At 4 years old, she had her first drink. At 6, she started smoking cigarettes. A childhood filled with sexual, physical and emotional abuse led her to bulimia and thoughts of suicide. She dropped out of high school, worked as a horse trainer and found yoga.
And in her search for healing on the mat, Ana Forrest found purpose and joy in helping others find peace and empowerment.
Forrest shares her experiences in her book, "Fierce Medicine" (HarperOne, $25.99), released in May. She also will host a weekend of yoga workshops and a book signing Nov. 4 to 6 at Yogani Studios in South Tampa. All proceeds will benefit the Exalted Warrior Foundation, a locally-based nonprofit that offers yoga instruction for disabled and wounded veterans.
I talked with Forrest in anticipation of her Florida visit.
Q: How does Forrest Yoga differ from other styles?
A: I developed Forrest Yoga to address what I see as the needs of the people now -- not something that was developed for people's needs, challenges, problems, desires thousands of years ago. So I looked around, and in dealing with my own issues and challenges -- or absolutely not dealing with them -- I began to realize yoga was doing something for me. There's a lot of value to it. But there were some very specific problems, like my addictions, like the depth of my injuries, like the emotional and soul damage the yoga didn't touch at all. ... There was this certain anger and frustration that I had. … It was almost a premonition about creating that into yoga, because it could carry more specific healing qualities.
Q: Your philosophy is based around healing. Why is it so important to search for it within yoga?
A: The way that I teach Forrest Yoga, it's about a path of freedom. Where there's emotional blockage or physical blockage, to begin to help people focus their intent and their breath, we learn to start to put the breath where that blockage is, so it begins to change. The stories, the emotions, the pain that's stuck in there gets all stirred up. So there's some messy time in there in this healing process, but then that energy gets to release and the area heals – including whatever emotional entanglements surrounded that injury.
For example, if you were in a car accident, you can't help but have emotions about your life being threatened and then you can't help but have those emotions trigger again, over and over, every time your back or your neck hurts due to this car accident – it has a tendency to re-spring the fearfulness.
Q: How do you address addiction in your yoga?
A: One of the things that I look around and see, having been so deeply entrapped in addiction and that kind of suffering, is that we have a lot addicts in our world. … There is a spiritual bereftness.
You feel this hole, or this emptiness, or this yearning that's really painful. And we try to fill it, and it doesn't work. We fill it with our substances, we fill it with the people we've become addicted to or our behaviors – food, or whatever it is. We just get more and more saddened and despaired.
We shut down in numbness because it's such a physical feeling, because there's something really essential missing. What I began to do was to focus on how do I help people connect to their spirit? … These practices are about waking up, waking up to what you feel inside. Being able to hunt and stalk and track what's going on inside of you.
Q: You share a lot of deeply personal stories in "Fierce Medicine." Why tell them now?
A: When I wrote "Fierce Medicine," it was about the things that turned my life around, so many times, and helped me connect to seeing my life as precious.
That was a really big step, because back then if I wasn't numb I was suicidal, and if I wasn't numb and I wasn't suicidal, I was in a rage. And that was about the only thing I had in my repertoire of life experience. To have so different a life, where there's love and there's passion and there's the unknown, and there's learning, and there's the ability to help other people do things and gain strength themselves and empower them, it's an amazing, remarkable life change.
I began to … turn them into teaching stories. At a certain point, I was ready to write them. I had to not dwell too much on the horrible, shocking things but what happened that were turning points for me.
If You Go
What: Ana Forrest at Yogani Studios, 1112 W. Platt St. Tampa, 33606
When: 6 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 4; 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 5 with post-class book signing; 9:30 a.m. to noon Nov. 6.
Cost: $40 for one workshop; $75 for two workshops; $115 for all three workshops
For more information and to register, visit www.yogani.com