"Feeding the Hungry Heart": A Lesson in Backbending

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On Saturday, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a workshop on backbending led by Forrest Yoga Guardian, Erica Mather. She is a Madison native, and currently teaches in New York. Forrest Yoga, founded by Ana Forrest, has always interested me. It's a very specific type of yoga that was founded on four main pillars: breath, strength, integrity, and spirit. Forrest Yoga is physically and mentally challenging. It also has a large healing component, which I love.

The theme for Erica's workshop was, "Feeding the Hungry Heart," and it was all about backbending. I have never had a very flexible back--even as a dancer, my back just would never bend as much as I wanted it to. I was really nervous going to this workshop, because I figured it would be a bunch of yogis who could bend their backs in crazy ways, and then there would be me--the one not bending. I envisioned a lot of ustrasanas (camel), and I already felt the nausea building (backbends are notorious for making one feel nauseous when one comes out of it). My love (and interest) in Forrest Yoga forced me to get over my fears, and attend the workshop.

I'm so glad I did. Erica had us begin in a seated meditation--just breathing. We were instructed to breathe in and around the heart--and clear out any gunk along the way. Forrest Yoga utilizes ujayii pranayama--or breath of fire. I also utilize this breath when I teach power vinyasa flow. It's a great way to instill energy and heat in the body. It's a very cleansing breath. If you want to practice ujayii, here's how: inhale through your nose and exhale through your nose, creating a slight constriction at the back of the throat. This sound will be "oceanic" or, as some yogis like to say, "Darth Vader."

Erica had us to some seated stretches, a few sun salutations, which incorporated various backbending in lunges, then we hit the mats for abdominal work. Forrest Yoga is known for their core work (i.e. it's very intense!), and we did sit-ups in a few different ways. The first set we did were with our legs bent, feet on the mat, hands interlaced behind the head, elbows facing towards our knees. We then extended the left leg out long to the mat, and brought the right knee in towards the chest. We concentrated on pressing our low backs to the mat, and tucked our tailbone and sacrum under as we completed a sit up. You haven't done sit-ups until you've done them in the Forrest style.

One of the things I really love about Forrest Yoga is its pace. Forrest Yoga is usually practiced slowly than other styles. As Erica said, this helps to deepen yourself into whichever posture you're working on, and to heal whatever it is inside of you that needs healing. Erica told us that Forrest Yoga utilizes the importance of body alignment, a primary focus of Iyengar Yoga.

During our savasana, Erica took us through a visualization of "draining" out the gunk in our hearts. She had us envision a drain at the back of our heart, and each time we exhaled, we would envision the things that did not serve us go down the drain. It was a beautiful visualization, and a great lesson in opening up space in that area of the body. More open space in the heart creates better backbends.

The workshop was truly amazing--I even talked with Erica after class about Forrest Yoga teacher training. I've always been interested in doing it, but it's quite intense (27 days), and quite expensive ($4,000). I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to do it, but a girl can dream, right? Yoga dreams are the best.

Oh, also, I'm still sore from those sit-ups.

Have you heard of Forrest Yoga? What are your thoughts? Do you love/hate backbending--why?