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My first Yoga experience was whilst travelling in Udaipur, India. I was 25 and could not touch my toes. I lived on a diet of curry, chaos, uncomfortable hostel beds and the floors of night trains. I decided to give it a go after noticing a poster in a hostel selling the experience as a refuge for weary travellers. I set my alarm for 5am, threw on a pair of harem pants and set off through the early morning mayhem. I arrived yawning and late to a temple full of gorgeous, fresh faced travellers sitting cross legged in a circle looking peaceful and serene around a curious centre piece; a tiny, ancient, Indian man wearing robes standing on his head, arms crossed, in what appeared to be deep meditation.
My first instinct was, to bolt out of the room to the restaurant next door and stuff my face with curry for breakfast. However, at this point the elderly teacher slowly opened his eyes, bent his knees, and gently lowered his feet to the floor in the most slow and controlled manner I had ever witnessed saying “Welcome, please come.” I obliged, and followed him to the only free mat, immediately adjacent to the teacher with nowhere to hide! Here I attempted, to the best of my ability, to sit in a comfortable cross-legged position with my tight hips and back. Whilst I contended with sneezing from the insense, swatting flies and all manner of fidgeting, the group started to chant. With an open mind and heart, I listened wishing I could join in. The group proceeded to tie themselves in knots and shapes I couldn’t even dream of while I struggled to keep up.
As we lay in savasana (deep relaxation) at the end of the practice, I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of longing: This is what I want to be! The teacher spoke of simplicity, stillness and finding peace in chaos, which was essential as the room was filled with the sound of car horns, traffic and shouting from the early morning market traders outside.
That evening on a cramped, noisy, hot, 40-hour bus journey, I used ujjayi breath for the first time. I began to develop my own safe bubble amongst the discomfort and stress. THIS WORKS I thought, why doesn’t everyone use this?!
During my travels I was fortunate enough to have a wealth of experiences. I spent time meditating with Buddhist monks, exploring mosques, visiting ancient Hindu and Sikh temples, and learning the history of traditions. This led to a deep curiosity of eastern principles and belief systems, which I had been blessed to explore first-hand. Alongside this I actively sought out Yoga classes and philosophies and found classes in every country I visited.
I grew to love Yoga and how it made me feel. I dipped my toe in the styles of Ashtanga, Hatha, Bikram, Yin and Vinyassa flow, to name a few, but it was not until I moved to Northumberland in 2015 that I discovered the magic of Forrest Yoga. By 2017 I knew this was not only the type of Yoga that I believed in but also what I wanted to share with as many people as possible: I trained to be a Forrest Yoga teacher with Ana Forrest herself in Berlin in 2017.
Forrest Yoga is not practised amongst the trees, it gets its name from its creator Ana Forrest (although there are no rules against practising in nature). Like all yoga, Forrest is a practise of intense presence in the body, achieved through breathing techniques and mindful movement. However, there are some critical differences between traditional yoga and the modern style that Ana created.
After a lifetime of practicing ancient yogic traditions Ana designed a practise for modern bodies being bombarded by pressures of modern life. Sadly, it has become completely normal for us to be sedentary and stressed out, eat processed food rather than fresh nutritious ingredients, drive, sit at desks, and spend hours on screens. This is not an exhaustive list, but all these things contribute to disease of the body and mind and are not conducive to us being the best version of ourselves.
The most important part of the practise is breath. Learning to breathe effectively and in a way that nourishes is one of the best gifts you will ever receive. Through Ujjayi breath and pranayama we regulate the nervous system and slow down both body and mind.
A Forrest class always involves some aspects of core strengthening. This is done in a mindful, methodical way with a view to protecting against and/or back pain and promote balance. When we learn to use our core to hold us, we can begin to release some of the tension from the neck and shoulders and so always work with a relaxed neck.
We hold poses for long enough to become present and grounded throughout the entire body. This empowers us the move our body intelligently, looking inward at habitual patterns and places we hold emotion in the body.
Forrest yoga classes are expertly sequenced to create space and strengthen targeted areas of the body. Being flexible, fit, or strong is not necessary to attend and therefore is accessible to everyone. Over time, with a committed practice, you will notice changes in your mental and physical body.