I had the honour of spending time with Ana and Jose over Skype discussing big topics like the future of yoga and the awakening of the world. Here are the highlights of our intriguing conversation.
What is the future of yoga?
Jose: We are creating the future right now. We have brought our two worlds together: Ana's experience of 40 years of teaching yoga, and myself as a cultural and artistic director of Descendance Aboriginal. We brought the knowledge, wisdom, and culture of the First Peoples and yoga together. As you know, many white middle class people hunger for indigenous knowledge, whether it be Native American, Australian aboriginal, Maori etc. Why? Because we have lost contact with nature. First peoples had respect and were in communion nature, something that has been lost today.
You know, when Ana and I run our teacher training courses we begin with a talking circle, and I can tell you from what people share that almost everyone is terribly unhappy with their lives. There is an emptiness in every single person's life and they have come there not so much to do the postures, but to solve their problems. So, what Ana and I are constructing as we speak is the future of yoga. There are elements in main stream yoga that are missing - a huge gap in the market. So we have turned yoga into a sanctuary of healing, culture, knowledge, somewhere to increase our perceptions, and learn to love again.
How are you bringing culture into the yoga experience?
Ana: Before we even begin yoga, each day we do a 45 min. Ceremony. Why? We do Ceremony to go from the ordinary to the extraordinary, or to shift gears. Or to expand our perception, because our daily perceptions are not resolving our issues. We need that bigger overview in order to move forward in life. There is a lot more music in our trainings with singing, drumming, dancing, and a lot more knowledge of the shamans, and how we develop our extra perceptions.
Jose: Some people may ask, 'What has Ceremony got to do with yoga?' It has got a LOT to do with yoga! Bringing ceremonial singing, dancing and invocation gives us a wider connection to the great mystery. Many people have no meaningful ceremony in their lives, most First Nations ceremonies are filled with music singing and dancing, which helps move the people into a state of what we call "Second Attention". First attention is that judging, busy, drabble mind, but also the practical day-to-day mind that keeps you on time for your meetings. But what we are targeting is the higher being - not the neurotic person that came to the room - we are speaking to and trying to awaken their spirit. It takes us a good 10 minutes to get them out of their dysfunctional busy mind, and it happens through ceremony.
Ana: We start the Ceremony with a smoke blessing and there will sometimes be a musician playing music because we're teaching people how to use music to light up inside, to come into the places where words can't penetrate. And Jose is sometimes going around with different instruments doing a healing rattling. And I am following with my feathers and smoke just clearing the field. We set a ceremonial intent and open up the mind and heart and nervous system and it continues on throughout the poses we do later. It is all woven together so that the entire session becomes a ceremony.
Jose: So, you can see, Ana and I are trying to do something a little different, something real. We know what people are here for, and we want to get beyond the fluff and connect to something deeper.
Ana: In the 4 decades I've been teaching I have seen such a longing and spiritual bereftness in my students as we have lost our knowledge of connecting with spirit. Many people are feeling they aren't getting what they need from church, and therefore they are turning away saying "I don't believe in any of this, I am an Atheist". I have been reflecting back to people that they are missing something vital here, and that they are hungering, and finding ways to fill that hole with alcohol or sex or pornography or whatever. Instead, we are showing them tools that they can use to connect to their spirit, nourish their spirit, and build their relationship with their Spirit. It's delicious!!
Jose: When I used to go to yoga classes years ago, it was like a church congregation where the yoga instructor was the priest. I noticed that I was going every morning in order to get something sacred, and that is when I realized what the missing element in yoga was for me - sacredness. I compare the typical yoga experience to the work that I do as cultural director for an indigenous performance company and when we perform for audiences we wash the crowd in a spiritual blessing and people leave with a spring in their step and renewed hope. That's a pretty big magic to have in a show - it's really a ceremonial show. It's how I connected with Ana Forrest actually - I did a ceremony for her when she came to Australia and I put my hands on the back of her heart, while our didgeridoo man played on the front of her heart - we sort of ambushed her with an extraordinary blessing. There were 70 yoga teachers in the room that night and many were moved to tears. The energy of the ceremony went straight to the collective heart. When I started doing yoga, I had a premonition that perhaps some day I would find a way to bring what I do to yoga.
Ana: So part of the new paradigm that we're building here is also coming from both of our backgrounds as healers and Medicine people but from different cultures. So I have been bringing the ceremonies as I understand them and redesigning them to fit into my work. For example, I can do a Sun Dance (or a pipe ceremony or a vision quest) but I can't do that in a yoga room. So I am bringing ceremony to people who probably would never go out to the mountain seeking vision, but that they can have a vision quest on the mat. I have been doing this for many years. I have a small collection of songs that I can use in a medicine way, and also I teach people about how to use their own voices because so many of our people are shut down from ways of expressing themselves, especially in song. Anyone can sing. You don't have to be 'the singer'. You can move. You don't have to be a dancer. We're teaching them to reclaim some of these basic ways to feed their Spirit. And then coming together with Jose - he is a song man. He knows how to bring in all of these other cultures where I did not.
What is the newest evolution of your work together? What are you most excited about?
Ana: One of the things that we're working on now is using song and sound to reorganize the way that the particles are compressing around an injury or an illness. On a scientific level it is how the particles literally conglomerate around a sickness. This is something I had been working on for years on my own because I noticed that using Bramari or Medicine songs, or any sacred sound tools I had was getting results. I saw that the sound was penetrating past the first attention of the person I was working on and something was happening. And when Jose and I started talking about this, he told me that the Australian indigenous people have been singing into people's bones for over forty-thousands years. So this is something we are teaching now too. Sometimes we have amazing musicians in our classes - we recently had a cello player and a violinist, and a classical pianist, and we are teaching the students how to run the music into their bones. Now, this is a deep, deep science, an aboriginal spiritual technology, but our students are beginning to dabble in it, and it's an exquisite way of working - we are so turned on by it!
Jose: Sometimes people are surprised and delighted when they come to our yoga ceremonies and see the way we use music. We've had some incredible results. In Hong Kong, we had a woman come to us who was totally deaf in the right ear, and carried an injury in her left upper back (the injuries were connected). I showed our students how they could all participate in the healing by sending the music through her back and into her ear, while Ana and I had our hands on her controlling the flow of energy. She left with her hearing restored and her upper back healed!! Many others in the room experienced their own healing in the process. Now, in order to be healed you need to participate in the healing. As I say, you need to be 'miracle-ready' - able to surrender the injury or whatever you may be carrying.
Ana: Often what we do is plant the seeds, and the change comes slowly. With others, they are ready. The woman Jose mentioned in Hong Kong was just so ready to put her prejudices and burdens down that when we did the healing she just burst open from the inside. I didn't know exactly what needed to happen to heal the deafness, I just asked for it in my personal prayer for it to be rearranged so that she could hear. I just saw her yesterday and she is hearing out of both ears. It is amazing. We don't always need to know how to rearrange every particle, we just need to have the intention.
Ana Forrest is an internationally-known yoga instructor and author, as well as the founder of the Forrest Yoga community. Jose Calarco has been involved in music, culture and healing for decades, and is the Company Director of Descendance Aboriginal Dance Theatre in Australia. Ana and Jose's lives and offerings have now aligned as they co-facilitate retreats and trainings worldwide. Forrest Yoga is renowned as an intensely physical and internally focused practice that emphasizes how to carry a transformative experience off the mat and into daily life. The practice challenges students to access their whole being and to use Forrest Yoga as a path to finding and then cleansing the emotional and mental blocks that dictate and limit their lives. Students cultivate an acute awareness of their own practice and life process, creating a unique and powerful opportunity for them to make practical life decisions based on their own experiences. To work with Ana and Jose check out their schedule on forrestyoga.com . Their next weekend of workshops is in Monterray, Mexico Jan 13-15, 2017.