• Forrest Yoga: On the Value of Lineage

    Here at Omstars, Kino has made a point of showcasing teachers from many different lineages, in addition to her home lineage of Ashtanga. In New York City at PURE Yoga, where I teach, we also have a similar approach with teachers from many lineages educating members. The PURE slogan is Many Practices, One Intention. In both instances, the intention, I believe is similar: to guide you home to your Self.

    In other words, many roads can lead you home. Which one is right for you? What if you are a practitioner? Or a teacher? Part of what’s wonderful about the time we live in, is that it allows us many options. We can sample so many yoga practices and find what we like, and what we don’t like and figure out what will work for us.

    The downside of this modern phenomenon is that it diminishes the need to commit. And, for personal development of any kind, commitment is key. I recall reading a book by Pema Chodron, in which she suggested that we “stick to one boat.” This means, get in a boat (lineage), and stick with it. If we have the option to simply bail out when the waters get choppy, or we decide we don’t like rowing, or the person sitting next to us smells bad, we will miss real opportunities for growth, change, development, evolution, and transformation.

    We often think that our spiritual life, or our yoga life, ought to be a place of sanctity, and relief from “daily life.” But, if anything, our yoga practice IS part of our daily lives, and eventually will be fraught. Other practitioners trigger us, our teacher doesn’t respond in the way that we think he or she ought to, we feel critical of the teachings. This is where the real teaching, and the real learning occur. The very purpose of our discomfort and suffering is to help us to grow. (Note: discomfort and suffering are not to be created through malicious intent or abuse.)

    So what lineage is right for you? What one will provide you with just enough comfort, and just enough abrasion to create the right circumstances for you to grow? It’s hard to say. This is a personal matter. My lineage is Forrest Yoga, and my teacher is Ana Forrest. How did I decide to stick to this boat? I sampled some other practices, and they simply did not speak to me as loudly as Forrest Yoga. It was less an intellectual decision than a soul decision. It’s not all been smooth sailing!

    There have been plenty of rough waters. It can be seductive to believe that when you find “the right lineage” everything will feel good and everyone will be nice. But, wherever people are involved, this is simply not how events and interactions ever unfold. Even among those who quest for peace. As a practitioner I still explore other lineages; as a teacher I also teach Vinyasa and what I call Forrest-Inspired Vinyasa. But, even as I roam I know that I always have a home, and that is Forrest Yoga.

    Once I took a weekend workshop with a wonderful teacher from the Iyengar lineage, Tias Little. It was the first time I ever did a weekend immersion with someone other than Ana Forrest. I texted her, and told her “I feel like I’m cheating on Forrest Yoga!” She wrote back, “Education is never cheating.”

    This too, I believe is the hallmark of a healthy and safe lineage. One in which the founder herself, and the teachers he or she has trained encourage curiosity, questioning, and “cross-training.” At the same time, I think that it’s important that, when you teach “the lineage” you keep it pure, to the best of your knowledge and ability. What does this mean? Here’s what this doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be yourself. In fact, this is impossible and any healthy lineage will encourage you to be the most authentic version of yourself, in your life, and in your teachings.

    For me, what this means is that I have Forrest Inspired Vinyasa where I can teach and explore things that aren’t specifically part of my lineage, and create and invent, if I feel called. And then when I go to teach Forrest Yoga, I do my best to teach it as Ana intended, and when I want to “throw something in” I explain that it’s NOT Forrest Yoga, and the reason why I chose to include it in the sequence. I can hear protests already: but I feel so confined when I go to teach someone else’s way! It doesn’t feel authentic. Yes, I feel you. But, I want you to consider a few things.

    First, can you access your authentic self, at any time, no matter what you are doing? This is, in fact true freedom. This is a family get-together, where no-one really knows you anymore, or accepts you, and nevertheless you find a way to show up as yourself in a graceful, inspiring, and inviting manner. This is a difficult conversation where you feel boxed in, and you find your voice anyway. This is feeling judged, shamed, or objectified and still being able to access your highest self. Sticking to one boat trains you to find yourself, no matter what.

    Second, there is a difference between freedom and chaos. When there are no edges, no rules, no containers—this is chaos. In chaos, there is no freedom. Do you know the music of Igor Stravinsky? He was basically the Picasso of European classical music. Often when I’m thinking about lineage, and teaching, and rules, I think of Stravinsky, because to create the remarkable, vanguard, intensely creative music that he did, he gave himself rules. For each composition, he set up a series of parameters to function within. And these boundaries are what set him free. He even said so himself:

    My freedom will be so much greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.

    So, what if you stick to one boat, and still feel called outside? O.K. then, maybe this is a great evolution. But it doesn’t mean abandon your boat. For instance, you might know of the powerful teacher Les Leventhal. Les and I share a common heritage in Forrest Yoga. We were both teaching at the Bali Spirit Festival a number of years ago, and connected there. He recounted to me a conversation he had with Ana where she asked him why he was no longer teaching Forrest Yoga. He told me, he said, “You taught me to find my authentic voice. And when I did, I discovered it wasn’t to teach Forrest Yoga.” Les is what I’d call “Forrest-Adjacent:” we love him, he loves Ana, and we support one another. Les didn’t abandon the boat. That boat and its occupants are allies.

    The hazard of a lineage that does its job well is that people discover themselves and some leave the system. Others find themselves and also ways to bring their true and authentic voice to enrich the teachings of that home lineage. And this is also why within a lineage you will find so many rich and wonderful voices, all teaching the same things, in their own way. This is, I think, the most wonderful effect of having constraints. Within “the rules” or whatever you feel is confining you, you are forced to discover yourself.

    Chafe a little. It’s O.K. to be uncomfortable. Instead of seeking to remove the discomfort, stay. Sit. Find out who and what you are when you bump up against an edge. This is the way home. To get home, you must have a vehicle. Stick to one boat.

    By Erica Mather

    Top 3 things you need to practice yoga

    Practice with Erica on Omstars

    Author, Yoga Therapist, Forrest Yoga Guardian, and Master Teacher Erica Mather, M.A. is a life-long educator. She teaches people to feel better in, and about their bodies. Her book Your Body, Your Best Friend: End the Confidence-Crushing Pursuit of Unrealistic Beauty-Standards and Embrace Your True Power (New Harbinger, April 2020) is a 7-step spiritual journey helping women befriend their bodies and utilize them as tools and allies on their quest to live their best lives. Her Adore Your Body Transformational Programs help overcome body image challenges, and the Yoga Clinic of NYC supports students, teachers, and health professionals learn about empowered care for the body. Mather is a recognized body image expert and a Forrest Yoga lineage-holder, hand-selected by Ana Forrest to guide and mentor teachers while they learn about Forrest Yoga. She lives in New York City and teaches at PURE Yoga. Visit her at www.ericamather.com

  • Interview with Erica Mather

    Yoga changed EVERYTHING. I was looking for answers through thinking my way through every challenge. Yoga connected me to my body, spirit, and beyond, and has supplied frameworks for understanding life that don’t involve just the intellect. I think I’m much more aware now, and more integrated with all aspects of myself.

    Describe your personality in three words.

    Intense, Warm, Grounding

    Where are you from and/or where do you live?

    I’m “from” Madison, Wisconsin, but New York City really raised me. This is where I live.

    How long have you been practicing yoga and why did you start practicing yoga?

    I’ve been practicing yoga for 16 years. I began because I was looking for solutions for my adult-onset migraine headaches.

    What is yoga to you?

    Yoga is an opportunity and a way to get to know ourselves. Once we know ourselves better, then we begin to have a different relationship with the people and the world around us.

    How did you feel after your first yoga class and how do you want students to feel after they practice with you?

    I felt connected to my Self–her pain, and hopefulness–in ways I didn’t know were possible. I want my students to feel safe in themselves, and at home in their bodies. When people feel safe in their bodies, they have a high chance of showing up fully and authentically as themselves.

    What impact has yoga had on your life? Who were you before you started practicing and how have you changed, evolved and transformed?

    Yoga changed EVERYTHING. I was looking for answers through thinking my way through every challenge. Yoga connected me to my body, spirit, and beyond, and has supplied frameworks for understanding life that don’t involve just the intellect. I think I’m much more aware now, and more integrated with all aspects of myself.

    Why did you decide to start teaching yoga and what makes a good yoga teacher?

    I decided to teach because, honestly, I didn’t have a better plan! What makes me a good teacher is my capacity to quickly assess people’s physical abilities and to work with them where they are at. Whether in a class, or 1-2-1, I’m swift in this regard, and as a result my students feel seen and are able to grow in ways that might not otherwise be available to them.

    What style of yoga do you practice and what makes that style most effective? Do you have a teacher in your style of yoga?

    I’m a Forrest Yoga Guardian (lineage-holder), and I teach this practice as well as a hybrid Forrest/Vinyasa blend. I find Forrest Yoga to be a very effective style for beginners, injured people, as well as advanced practitioners. It’s effective because it teaches people to feel the truth of their bodies, as they are now, and the postures are emergent from that reality. Ana Forrest is my teacher.

    What has been your biggest struggle and your biggest milestone in the practice? 

    Like any relationship, my relationship with yoga has its ebbs and flows. After so many years, sometimes we think it’s “over.” The biggest struggle has been to “stay in it.” Meaning, stay in the relationship. To keep the faith. To look for new depths. To ride out the periods of dissatisfaction and communicate in good faith. To return again and again. My biggest milestone has been healing my back from an injury I sustained in high school: spondylosis and spondylolisthesis. Without my yoga practice, I’m certain this injury would have gone from bad to worse. With my yoga practice, and over more than a decade of work, it’s gone from bad to stable.

    What is yoga favorite yoga pose and why? And what’s your least favorite yoga pose and why?

    My favorite pose is the pose I’m in at the moment. My least favorite pose is the pose I’m in at the moment that offers me great resistance.

    What has been the most inspirational moment you’ve experienced as a yoga student?

    Honestly, almost every moment with my teacher, Ana Forrest, is an inspirational one!

    And how about as a teacher?

    I think seeing my students become great teachers in their own right is an inspirational moment that happens again, and again.

    Practice with Erica Mather on Omstars

    Why do you practice? Why do you teach?

    I practice to keep my finger on the pulse of the evolving being that is me. Yoga encompasses the WHOLE human, including the body, and for me is an effective discipline for staying in touch with myself. I teach because I LOVE to teach. It is my original skill, the one I was set on this planet to use.

    What’s your favorite yoga quote or mantra?

    The success of yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships. ~T.V.K.Desikachar

    What is the single most defining issue facing the global yoga community today?

    I don’t know! I’m not sure what’s happening in Africa, or South Asia! I feel like I can only speak to what’s occurring in North America…

    What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you as a student and as a teacher?

    Clothing malfunctions always rank high…

    Do you have any recommended yoga reading?

    I think everyone ought to read The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V.Desikachar. I also recommend my teacher’s book, Fierce Medicine, by Ana Forrest.

    What is your dharma, your life mission?

    To help people feel good in, and about their bodies. When people have compassion for their own tender, animal selves, it has a ripple effect into the world, increasing compassion exponentially. It touches the people around us, the four-legged ones, the winged ones, the finned ones, the trees and EVERYTHING. I think it is very hard to find compassion in our lives when we are cruel or violent to our own physical manifestations. I have written a book on this subject, specifically to help women improve their relationships with their bodies. It will be published April 2020!

    What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey?

    Cultivate curiosity. It is the single most powerful tool you can take with you into any interaction, with yourself, and with other people.

    Are there any current projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?

    YES! My book! Coming soon! It’s the culmination of so much of what I’m talking about here. The title is F*ck Your Beauty Standards: Stop Wasting Time Hating Your Body and Start Living Your Life. It will be published in April 2020 (New Harbinger).

    Aside from your fantastic course on Omstars, do you have a favorite class that you’d like to share?

    I recommend also checking out Dianne Bondy’s work. She is forging ahead tirelessly, working to make yoga accessible to all people.

    By Erica Mather

  • Interview With Erica Mather

    One of the great things about OMstars is that we have a wonderful community of students and teachers from all around the world, with various styles of practice. Want to know more about our amazing teachers? This week, we asked, Forrest Yoga Guardian, Erica Mather several interview style questions about herself, her practice, and her teaching. Get to know a little more about Erica here on the blog, then log in or join OMstars – The Yoga Network to start practicing with her today!

    1. How long have you been practicing yoga and why did you start practicing yoga?

    I’ve been practicing since 2001. I began because I experienced adult-onset migraine headaches, and I was told that yoga could help with that.

    1. What is yoga to you?

    Yoga is a system for getting to know yourself—your body, mind, heart, and spirit—and for learning to live in honor and integrity with that human being you’re getting to know.

    1. How did you feel after your first yoga class and how do you want students to feel after they practice with you?

    I don’t exactly recall how I felt physically after my first practice…sore? Tired? I DO remember being excited and relieved that I found a place where I could rehabilitate my own relationship with my body, independent of a value assumption based on what it looks like, or what it can do.

    I want my students to feel free—in their bodies, in their relationships, in their work lives, and in their spiritual lives. It’s a tall order, but I DO get reports back from my students that they feel expanded through the breath work, and stronger in their bodies and their minds from the ways that I ask them to engage deeply. These are good places to begin.

    1. What impact has yoga had on your life? Who were you before you started practicing and how have you changed, evolved and transformed?

    I’m not sure I could even recognize the person I was before yoga. What I do remember is feeling more anxious about all the things I thought I should be, and as a result experiencing far more doubt, social anxiety, self-recrimination, and self-loathing.

    In terms of transformation and evolution, above all, the practices of connecting with the body as a source of wisdom, exercising compassion for all the ways I mess up, and studying myself—the things I admire AND those I dislike—have brought me into closer relationship with myself. As a result, I’m more aware of the things that I need and long for out of life, and can be brave enough to go after them, or to ask for them from others.

    I’m very proud of so much that I accomplished as a young person, before I began practicing yoga. But, I’m also aware that the person I am becoming is more in alignment with the kind of person I can admire, and THIS is the result of my yoga practice. When we confront our own deaths, THIS is the ultimate judgment, the only one that really matters: are YOU proud of yourself and the life that you lived?

    1. Why did you decide to start teaching yoga and what makes a good yoga teacher?

    I decided to start teaching yoga because it was a natural next progression for my life as a teacher. I’ve been teaching in some capacity since I was 17, and I consider teaching to be my key skill.

    A good yoga teacher knows how to teach. Yoga is the topic. Teaching is the skill. To teach well, you must have an understanding of HOW people learn, and you yourself be curious about learning more and more about people, because each and every student will learn slightly differently than every other student. So, you must be curious about people, even more than you are curious about yoga. This is the foundation of a good teacher.

    1. What style of yoga do you practice and what makes that style most effective? Do you have a teacher in your style of yoga?

    I teach Forrest Yoga. What I think makes Forrest Yoga effective is that it teaches the body is central to the project of self-realization. Instead of the body as a mere stepping-stone ON the path, the body itself IS the path.

    Ana Forrest is my teacher. I am a lineage-holder in her tradition. I am very honored to be of service to the world in this capacity.

    1. What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey?

    It’s a lifelong journey. Think of it as the beginning of a new kind of relationship with yourself and with the world. Throw out all expectations, and enjoy the view.

    1. What has been your biggest struggle and your biggest milestone in the practice?  

    Biggest struggle…letting go of the need to feel accomplished.

    Biggest milestone…my goodness. I feel like every day is a milestone!

    1. What is your favorite yoga pose and why? And what’s your least favorite yoga pose and why?

    I really enjoy Bridge Pose—Setu Bhanda. I like the way it frees up my lungs and helps traction my back, which is often quite painful.

    I can’t think of a least favorite. They all are in the running to become a new, unexpected favorite.

    1. What has been the most inspirational moment you’ve experienced as a yoga student? And how about as a teacher?

    As a yoga student…the most inspiration comes when I have an epiphany on the mat, or make some connection off the mat that improves my relationship with other people or with the world. As a teacher, it’s really as a teacher-trainer. Those are the moments when I really get to engage with a person, knowing that they are all-in and hunting personal transformation and I’m able to say something that touches them in a way that heals their heart.

    1. Why do you practice? Why do you teach?

    I practice because it is a never-ending connection to myself and a forum for getting to know myself. I teach because I love connecting with other humans through the act of teaching, and also because the act of teaching is incredibly creative for me, and through it I learn things that otherwise would not have been available to me.

    1. What’s your favorite yoga quote or mantra?

    “A true contemplative is one who lives with a broken heart. A heart that is open to the world must be willing to be broken at any time. This brokenness produces the kind of grief that expands the heart so that it can love more and more.” ~Stephen Cope Yoga and the Quest for the True Self.

    1. What is the single most defining issue facing the global yoga community today?

    Listening to people with whom we disagree. As “open minded” people we have become very close minded to people who do not view the world in ways that conform to our own. It is exactly the responsibility and the challenge of the modern yogi to remain open-minded and open-hearted to other view-points and other voices. When we stay centered, open, and compassionate to those with whom we disagree, we open a channel for them to relax, feel heard, and therefore, perhaps to be willing to listen to us in exchange. It is our DUTY as modern mystics to tend to the world, and the way forward will call upon us to be the highest versions of ourselves.

    1. What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you as a student and as a teacher?

    Clothing malfunctions. I’ll leave it at that.

    1. Do you have any recommended yoga reading?

    I think that The Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar is essential reading for all yoga practitioners and teachers or all lineages. It provides context and history for all that we do now.

    1. What is your dharma, your life mission? 

    My dharma is to heal the broken love lines in my family and all around me. I believe that it is my calling to become a bodhisattva, and to be available to love the world. This is my life mission.

    Interview With Erica Mather

    ERica Mather, Forest Yoga teacher, interview about yoga

    Erica is a Forrest Yoga Guardian, hand-picked by Ana Forrest to become one of a handful of senior teacher in the Forrest Yoga tribe.

    Start Practicing With Erica On OMstars – The Yoga Network