A weekend with Betsey Downing

What does it take to get to the next level, in yoga or in life?

I picked up some how-to tips by attending a sold-out weekend of workshops at Eastside Yoga Studio, featuring Betsey Downing.  She is a certified Anusara teacher and has her PhD in Sport Psychology.  Dianne was so excited to host one of her teachers and to share the experience with others at the studio.

Here’s a snippet of some of the things I learned from Betsey…

Back-bending: We are already perfect.  We just need to be shown how to realize and express it.  If we practice an asana to our fullest, then that is perfection.  Betsey emphasized the Universal Principles of Alignment to enhance the backbend in Cobra.  Inner spiral the thighs, scoop the pelvis and draw the hands towards the feet.  We did this standing up too, by placing our forearms on our partners upturned hands.  We also did Cobra on the floor with a bolster under our hips.  Using the bolster in the same way for Bow pose was a little tippy at first.  I played around with it before I finally figured out how to ride it like a wave!

Hip openers and pranayama:  A gentler afternooon practice.  I really liked the modified form of Janu Sirsasana where the bent knee was slightly behind the hip and then I folded into the space between the legs.  The pranayama work required a partner, placing their hands on the sides of the other person’s ribcage.  Just having the sensation of pressure on the ribs made it easier to breathe into that area.  And when we were asked to breathe with only one lung, it was amazing to feel the difference in the way my partner moved their ribcage.  Who knew that we could even do that!

Handstand:  This was a three hour clinic on the last day.  Betsey said that learning to do something requires identifying each step involved to get to the final point.  Once we know the next step on the path, we can work towards it.  Maybe we’ll need help to get there.  She reminded us to be kind to ourselves in the process.  Matrika shakti was the Sanskrit term that she used.  It means the manifestation of all levels of the word: thought, written, spoken, recited, chanted and sung.  Betsey reminded us to be positive in what we said and thought every time we succeeded in making a baby step towards our version of handstand.

It was the handstand clinic that stuck with me the most.  I faced my fear of falling, all through that morning.  I’m protective of my wrists.  My shoulders were tight and tired.  I’m not really sure how to fall (I think I need one of those gymnastic or rock climbing crash pads).  Many thanks to my yoga partner for their kind support!  I didn’t give up but I was trying to be mindful in attempting some of the ideas (Kidney Loop!  Lift from the inner thigh!  Moon-walking from L-at-the-wall!) that Betsey was suggesting.  Matrika shakti, I reminded myself.  I can’t do handstand pose as well as I’d like…yet.  I’m working towards it, with baby steps.  A little change here, a little improvement there.  Betsey said it took her 6 000 handstands to achieve her version of the perfect pose.  According to Malcolm Gladwell and his book “Outliers“, successful people (think Bill Gates and Microsoft) had 10 000 hours of experience under their belt before they hit it big.   I think I’ve still got several thousand more handstands to go yet.

Four days later, I’m a little sore in my right shoulder.  But I’m soldiering on…one handstand at a time!