Ana T. Forrest, creator of Forrest Yoga, is no stranger to life’s challenges. Forrest was born disabled with malformed legs and chronic pain, had a physically abusive mother and absentee father, was frequently drugged and sexually abused as a toddler and child, battled with drug and alcohol abuse and addiction from the time she was six, struggled with bulimia for most of her life, has epilepsy and was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down.
Needless to say, reading about this remarkable woman’s life is nothing short of exhilarating . Fierce Medicine takes the reader on a journey of life, death, healing, compassion, intuition, heartbreak, hunger and of course, yoga. Not only does Forrest give an account of the trials and tribulations that she has gone through, but she explains what over coming each obstacle she has had to face has taught her, and guides her reader to look at their lives with equally open hearts and strong spirits.
Ana T. Forrest is a yoga teacher and is a Medicine Woman/Healer in certain Indigenous communities. She became a certified yoga teacher in Mexico at the age of 18, at which time she simultaneously went cold turkey off of several drug addictions. She studied with Iyengar in India (and hated it) and now travels the world doing workshops and demonstrations on yoga, healing, spiritual guidance. She spent some time living on a First Nations reserve, and now lives out in the wilderness in California.
The book’s structure is pleasingly simple, which is important given the heavy content. Each chapter talks about philosophies and practices that Forrest embodies every day, and she guides her reader through steps on how to live a more whole life. She introduces each topic with the autobiographical context that led her to learn the lesson that she is about to teach you. That is my favourite part of how she tells her story. She teaches her reader how to look at their lives as a narrative, and to benefit from it, just as she has. This is something that I think is extremely important. Forrest then goes on to offer philosophical tools to reevaluate how we can look at our lives and why. Finally, she offers intense, deep yoga poses that she has found have helped herself and her students really absorb the lesson that she is trying to teach.
It took me a while to really get into this book. I had to suspend my judgement in order to take it seriously. The reason for this is that Forrest frequently makes bold claims without any research to back it up. Literally everything she talks about comes from personal experience, or anecdotes that she heard from her students. For example, she boldly states that one of her student’s sore, twisted back is not only an injury from falling out of a tree as a child, but a symptom of the fear and trauma that he faced after the accident. With no proof. An even bolder claim is when she takes credit for helping repair the hole in the ozone layer by having a weekly ‘stratosphere meditation’ with a group of students. Apparently they all happened to envision millions of spiders working tirelessly together to weave up the hole in the stratosphere… yeah.
The most awkward thing about the wishy-washy claims in this book is that Forrest openly criticizes people who she calls, ‘whacakaberries’. During her training to become a Medicine Woman she met a bunch of exhaustingly pretentious, new-agey people who she absolutely could not stand, and yet she claims that we can meditate away our environmental crisis.
In spite of all of that, this book still eventually got through to me. Forrest’s suggestions on living a more whole, beautiful life are so sincere that it’s hard not to gain some insight. She reminds you to no sweat the small stuff, that you can really get in touch with your emotions, desires, fears and values and that everything will still be ok in the end. Even if your loved ones die, even if you die, it will all be ok. That affirming, real, and comforting insight is hard not to swallow when it is the overtone of the entire story.
I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for inspiration and healing. I don’t recommend this as a book to gain insight on yogic techniques or philosophy. Forrest recommends using yoga as a means of communicating with the heart through the body, which I’m sure yoga can do, but the yoga suggestions are the least interesting parts of this intense read.
I mainly recommend this book to anyone who has a hard time with regret. My favourite thing that Forrest does is look at her life as a narrative, as a series of events, lessons, stories and beautiful moments. Regret is futile if you don’t learn anything from what you did or didn’t do and if you don’t pledge to change as a result. If you look at your life, not as something that was ‘meant to be’ but as a series of events that you always chose honestly and completely, then it will be impossible for you to have any regrets, because you will have always followed your heart.
Read this book as an autobiography, as a series of life lessons, as one person’s view, vision and passion. Then take their story, along with the thousands of others you have heard, and add it to your repertoire to continue your journey of life-long learning.