• 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

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    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