Feel Your Fear, Find Your Power
Ana Forrest, founder of Forrest Yoga and a pioneer in yoga and emotional healing, talks to Omega about suffering, fear, and yoga as “fierce medicine.”
Omega: You’ve written that “our bodies archive our life experiences and often tell the stories of our deepest fears.” How, exactly, do they “tell” those stories and how can we release or heal the fears associated with them?
Ana: Our bodies tell our stories in myriad ways. One person's story may be told through a compromised immune system—she gets sick all the time because she couldn’t fight her way out of a situation (like sexual abuse), and eventually, she gave up. For another person, the way he tightens around his injuries or carries his pain is the way his body tells his stories.
In Forrest Yoga, you can go on a quest into these deep caverns of contraction and pain to find out what these parts of you need to release and heal. Then you can practice yoga with the intent to hunt whatever’s haunting you. You can work with a good therapist. You can connect to your authentic self and gently release the fear, the pain, whatever isn’t really you.
Omega: For years, you struggled with violent rape flashbacks, bulimia, addiction, and attempted suicide. Yet you have a chapter in your book, Fierce Medicine, titled “Suffering Is Optional.” How did you come to that conclusion?
Ana: To be clear: when I was beaten or raped, suffering wasn't optional. Living the lies that those people taught me perpetuated my suffering and led to my suicide attempts. But when I got angry enough to take control of my life, I began experiencing a level of healing. I started hunting down the conditioning that saddened me, and I started building my power and self-respect. Now I have the tools to shift out of my old paradigm of anguish and choose life. I recommit to that choice every day.
Omega: How can we move through life’s challenges in a way that’s more empowered—and less likely to cause suffering?
Ana: Change your relationship to fear, because fear affects everything you do. Every time you feel fear, you can turn it into an opportunity to “dharma joust,” or change your old pattern.
- Get your feet active. From a standing position, spread your weight across the balls of the feet and whole heel. Pick the toes up and feel the earth through your awakening feet.
- Breathe deeply. Next, place your hands on your ribs. Inhale, expanding the ribs sideways into your hands. As you exhale, pull the belly muscles in toward the spine to empty out all of the used air.
- Breathe into your pelvis and do some “root work.” As you continue to stand, place one hand on the genitals and the other hand on the anus and perineum. Inhale, ballooning your breath down into the genitals. Exhale and contract the genitals, perineum, and anus up three times. Make a strong feeling connection to your “first chakra territory” and your strong legs, all the way down to your active feet.
- Relax your neck and eyes. Relax your mind.
- Snuggle up to your fear. First, connect to the area where you feel the fear and breathe into it. Put your hand on that area and ask, “What do you need to release the fear?” Even if the answer you receive is to continue breathing into that area, do it.
This practice helps your nervous system shift out of fight-or-flight mode, so you can stop making decisions based on fear and take actions that build your courage and your self-respect instead.
Omega: Facing our fears takes a great amount of courage. How can we cultivate it?
Ana: You can grow your courage, one seed at a time. The next time you feel emotionally triggered, pause and feel all of what’s happening inside of you before responding. Take many deep breaths to get off the wave of reactivity. Go deeper and feel, “What’s the real issue here?” and speak about it honestly. Truth-speaking takes courage every time you do it.
Feeling the scary places, the hurt places, and the sexy places in your body as you’re doing yoga builds your courage. Breathing into all of these different aspects of yourself (and feeling them) is another way to build courage. Putting your hand on your heart, breathing into it, and asking, “What do you need today?”—and then doing it—builds courage, too.
Omega: Why is yoga “fierce medicine,” and how does it heal us?
Ana: We are raised in ignorance of the miraculous nature of our body and the mystery of our own spirit. Yoga teaches us how to journey into the inner wilderness of our own bodies and connect intimately to our spirit. What a joy it is to live as your spirit dictates, instead of living in fear. Because when we connect to our spirit, we become bigger than our challenges.
© Omega Institute for Holistic Studies. Photo credit: Sofia Van Der Dys.