With her new book, Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit, world-renowned yoga teacher Ana shares her story of healing from a childhood filled with abuse and neglect. Through yoga, horses, and time spent with healers, she found power and strength, and she travels the world sharing her methods with others. Each chapter includes part of her story, then ends with suggested exercises to free the body of physical, emotional, and psychic pain.
I first saw her in the dining hall of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. In the midst of a meal, I suddenly felt compelled to turn around. I saw a lean, fine-boned woman with black hair pulled into a simple braid that went down her back. Her body looked young, but her face showed her age, and I guessed, correctly, that she is a few years older than I. I couldn’t seem to stop staring at her–she had that “something” that made me curious, a sort of in-your-face strength. I thought, I want me some of that.
When I went home, I bought her DVDs. The practices in both were challenging but safe, and I immediately adopted her approach to neck position, which reduces strain in the neck during practice. Then I bought her five-CD set, each with a two-hour practice. These routines are far more difficult than the DVDs and are not for beginning students.
Eventually Ana came to Houston, as many local yoga teachers here have studied under her and adopted her style. I attended one of her weekend workshops, and yikes! After several 2.5 hour classes, I felt like I had hit and crossed my limits. Still, in person, though she is powerful, she also carries a softness about her. She is funnier and more compassionate than she seemed at that moment at Kripalu. I could see why so many have adopted her style.
Still, I had questions. Forrest is well known for jaw-dropping demonstrations, and I wondered if I was viewing a true yoga master or someone with a huge ego who needed to show off. I also wondered why she never mentioned her teachers. And why all the emphasis on the physical aspect of yoga, which is but one small piece of a practice?
I found many answers to these questions in Fierce Medicine. With characteristic in-your-face directness and humor, Forrest describes how she learned more from unknown teachers than the so-called celebrity teachers. She also describes her approach to yoga in great detail and in a way that made sense to me. Finally, I understood that the demonstrations are to help people break through their notions of what is possible. As I mentioned, she’s older than I am (I’m 52), and I like having people in my life who expand my vision.
Most important to me as I read the book, was that Ana’s vulnerability and humanity shone through. She is honest and forthright, and I trusted her more as a teacher as I learned more about the person. Her journey from abuse, alcoholism, and drug abuse to healer is an extraordinary and well-written one.
Some of the practices in this book are challenging (handstands are an example), and I would advise those who are interested to try beginner-level classes with a Forrest Yoga teacher. Forrest Yoga is challenging but safe in a classroom environment. If you are not working with a teacher and/or have health conditions that limit movement, you’ll need to be more careful. Still, even if you don’t practice yoga, Fierce Medicine is an inspiring story of a courageous woman.