Forrest Yoga is a unique system of yoga that is globally renowned for a fusion of physical intensity and spiritual ceremony. The founders, Ana Forrest and Jose Calarco have fused what feels like opposing forces to create a synergistic and healing practice founded on one central pillar: transformation.
There is so much to discover within the world of Forrest Yoga – the way it embodies mind, body, and spirit, the use of original music throughout the class, the parallels to First Nations ceremonies and rituals, and the focus on cleansing the whole person. It would take a lifetime to discover all the dimensions of this practice, which I think is the point. Forrest Yoga is not static. It is not meant to be “mastered” and then abandoned for some other physical pursuit. It is a lifelong commitment to exploration, personal evolution, and healing; a commitment that Ana believes will, in turn, heal the environment and our communities at large.
You do not have to be a master yogi to dive into the world of Forrest Yoga. Ana and Jose do not care what brings people through the door and express genuinely that “everyone is welcome and will leave with what they need.” It doesn’t matter if you arrive seeking fitness for a big race, release from addiction, increased flexibility, or you’re just looking for something to do, you will leave with your own personal unfolding – and this unfolding will heal you.
If you are serious about spiritual evolution, finding happiness that re-builds, or are looking for a route home to yourself… this practice is for you.
Forrest yoga has spread all over the world and has become a healing sanctuary for people of all backgrounds and walks of life. Within the practice, there is a heavy focus on the breath while dropping into the intensity of long holds and strenuous postures. The experience is immersive dynamic, and intense, and purposefully so. Ana and Jose want you to sit inside the sensation of discomfort so that you have the space to look at your life and learned patterns through new eyes.
Rigorous as Forrest Yoga is, what I find most interesting about this practice is the way it has evolved to be a tremendous exercise of the spirit. It embodies all aspects of spirituality and welcomes people in their weakest points, softly whispering incantations of hope, renewal, and strength.
One of the things that makes Forrest Yoga so unique is the sacred relationship both Ana and Jose have fostered with First Nations Peoples and their traditions. Ana spent 7 years living on a Native American reservation and Jose has been involved with the aboriginal peoples of Australia for 30 years as the director of the company ‘Descendance Aboriginal.’ A deep reverence is evident in their voices as they talk about the significant role and influence First Nations traditions have had on Forrest Yoga.
They believe that the teachings, rituals, and music of First Peoples help us to peel back the layers of falsehood and delusion within our own minds. They both have reconnected to their spirit though the rituals and music of the First Peoples and hope to expose more people to them.
Ana Forrest’s Spirit pledge to “Mend the Hoop of the People” is perhaps one of the most defining and unique aspects of Forrest Yoga. The hoop she is referring to is the ‘Rainbow Hoop’ of the Lakota Tribe that, when complete, stands as a symbol of harmony. During Ana’s time on the reservation, she had her own visions of mending the hoop of the people, where she taught people to live in harmony with the earth and all of its inhabitants. Mending the hoop of the people is synonymous with the planet – you can’t practice Forrest Yoga and not walk away a better steward of the Earth. Native American beliefs and rituals teach us sacred lessons on how to live in balance with nature without bringing destruction and disaster.
When practicing Forrest Yoga, practitioners have the opportunity to play a unique role in mending the hoop of the people. It is a responsibility gifted to each person as they walk through the door of Ana’s class. To heal the hoop, people must make the commitment to healing themselves physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Forrest Yoga is about becoming a walking example of change.
In addition to mending the hoop of the people, Ana and Jose have instituted a program of insight that is centered on reintroducing people to their passions. The program re-connects people to the arts, music, dancing, acting, singing, painting, and writing. In their ceremonies, they invite practitioners to explore lost parts of themselves that were abandoned as they grew up and adopted societal norms. Ana describes the process as “nutrition for the soul,” a beautiful reminder that people should always have permission to make themselves, and their happiness, a priority.
Part of Forrest Yoga’s all-encompassing philosophy is the practice of non-violence through veganism. When students come to their teacher trainings they are asked to follow nine diet principles and refrain from eating any animal meats or byproducts. Jose said simply, “cleanliness is next to godliness.” This cleanliness of the spirit and the mind is what pushed them both to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
Ana encourages all Forrest Yoga practitioners to adopt veganism and believes that doing so will bring them deeper into healing and transformation. “Everything has a vibration and you are alleviating yourself from the vibration of suffering,” stated Jose. Veganism is central to Forrest Yoga’s goal of transformation as it “lets the intelligence of the body and the human come through.”
Ana and Jose teach a collaborative class where they artfully embody the role of teacher, musician, and guide. They use music “like a shaman” in their classes – running Dreamtime and Native American music “straight into people’s bones.” They believe that this music brings healing at a soul level – straight from their soul to the soul of the practitioner. The music is a differentiating factor in Forrest Yoga. They use only their own original music during their classes and hope this infuses their classes and ceremonies with a feeling of creativity and inclusivity.
When asked about what is next for them, Ana and Jose expressed that the “divine spirit is always guiding them” and that they are working tirelessly to spread Forrest Yoga to more people. They travel extensively and teach classes, lead ceremonies, and conduct trainings so that other people can become ‘Forrest Yoga Guardians.’ This is the only school of yoga where the original founders have personally trained every single new teacher. It creates an intimacy and authenticity that is unmatched.
“We want to teach people how to transform their lives in a way that creates a personal masterpiece they are proud of, not ashamed of,” said Ana. “The body needs to move, the mind needs to be still, the spirit needs to be nourished, the emotions need to be expressed. The problem with physical yoga is it only addresses one part of the problem. There is much more to uncover.”