There are many yoga styles out there, from Hatha, Vinyasa, Kundalini and Forrest. Forrest yoga was created by Ana Forrest, and we are lucky to have Allison English teaching us the style here in Chicago.
I first met Allison when a dear friend asked me to join her on one of Allison’s retreats. I attended her class at Equinox and fell head over heels for her style of teaching. Allison makes yoga accessible, fun and challenging. Her gorgeous smile and giggles create a vibe that is not intimidating. She starts each class walking over to students, asking their name and finding out how they’re feeling: are your hamstrings tight? shoulders tight? etc.
She gathers all of this information to ensure that she makes the appropriate modifications during the practice and to make sure each student feels they had a private class.
Her spiritual focus and attention to detail are something that one can’t usually find at gyms, however Equinox shines with her on staff. If you survey students who are members of Equinox, many will tell you, “It’s because of Allison English that I’m here.”
I got to ask Allison a few questions about yoga and her style of teaching.
Allison, if someone has never tried yoga, what advice do you offer?
If you have never tried yoga before, pick a beginner or intro to yoga class. Many yoga studios offer free community classes or series of classes designed specifically for beginners. It is much less intimidating and much more educational to start out where you are: a beginner. These classes are designed to give you the confidence and information to integrate into regular classes with ease.
Getting a strong foundation in the basic principles of practicing yoga and the basic alignment points (and let’s be real: the names) of the poses will help you to feel comfortable and excited about practicing yoga. I would also say, if at first you don’t like it, try another teacher or another style until you find someone and something that you resonate with. Everyone will gravitate towards a different yoga practice that suits them best, and each person will understand a teacher uniquely! Find the ones that work best for you, even if it takes a few tries.
You specialize in Forrest yoga, can you tell me what makes this different from Hatha or Vinyasa?
Forrest Yoga is a form of Hatha, or physical yoga. Vinyasa yoga is also Hatha yoga, but nowadays the term Hatha has come to mean very static practices of physical yoga based around the poses. Vinyasa Yoga is often very fast-paced movements guided by breath and can be a more choreographed style of practicing yoga postures.
In a Forrest Yoga class you will find a much more dynamic practice based around intention, deep breathing and pranayama exercises, long pose holds interspersed with more fluid movement, and very intelligent sequencing for the “modern” body. Sometimes, longer Forrest Yoga workshops and practices will include ceremonial aspects as well as journaling exercises.
Most people today spend a lot more time of their days sitting, working at a computer, holding a cell phone and commuting than at any other time in history. In a Forrest Yoga class, you will find that almost every pose is designed to specifically address what gets stuck, stagnant and irritated or even injured from these aspects of modern living.
Come to a Forrest Yoga class ready to work on your core strength, develop a deep attention and to play through the physical poses of yoga intentionally and systematically. Designed from the life work of Ana Forrest, this style of practice offers up modifications in a class setting for physical, mental and emotional conditions – taking great care of every student. It is challenging, sweaty and fun!
Allison, let’s talk about abs: Why do we focus so much time on them instead of hanging out in sun salutations or downward -acing dog?
The abdominal work that Forrest Yoga integrates near the beginning of every practice helps to develop a strong centeredness and focus in every practitioner. It also brings blood flow through the core of the body (base of the pelvis to the top of the head) and warms up everything to prepare for wherever the sequence is going.
Before doing the weight bearing and movement pieces of a sequence, it is so important to be physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically strong and centered – it makes everything else easier through the sequence.
I’ve attended yoga classes where everyone bolts out before savasana – is that OK to do?
I am always a bit sad when students leave before or during savasana because it is the sweetest part of the practice. You do all this awareness building and mindfulness during the class, and savasana is the most important time because it lets you soak up all the benefits of what you worked at.
Without savasana it is really difficult for students to take the gifts and relaxed feelings from the practice beyond the mat. If you have to leave early from a class for any reason, just cut out some of the other poses and take savasana early! It’s that important!
If people can’t make it to the gym regularly, what are a few things they can do on their own?
Head on over to the iTunes store and download my app, Yoga+Travel, which is pre-loaded with short, beginner level sequences that you can take with you anywhere! I highly recommend that my busy on-the-go students take time for deep breaths every day, for feeling their feet outside of their shoes and for chest openers and shoulder shrugs (you can find both on the app!).
It can also be useful to pick a couple of your favorite poses from each class you are able to attend and repeat them at home a few times per week. This builds familiarity with the practice, keeps you motivated and helps you retain more of your practice outside the studio. When all else fails: book a private yoga session with your favorite teacher and get a tailor-made at home sequence you can do! That’s one of my favorite things to offer my private clients.
To learn more about Allison English, check out her website yogabyallison.com or join an Equinox gym in Chicago. She teaches primarily at the Gold Coast, Lincoln Park and Loop locations.