity of movement without wincing or favoring one of the multiple injuries I had suffered as a collegiate athlete with bum knees.

Most importantly, the mat has been a place I could delight in my body and celebrate it – which has been a challenge after years of raging eating disorder, depression and anxiety (later I rename my experience Complex PTSD). My mat has unlocked feeling, courage and presence – especially when bouts of depression would make me want to curl up and disappear from the world. It has been an altar of sorts where I have both named the fluctuations of feeling that form my emotional world and touched my spirit, which is imbued with gold and as fluid as water. This yoga mat is a home where my body, mind and spirit meet.

And, while all this sounds almost romantic, please don’t misunderstand – on the yoga mat it’s not all roses. I’ve stumbled, cried, wailed, snotted, farted (yes, it happens for all of us one time or another), raged and hid on my mat. It’s because I’ve had the full spectrum of human experience on the mat, that I’m able to say that in yoga I’ve built a home for my soul to play.

Colleen Millen, E-RYT-500, is a Forrest Yoga Guardian teacher and mother of two who lives in Northern California. A former journalist, her advanced asana currently is completing her master’s degree in somatic psychology on track to be a licensed therapist. Recently, her paper “Development of Awareness: Language and Breathing as Essential Elements in Somatic Therapy” has been published in the Journal of Holistic Psychology. You can reach Colleen at contact@bluebuddhayoga.com and read more about her at www.bluebuddhayoga.com. Find her on Facebook at Blue Buddha Yoga – Colleen Millen.

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Discovering the Inner Truth Through Yoga

Name: Bridget Boland
Location: Dallas, Texas, USA
Occupation: Writer, Forrest Yoga Guardian Teacher, Shaman, Doula

Photo by Flickr user AlicePopkorn.

“Button your lip.” Whenever I expressed dissatisfaction or some other “negative” emotion, this slightly more polite version of “shut up” is what my father would say. It was meant as a warning; if I didn’t quiet down I could expect to be sent to my room or swatted on the backside. I even recall having my mouth washed out with soap once or twice for talking back.

My father isn’t a cruel man. He simply parented me and my siblings the same way my grandparents had parented him. How many of us are all too familiar with the adage, “Children are to be seen, not heard?” My father had taken the advice to heart.

As the first of five children, I suffered early on from what I call “perfect oldest child syndrome:” I wanted everyone’s approval, especially my parents’ and others in authority, such as teachers. I was proficient at empathing – feeling what other people wanted from me – from a very young age. I was so good at this that I met their expectations time and again without considering the cost of ignoring my own wants and needs.

This method of relating to the world left me docile and polite. I excelled in school and by my mid-twenties had landed a job as a medical malpractice attorney, fulfilling my family’s dream for me. On the outside, I was the model of success. On the inside, however, a maelstrom of emotions had built up. I had stuffed them further and further down in my body for decades. I was miserable in my career, depressed and lonely in my personal life. And I couldn’t shake the nagging sense that somehow, despite all my accomplishments, I was a fraud.

Photo by Flickr user dkshots.

By the time I found my way onto a yoga mat, I was an emotional time bomb. And explode I did. My time on the mat opened up my body, and try as I might, I couldn’t suppress the backlog of emotions any longer. I’d feel great as I unwound in the opening sequences and strong and steady in the standing Warrior poses. But when I settled down for savasana, something mysterious would happen. All those old, unexpressed emotions bubbled and churned, then erupted in a rush of tears. My arms and legs shook, my nose ran, my throat and jaw ached from the effort of holding back sobs and wails. The phrase “much weeping and gnashing of teeth” occurred to me at the end of many a yoga class.

I tried giving myself a stern talking to inside my head, replaying my father’s “button your lip” over and over. Sometimes it worked and I’d hold back the tears, the frustration, the worry. Other days though those emotions spilled up and out, leaving me reaching for one of the Kleenex boxes my teacher kept around the studio for just this purpose.

Then I started practicing yoga with someone whose mission is to heal life’s emotional wounds, Ana Forrest. “Breathe deep, connect into your core, and feel the Truth of your life. Acknowledge that truth to heal from your wounds and to create the life you most want to live,” this inspiring and powerful yogini instructed in the first workshop I attended with her.

I wanted so badly to follow her instructions, wanted her approval just as I had sought out the approval of all the other teachers and people I looked up to in my life. But there was one problem: this teacher didn’t want something particular from me; there was no right answer I could glean from her cues, from a textbook or my classmates. The answer was inside me and couldn’t come from any other source. To some students this might have been an exhilarating exploration into the mysteries of their own desires. But when I looked within, I found myself facing a seemingly impenetrable brick wall. I had no idea how to feel my internal truth. I’d spent so much of my life seeking what other people wanted that I’d lost my ability to recognize and say what felt true for me.

For several years, I had to take Ana’s instruction on faith. Every time I breathed, every time I did a posture, I’d close my eyes for a moment and check inside: what did I feel? For the longest time, I felt nothing. Just a numbness, an absence of any connection into my body beyond the stretch of tendons and ligaments or the burn of holding a pose long enough to make a muscle protest.

Then one blessed practice, something changed. I was performing uddiyana bandha breathing, tugging my navel back toward my spine at the end of my exhale and feeling inside for even the tiniest bit of sensation. I let go of the pose and took a huge inhale. Something shifted, moved up and out of my abdomen, creating a sense of more spaciousness. I took another big breath, right into all that newfound space, and felt a delicious tingle move from my pelvis down both legs.

Pearl S. Buck wrote, “The truth is always exciting. Speak it, then. Life is dull without it.” Her words get to the heart of the matter. When we dim our truth, our lives dull as a result. Truth is exciting because it is constantly changing; growing and evolving as we do. Our yoga practice also grows as we grow. Excitement was what I felt the first time I connected into my core and my truth, excitement and exhilaration.

That first glimmer of connection was fleeting but when I told Ana about my experience, she encouraged me to hunt and stalk it. The next time I practiced, I set an intention: I wanted to seek out my truth, no matter how far underneath the pile of my unspoken emotions it was buried. I had a great set of tools to help me. These included: kapphalabhati and meditation to connect me to my center or hara, backbends like camel, bow, and wheel to open my heart, neck stretches to improve communication between my brain and my body, and lion’s breath and brahmeri to unstick old emotions and give expression to my feelings. Today, I’m thrilled at the new rapport I have with my own spirit, my own self. I’m committed to living from the inside out – in every moment, with every breath.

Bridget Boland’s work has appeared in Conde Nast Women’s Sports and Fitness, YogaChicago, and The Essential Chicago. Her debut novel, The Doula, was published by Simon and Schuster September, 2012. Excerpts from her work have won the Writers League of Texas Memoir Prize, and the Surrey Writers Conference Nonfiction Award. Ms. Boland teaches writing classes on fiction and memoir, coaches other writers, and offers seminars on yoga, energetic medicine, and writing as life process tools. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a JD from Loyola University of Chicago, and is the recipient of five residencies at The Ragdale Foundation for Writers and Artists. She lives with her son Liam in Dallas, Texas. Find Bridget on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bridgetboland and follow the latest about her book at www.facebook.com/thedoulanovel.

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