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Join Betsey Downing in this workshop focusing on handstand, Adho Mukha Vrksasana, and a variety of standing poses. She takes you through a series of preparation exercises to gain the strength and awareness needed to do handstand. In addition she presents some handstand refinements for those already working on the pose. This workshop was recorded live at The Barn in Charlottesville, VA on March 2, 2007.
Following the intro, Betsey guides the class through seated breathing and chanting meditation, the latter of which includes both three rounds of OM and the traditional Anusara invocation (sweetly sung by Betsey). To illustrate the importance of focusing on the here and now, Betsey shares a personal story about changing the kitty litter, and then the asana practice begins on all fours for spinal rolls. Next comes an in-depth setup for downward facing dog pose, and several postures follow from this, including lunge, one-legged down dog, and standing forward bend. After expounding on the Anusara principles of melting the heart and the pelvic loop, Betsey repeats forward bend and dog pose. She then pauses, asking the class to break into partners for a brief demonstration of proper standing before moving into the standing pose flows. First, Betsey leads the class through a single sun salutation, pausing again at the conclusion of this to provide tips on stepping forward/back with one foot. Next, she conducts two separate standing series: the first consists of side angle to triangle to half-moon, and the second moves from intense stretch pose to revolved triangle to revolved half-moon (in each series, a vinyasa flow forms the transition between the two sides). This concludes the “Intro” audio segment.
The “Middle” portion of this workshop features the heart of the handstand practice. Betsey starts off with some additional handstand prep work in wide-legged standing forward bend—namely, putting weight on the hands and experimenting with the feeling of weightlessness. At last the actual work with handstand begins. Using the wall, Betsey instructs half-handstand, affording the participants with the opportunity to get a feel for keeping one leg straight in the pose. She subsequently breaks the class into two sections, those who are able to kick into handstand on their own and those who are not. For the latter group, she provides various pointers to help them understand the action needed to kick up, and she allows plenty of time to practice from both sides. She then has the entire group take a break from the pose to come to the floor in a reclined position. Here Betsey leads the class through leg lowers as a means to feel the engagement of the abdominals necessary to handstand. Following the abs work, it’s back to the wall for 90-degree handstand, which concludes this segment of the practice. The final 42 minutes of the workshop (the “End” portion) consists of finishing postures. First, Betsey stretches out the areas worked in handstand with a wrist release and a shoulder stretch at the wall. Next is a gentle backbending series featuring cobra, down dog, and wild dog moving into a backbend. Finally, Betsey combines these postures with both the standing poses practiced earlier and a meditative commentary for a graceful vinyasa series. She first demonstrates the flow for the class—forward bend, grounded warrior 3, half-moon, revolved half-moon, intense stretch, down dog, wild dog backbend, side plank, lunge twist, standing forward bend, and open heart to standing—and then cues the vinyasa series on each side of the body.
With 20 minutes left, Betsey brings her class back to the floor for a leisurely reclined twist. She provides a short verbal setup for savasana but allows a full 10 minutes for silent relaxation before concluding the class in a seated position with a brief reading and a final OM. Throughout, Betsey’s instruction is measured and deliberate (although her breath counts were quite a bit quicker than my own), and she frequently makes use of small self-adjustments which allow for greater opening into the postures. I would’ve loved to have been an actual live participant in this workshop, as I sense that Betsey’s hands-on instruction would’ve help me to make great progress towards kicking up into handstand on my own. Unfortunately, much of the handstand training does not translate well to the audio-only format. In particular, Betsey frequently pauses to provide demonstrations, an invaluable aspect of any yoga workshop that is lost here. Secondly, the class participants sometimes ask Betsey for clarification, but their comments and questions are inaudible, another regrettable limitation of this format. Finally, there are times when Betsey’s verbal instruction is insufficient for conveying the intricate detail of the knowledge she has to offer. And certainly, there is a wealth of wisdom here, enough to provide a rich practice session despite the flaws. Those who would prefer not to practice handstand at all could just use the “Intro” and “End” portions of this workshop for a complete yoga class of just under 2 hours (and with reduced prominence of the audio deficits). Betsey is clearly a talented yoga instructor with much to offer, and I would love to see either a video or intended audio practice from her in the future.