"One of the most compelling, inspiring, and eloquent stories you will ever read. I absolutely could not put it down and I'm thrilled for all the other readers who will be captivated by Ana's storytelling and wisdom." Martha Beck, bestselling author of Finding Your Own North Star
Charismatic yoga master, respected teacher, and acclaimed healer Ana Forrest shares her inspiring life story for the first time in Fierce Medicine. Along the way, she reveals methods that anyone can use to overcome the emotional stresses and spiritual burdens that stand in the way of health and happiness. For readers of Yoga Journal and fans of Cameron Alborzians The Guru in You or Judith Orlaffs Emotional Freedom, Forrests moving, personal story and her profound lessons in physical, emotional, and mental healing will be a fierceand very welcomemedicine.
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About the Author
Ana T. Forrest is an internationally recognized pioneer in yoga and emotional healing. The creator of Forrest Yoga—a unique fusion of traditional yoga, new poses and sequences created by the author, Eastern wisdom, and Native American medicine—she is a contributing expert to Yoga Journal and other leading Asian and European wellness publications. Forrest teaches worldwide at yoga conferences, workshops, retreats, and teacher trainings. She lives on Orcas Island, Washington.
Read an Excerpt
Fierce MedicineBreakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit
By Ana T. Forrest
HarperOneCopyright © 2011 Ana T. Forrest
All right reserved.
THEY TELL ME I was born crippled, a funny-looking kid, my feet and
the left side of my body all twisted. Family lore is that the doctor had
told my mother that they would have to break all the bones in the left
side of my body and then put me in a full-body cast. Luckily, we had a
relative who was a chiropractor, which back in the fifties, was like
having a witch doctor in the family. He told my mother, "Her bones are soft;
you can straighten them out."
My earliest memory is of Mother's hands coming through the bars of
my crib, and the terror and pain as she twisted my feet and legs this way
and that, again and again. Whatever she was doing to me in the crib was
probably her attempt to follow my relative's instructions. It must have
worked; the next time Mother took me to the pediatrician, there was no
more talk of breaking bones and setting body casts. The doctor, without
even glancing at any notes or file, just waved her away: "See, I told you
she'd be fine."
Fine, perhaps, but certainly not fixed. I crawled as much as possible as
a babe, since it was so hard to walk and I looked so weird doing it. When
I was five or six, my mother forced me to wear heavy orthopedic shoes
fitted with steel braces inside that made walking even more difficult.
Every day I was supposed to shuffle along a chart she laid down on the
floor. The chart was dotted with footprints where I was supposed to
stepa kind of evil Twister game. The steel braces raised blisters and
welts on my feet, and the daily therapy made them bleed. God, I hated
those shoes. Once I tried burning them in the fireplacethe damn steel
braces wouldn't burn. That earned me a smack from my mother.
Nothing new about that. Our home was a terrifying place where I
never felt safe. From the outside, our lives must have looked pretty nor-
mal. We lived in a California tract house, fairly new, with four bedrooms
and two baths for five people: my mother, my dad, my older brother and
sister, and me. Inside, though, things had gone to hell. My father had
long since moved into a separate bedroom. The house was always filthy
and foul-smelling, with crusted dishes piled up in the sink, ants every-
where, dried cat scat in the corners and under the couches. My
morbidly obese brother hoarded food, especially after a padlock appeared
on the refrigerator door, so odd smells came from his room too.
My mother, who was also obese, was always hitting me for some
reason or another. She could switch in a momentfrom a helpless, whining
hypochondriac to a violent, out-of-control tyrant. The smallest infraction
or sometimes nothing at allwould start her on a rant, which
often escalated into slapping and coming after me. "Demon seed," she'd
say, or "bad seed," or "goddamn kid"she would scream at me.
She'd go off on my brother tooI don't remember if my sister was
ever in her sightsbut I was her favorite target. I don't know why.
Maybe trying to fix my funky feet and legs wore her out and made her
sick of me. Maybe she was just exhausted and frustrated trying to be a
mother to three young children. Maybe she was just nuts. All I knew
was that whenever I was home, I was afraid of her. She was a
hammer-smith's daughter and had a hell of a swing.
In the beginning, I'd beg her to stop, but after a few years, I stopped
protesting, even stopped cryingI refused to give her that much, to
show her I was broken. I also discovered a method of protecting
myself from her rages. Whenever my mother went on a rampage, I'd run
to my bedroom closet, pull myself up onto a high shelf, and tuck myself
behind the clothes and boxes, trembling. There in the dark, I'd close my
eyes and just disappear. I'd hear her tearing around my room, tossing
aside clothes and shoes, looking behind furniture. I was mere feet away,
but she'd never find my hiding place. I'd somehow figured out how to
extinguish my life force so she couldn't track me. It worked every time.
School was safe enoughinside the classroom. But getting there and
back was a nightmare. An undersized, pale, sickly kid with bruised eyes
and funny-looking clunky shoes, I had an obvious target on my back.
The kids would circle me, calling me strange names, like "Jew bitch with
nigger socks." (I had no idea where they got this or what it meant.) The
worst bully was my neighbor. It wasn't like I could avoid her; we lived on
a dead-end street, and I had to walk by her house to get to school. One
day she dragged me into her backyard, picked up a board studded with
nails and waved it at my head, laughing as her growling German
shepherd menaced me, jaws snapping.
My waking hours were ruled by fear, yet sleep was no relief. That's
when the sharks and other shadowy monsters stalked me. People tell me
you can't die in your dreams, but I died a thousand deathstorn limb
from limb by sharks and demons, crushed slowly by stones, drowned,
sucked into tsunamis. Whenever I finally succumbed to sleep, I lay
pinned to my bed, paralyzed by these horrific apparitions. The next
morning I'd wake up sore, covered with bruises, sometimes with ripping
pain in my intestines and butt. The pain came on with such suddenness,
such violence, that I'd gasp. Sometimes I'd force myself to stay awake for
days rather than surrender to such dreadful dreams.
But I was a creative kid, and when I was about four, I figured out one
way to numb myself to the constant fear: raid the liquor cabinet. I
remember walking on my pathetic legs to get there. I snuck out to the
kitchen and squatted near the cabinet. I unscrewed the caps and stole
sips from the caramel brown bottles full of something that was sickly
sweet, the pretty emerald green liquor, the clear bottles with the stuff
that burned on the way down, the squarish bottle with the red waxy seal
and sweet amber fluid. It wasn't that I liked the taste so much; I liked the
strange fiery sensation on my tongue, the feeling of floating away from
my body. I liked that it altered my filthy reality very quickly. The fear
was still there, but it wasn't as sharp.
Then, about two years later, I finally found a safe haven, an escape
hatch away from the horrors of home and the torment of the
neighborhood bullies: a horse stable. For as long as I can remember, I've shared
a sacred bond with horses. I've been told that someone had taken me
to a parade when I was a year old, and there I'd seen my first horse. I'd
pointed and said, "I want." I was about six when my mother started
taking me to a rent stable a few miles from home. I'm not even sure why she
took me; probably just to get me out of her hair.
Pretty soon that broken-down rent stable, Azusa Canyon Stables,
became my real home. It wasn't a fancy place, just a bunch of horses
for hire, some boarding. The owner, a rasty, amazing Greek Jew named
Nick Angelakos, was a real wild man, though. When he was younger, he
used to jump his horses through rings of fire at the circus, or over a
jalopy with a bunch of smiling passengers. He had framed photos of his
circus escapades all over his office, and I couldn't stop staring at them.
Nick was pretty fearless, and he didn't condone fear in animals or
children. I was at least a foot shorter and five or six years younger than
anyone else working there, but he must have seen something in me that I
didn't yet see in myself. Pretty soon we had a deal: I'd help out at the
stables, and he'd teach me to ride. For the next six years, I did whatever I
could to be around those horses: mucking stalls, leading groups of
riders, and eventually training horses.
I learned a lot about facing my fears by working with those horses.
Far from being gentle souls, horses will bully each other, and they'll
bully humans. I was always getting stepped on and pushed over and
kicked. Since I was such a runt, I really had to learn how to make those
huge animals pay attention, let them know, "I may be short, but you
better know I'm here." When they'd rear up or try to kick or bite me, I
refused to be spooked. Instead, I faced them down, drawing my tiny body
up as tall as I could, keeping my voice low and determined. "Oh, no you
don't. You're coming with me right now." I got kicked to pieces a million
times, but I stopped being afraid of getting stomped. Size has nothing to
do with standing up to someone. I began to grow my power.
I remember the moment I knew for sure that I'd changed my relation-
ship with fear. My mother and I were carrying a heavy piece of wooden
furniture down the hallway when I accidentally dropped my end.
"Demon seed!" she screamed at me. "Evil!" She brought back her arm to do
her usual routine. But by this time I was close to twelve, much stronger
from working at the stable. I'd been dealing with fifteen hundred pounds
of equine temper often enough that I found myself thinking, This is just
a two-legged one, and a fat one at that. On that day, I reached out and
caught her hammersmith's fist mid-swing. There were no words, just the
two of us staring straight into each other's eyes and a realization: this
ends it. Fear left me and infected her. I think she was as astonished as
I was. She struggled for a moment and then let her arm fall. She pretty
much quit going after me after that.
That was a turning point for me. I learned to do a switchinstead of
running from the fear, I turned around and went after it, making it my
ally. On the playground, I challenged the toughest bully to take her best
shot. "Go ahead, hit me!" I kept backing her down, right in front of her
posse. I don't know whether she was scared or just confused, but she
kept her distance from then on.
I was done living in fear. I took a pledge to stop being prey, to turn
around, face my fear, and stalk it. I've lived that way ever since.
I started deliberately doing things that terrified me; I called it fear training.
As a teenager, I was afraid of being out in the desertit was so dry,
so exposed to the elements. So I ran off to Hesperia in the Mojave Desert
in Southern California to take my first job training horses on my
own. When I first arrived, I felt like I'd been plunked down on the life-
less surface of the moon: blazing heat, no water. Gradually I learned to
walk through the heat the way you'd ford a riverloose-limbed, going
with the flow. I discovered an incredible amount of beauty and life in the
desert; it was just subtler than I was used to. You have to look closer, but
then you see hares, mice, rattlesnakes, buzzards, hawks, and all the folks
that live in the desert. I began to sense the desert's rhythms, the way the
flowers can carpet the land after a cloudburst and then three days later
leave just seeds rolling across the dry earth. The very briefness of those
flowers' lives added to the poignancy of it. I began to love what I had feared.
A few years later, when I lived up in the Santa Barbara Forest in my
early twenties, I decided to stalk my fear of heights. I'd perch on this
tiny ledge high above a river filled with rocks. I'd stand there, at least
twenty or twenty-five feet above the water, petrified, waiting for the fear
to leave. But it never didso I would jump anyway. I'd keep climbing up
that ledge and jumping off five or six times, even though my heart
hammered harshly in my chest. I realized the fear wasn't going to go away,
but my paralysis within the fear would.
Sometimes I'd hesitate. I had this paradigm in my head: If I just stand
here long enough, the fear will go away and I'll jump and I'll be fearless.
That didn't happen. I discovered instead how not to be stopped by my
fear. I tried stilling my fear by sitting down and breathing deeply, but
that really wasn't all that helpful. After a while, I'd clamber all the way
up and just jump right away so the fear wouldn't have time to build, the
paralysis wouldn't deepen, and all the subterranean scary stories in my
head couldn't bubble up. I didn't wait to feed the fear. I just took a deep
breath, exhaled, and jumped. The fear was there, but it wasn't unmanageable.
I'd believed that in order to do what I was afraid of, I had to get
rid of the fear first, but that turned out to be only an idea, not the truth.
You have to do something two hundred times before the fear will disperse.
Are you still afraid of something? Just do it again. Do it again. Do
Maybe I couldn't banish all my fears, but I made the choice to stop al-
lowing them to rule my life.
It takes a lot of courage to explore your fear. Courage isn't the numbed-
out, flinty, Clint Eastwoodesque stoicism we're accustomed to, but
instead it's daring to experience our feelingseven if this requires painful
awakeningwith discernment and intelligence. Choose the Brave-
Hearted Path: have the courage to truly feel what's going on inside you
when you're afraid, and respond appropriately. This requires patience.
Walk the Brave-Hearted Path now by deciding you will no longer be
afraid of being afraid. Reframe your fear; be willing to get sick and tired
of being sick and tired. I also got sick of being everyone's lunch. Now I
refuse: You don't get even a snack from me!
Excerpted from Fierce Medicine by Ana T. Forrest Copyright © 2011 by Ana T. Forrest. Excerpted by permission of HarperOne. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Stalking Fear: From Prey to Predator 5
2 Walking Free of Pain: Suffering Is Optional 37
3 Truth Speaking: Building the Warrior's Heart 67
4 The Fiercest Medicine: A Brief Pause While You Die 95
5 Choosing Life: Setting Your Intent 113
6 Hunger Pains: Learning to Listen Within 137
7 Walking the Good Red Road: Becoming a Healer 161
8 Embodying Spirit: Romancing the Soul 183
9 Turning Shit Into Fertilizer: Coping with Setbacks 205
10 The Power of Ceremony: Creating Balance and Celebrating 229
11 Evolve or Die: Embracing Change 239
Afterword: The Braid of Three Truths 257
Index of Poses 263
What People are Saying About This
“Fierce Medicine is a journey from the wounded to the healed soul using the grace and elegance of yoga as a guide. Ana Forrest has given us all the best of herself in this book.”
“Fierce Medicine is classic Ana Forrest: straight ahead life tales from one of the meteors of the modern yoga movement...laced with the intense focus of a Tiger seeking the freedom of the heart.”
“One of the most compelling, inspiring, and eloquent stories you will ever read. I absolutely could not put it down and I’m thrilled for all the other readers who will be captivated by Ana’s storytelling and wisdom.”
“As a teacher, this is a book that I would certainly share with my students, but as a student myself, there is much in this book that will aid in my own growth and for that I am grateful. I highly recommend this book to all seekers on the path.”
Fierce Medicine is very important because it addresses modern life and ties it to Forrest Yoga--a practice that is designed for contemporary concerns. We sit all day. Our shoulders and necks are stiff from working at desks and with computers. She gets it. I have now read this book 5 times. Why? Each time I read it, I find another pearl of knowledge that I missed the first time. That repetition is important for another reason too. As Forrest explains, we need constant reminders to change habitual patterns of behavior. For instance, I just realized that it's oh so true that when I struggle, I cannot absorb anything and become frozen. So, I set myself to stop as mindfully as possible. And when that struggle stuff creeps up again--whether on or off the yoga mat--I have to reset yet again. And that's ok. As Forrest notes, the important first step is to realize that this is going on. Then, move forward with breath and get beyond that ingrained gunk. Forrest also discusses the lessons she learned and how she emerged from a harrowing childhood and found a calling that helps others throughout their lives. Her journey takes her around the world to learn different healing and learning modalities. She finds the Native American tradition as a way that works for her and offers its gifts to the reader. Whether or not you practice yoga, her insights are valuable. She ties her life and her practice together with photos and descriptions of poses that benefit the mind and the body (which she persuasively argues are interconnected). Her most important advice? If you're in a tight spot, breathe more deeply.
I found this book to be very inspiring and interesting. Coming from a dysfunctional family and living a dysfuctional life after leaving home, this book inspires me to believe I can always improve and be the person I want to be in the Yoga world.
I have no direct experience with the school of yoga led by Ana Forrest : I just bought this book on a whim. How what is written here is practiced and taught by that school's proponents, I have no idea. But I found the book itself to be worthwhile and inspiring.It's very much the personal vision of Ms. Forrest. It is largely an autobiographical work, describing many practices in the context of the life challenges that drove the author to learn and develop them. Generally she starts from some traditional practices and then adapts them as she sees fit. Of course this is dangerous, but then rigid adherence to traditional forms is dangerous too. That's something this book does, it forces the reader to confront that tension. Ms. Forrest comes across rather as a wild woman; for example, she tells us that she cannot adhere to non-violence. Given that non-violence is fundamental to the yoga tradition, that really is a wild confession. I would say that Ms. Forrest is brutally honest in this book. An aspect of this book that I really appreciate is that it treats the classical yoga practices of asana and pranayama - posture and breath control - as components in a broader system, where one observes one's emotional responses to daily life, and where one further digs up emotions that have become buried. That asana and pranayama can be used as tools to investigate one's emotional responses and to manage them, this is vital to a genuine life of yoga. Ms. Forrest's personal stories show this genuineness in action. The story Ms. Forrest tells is of a hard life. This might confuse some readers. Perhaps the kind of deep confrontation with one's emotions is only applicable to such a hard life, or perhaps that confrontation pushes one into such a life. This is a tricky question. Maybe the truth is that we all live hard lives, if we allow ourselves to open to our actual lives. This is a hard world we live in, and our lives are truly inseparable from that hard world. The real tragedy is when tools like asana and pranayama are used to create a comfortable shell for our lives, as vehicles to escape from the hardness that surrounds us, that runs through us if we dare look. This is a daring book. There are some specific practices here that one can surely use to cultivate a deeper perception of life, but the most valuable aspect of this book seems just to be that inspiration to dare to live.
Ana Forrest is one of a kind. I have had the privilege of studying with her during past workshops and was thrilled to read more about her background and personal life in this book. And has overcome so many challenges including sexual abuse, alcohol and drug addictions, an eating disorder, physical challenges during youth and a neglectful family. I think it's remarkable what she has accomplished in life in spite of those challenges. As a student and teacher of yoga, I will definitely incorporate some of her wisdom into my practice and classes. The book is probably best suited to yoga practitioners but her life story is powerful enough to engage almost anyone. I would definitely recommend this book to others.
Pads back in with a mouse and sits down to eat it.