Pretty much everything Ana Forrest does on a daily basis requires more self-awareness and discipline than I have in my little finger. Discovering a diet that worked for her in a yoga culture laden with food taboos is no exception to that.
This past winter I attended a series of workshops with Forrest and had the good fortune to sit down with her for an hour to talk. I was so nervous. Anyone who has practiced with Ana knows what a force she is. But when we actually got to talking, I felt safe and comfy. The hour flew by and we covered a lot of ground. I wrote a small piece about the workshops for Namaste Y’all back then, but I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the other awesome material I had. It seemed like I was sitting on a treasure trove of Forrest wisdom and that I should share.
One particularly interesting topic that we discussed was diet. I usually don’t care to talk to yogis about what they eat because I think I know what they are going to say and often yogis are pretentious about diet (and then I’ll be annoyed). Maybe it’s because we had been talking about how she keeps her energy high; maybe it was because her assistant was munching on a bag of sliced grocery turkey meat; I’m not sure, but for some reason I asked her to talk about how she eats.
As a teen, Forrest was addicted to alcohol and cigarettes. She would do any drugs she could get her hands on and was up to three packs of smokes a day before she quit in 1975. She was, in her words, “pretty toxic.” Around that time she moved into a yoga center where they were cooking really clean, really fresh vegetarian food every day. Forrest, who only ever cooked for horses, couldn’t believe her luck. After starving as a youth she was now presented with at least two beautiful meals a day. The food was healthy and abundant but because she was detoxing so badly it really hurt her stomach. At first this made sense but after a couple of years when her stomach was still hurting she thought, “Enough of this fucking detoxing. Something is wrong.”
She was eating what she believed to be a very healthy vegetarian diet, and practicing a lot of yoga and yet she was gaining weight. She felt “fat, stupid and constipated.” So she started her own scientific process to discover what foods were good and bad for her. She would eat and then go practice and journal what her energy and strength levels were like. Fifteen years later she took an allergy test that told her everything her body was allergic to. It turned out that beans, bread, legumes, soy, and grains (all essential protein builders in the vegetarian diet) were toxic to her body. She discovered that the diet that works for her is massive amounts of vegetables and eight to twenty ounces of meat a day.
Forrest was very attracted to the idea of ahimsa (non-violence) because her history included so much violence. She realized, however, that when she took the non-harming to mean a vegetarian diet that she was harming herself.
It would be tempting to say, “Damn, well I want to be a bad ass like Ana Forrest. Maybe I need to get down on some meat.” And it may be the case that meat is part of a good diet for you, but we all need to come to our own conclusions by experimenting and being in tune with our own bodies. Also, she really recommends the allergy test. You never know what “healthy” food you might be eating that your body cannot properly digest. It might be making you fat, stupid and constipated.
The Forrest diet, and philosophy, rests on the principle of doing what works. Another important part of the Forrest philosophy is to make it sacred. Ana Forrest prays over her food:
My prayers are really simple. I put my hands on either side of whatever I’m eating and I run my energy from my hands, through that food and I ask for whatever that is there, whether it’s a broccoli or a buffalo or whoever is on my plate, to align with me, for that life force there to align with me. And then I focus a moment on whoever is on my plate and I thank it for the giveaway of its life force to feed my life force and to be really grateful for that … really down to the bone grateful for that. Because of being willing to eat something else in order to feed my own life force I want to be conscious of that and not guilty.
Guilt is toxic, so don’t feel bad about whatever you’re doing. Maybe just consider taking some time to figure out what works best for your body. Ana’s advice on how to do this: Have patience. Experiment with yourself, over and over and over. “One test doesn’t do it. It’s like kicking up into handstand. Trying to kick up into handstand one time doesn’t do it. There needs to be lots.”
For Forrest Yoga the real questions about practice, diet and spirituality are: Is it nourishing you? Does it work? If the answers to those questions is yes, you are doing it right.