Forrest Yoga at Karma Yoga Studio
By Margret Hall
Being initially interested in yoga as a therapeutic practice for depression, when searching for a local yoga studio to attend I read many studio and class descriptions, searching for the right mix of physical and mental practice. Forrest Yoga at Karma Yoga Studio in Cambridge sounded like a good fit for me. Practiced in a slightly heated room (approximately 80 degrees), this style incorporates poses focused on strengthening the core and deep breathing techniques to help flush out toxins. Karma Yoga’s description also expressed that a practitioner of Forrest Yoga learns tools to deal with struggle and fear, and increases self-awareness: while explicit in the description, this was never mentioned during the actual practice in the class. In repeated practice, one might find these results, but as a beginner I feel that it is helpful to be reminded to listen to the pattern of thoughts in the mind as part of a yoga practice.
To enter the Karma Yoga studios one must go through the Karma Café, a simply designed quiet space with large windows looking directly onto the sidewalk of Massachusetts Avenue. Being a chronic people watcher, I don’t think this would be a great place for me to relax with a cup or tea or try to get work done, but the atmosphere was calm and the food looked fantastic. Jesse Winder, who is also a teacher at Karma Yoga, founded the studio in 2002. He personally has a background in martial arts, yoga, holistic nutrition, herbology and alternative medicines, which I am sure greatly influenced the philosophy of the studio itself. The studio stresses that yoga should be accessible, and provides many introductory level classes as well as more challenging ones. They practice caring and helpful teaching, and strive to offer something for everyone. In choosing a class (and choosing this yoga studio) the instructors seem as important as the style of yoga they teach; there are extensive bios on the website as well as extensive class descriptions that give insight into the different philosophies behind each style and each instructor. The studio also offers one class a week that donates the entirety of the proceeds to local animal rescue projects. This is truly a karma-minded studio and practices modernized philosophies of yoga, without forcing any beliefs on anyone.
The Karma Yoga Studio has recently opened a gym at their location, which gives the impression that current cultural interests might be swaying the business, if not the yoga practice. It is a great convenience to have access to a gym at your yoga studio rather than yoga at your gym; the former being more likely to have a wide variety of yoga practices. Karma Yoga embraces the western yoga culture by selling clothing and yoga props, as well as fair-trade home decorations, gifts and foods. I imagine that selling these commodities would not be done in an eastern practice of yoga. As for the yoga practice itself, Forrest Yoga probably incorporates more of the traditional spiritual and breathing practices that most power yoga classes would. Most useful would be to incorporate research about the culture and philosophy of traditional yoga and apply to ones favorite style of practice.
When I entered the Karma Yoga Studio, I was greeted to two very warm employees who took my name and payment and instructed me to go downstairs for the class. The facilities are small but very nice, and the aesthetic is one of quiet warm browns and low light. The studio itself was quite full when I arrived, but people made room willingly and were basically friendly. The other practitioners seemed to be from a good size cross section of the surrounding community. I would say that most were in their 20s or 30s, with a few older women and one or two older men. The level of skill ranged very broadly as some seemed very new to some of the poses, and others looked to be quite experienced with them. Because it was a Saturday morning class there might have been more first-timers, as opposed to the 6:30am classes that probably draw more regular practitioners.
The instructor for this particular session of Forrest Yoga was Amiko Hirao. In speaking with her after the class was over I found out that she started practicing Forrest yoga to help with headaches and found them completely alleviated. She is also an illustrator and likes being a teacher of yoga because it allows her great flexibility in her work life. In her bio on the Karma Yoga Studio website it mentions that she has come to believe that yoga is a valuable tool for connecting to one’s own creativity. The bio also states “…creative energy flows from the core—not from the head” is her motto. I had originally planned to attend a class taught by another instructor, but was glad that I had attended Amiko’s after reading this about her. As an artist, it is interesting to think about where creative energy resides within the body. I have long known that my creative energy does not reside in my head, but hadn’t thought about specific practices to unlock that energy and expand upon it.
Forrest Yoga was created by Ana Forrest, a woman who has struggled with alcoholism, bulimia, and physical abuse and found yoga to be a helpful tool in her life. Focused around breath, strength, integrity and spirit (the pillars of Forrest Yoga), Forrest Yoga aims to help students “find and clear the emotional and mental blocks that dictate and limit their lives” (“Forrest Yoga”). Common to most yoga theories, learning to connect more deeply with ones true self is key part of Forrest Yoga, as is strengthening ones spirit as well as ones body. Ana Forrest stresses taking the practices learned and achievements thereof into the rest of ones life.
Karma Yoga Studio’s particular version of Forrest Yoga was not quite what I expected from reading the literature about this type of yoga. The Saturday morning class I attended, taught by Amiko, was quite full, though there was enough room to practice each pose comfortably. Amiko began with breathing and abdominal practices, and while I was very pleased that we practiced the Bhastrika (bellows) breath and some abdominal massage techniques, when we moved to doing what was basically modified crunches I realized that my expectations may not align with the reality of the class. The crunches were challenging and focused on breath, but felt more like the end of my gym workout than what I had expected yoga to be. The rest of the postures were more similar to the practices I had experienced previously, with the added challenge of headstand and handstand poses.
Most of the poses in Forrest Yoga are held for a good amount of time that lets the body sink in to the pose as well as engaging many core muscles for balancing and allowing the practitioner to reach the edge of their strength and stamina. Amiko did allow us a break from these held poses with a repeated practice of the Sun Salutations following our own rate of breath about halfway through the class. Using the breath to dictate the flow of the body through the poses at this point in the class helped release some of the tension in my body and bring me back to my breath. These Surya Namaskar were my favorite part of this particular practice because in it, I was in charge of my own yogic practice. Usually I am overly concerned with what else is going on in the room and trying to get the poses right, but because I am more familiar with the Surya Namaskar I was able to focus more on clearing the mind and really feeling my body in tune with my breath.
At the Karma Yoga Studio, Forrest yoga is practiced in a heated room. The temperature change from the hall to the room in where the class was taking place was not noticeable, leading me to believe that the heat gradually increases throughout the class. I had expected to really be sweating it out, but I actually didn’t reach that point until about half way through the class. I did have a problem with my feet being too sweaty to maintain some of the poses, specifically one where we walked our feet up the wall to a position perpendicular with our body. The instructor Amiko always gave variation options both for those who felt uncomfortable or unable to do a pose, and for those who were ready for more a challenge.
In my practice of Forrest Yoga, I felt that I was benefiting more from pairing what I have learned in Yoga class at Lesley with the asanas we were practicing at Karma Yoga. I knew more how to control my breathing, and knew to try to clear the mind. Engaging the practices from the Lesley class, though, caused me to become distracted in comparison as well. I was hoping for more of a cool down, meditation pose than what we practiced at Karma Yoga, and for more guidance for the mind and spirit in the poses. One should try a variety of yoga classes and studios and apply what they like from each into their own practice, be it alone or in another class. It is important to be true to ones body as well as trying new things.
Forrest Yoga. 2007. 26 February 2010.
Karma Yoga Studio. 20 February 2010.