If you thought handstands were child’s play, think again. More and more people are learning about the health and fitness benefits to be gained from turning the world upside down.
Celebrities like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Britney Spears and Manchester’s own Melanie Sykes are already fans, as well as non-famous folk looking for alternative ways to get fit and toned.
“If you go to a normal gym, people don’t look particularly happy,” says Adrian Conway who runs handstand sessions at One Yoga in Chorlton.
“You might get faster or lift more weights, but the essential skill of lifting a weight isn’t that interesting. Whereas the actual art and skill of holding a handstand is physically and mentally challenging and takes a lot of time and dedication to get really good at it.”
The Chorlton group has been going a year and while you might expect to see the room filled with ridiculously fit and flexible types, you’ll find an eclectic group of people walk through the doors, from teens to those in their 60s, and absolute beginners to athletes.
“Handstands are for anyone really. We have MMA fighters, weight lifters, dancers and cyclists – but if you can do the plank and a few push ups you’ll be able to do a handstand,” says Adrian.
“It’s about supporting your own bodyweight but there are things you can do to scale it down, like headstands or arm balancers.”
Adrian was a fan of cross fit, a mixture of weightlifting, cardio and gymnastic movements, when he decided to specialise in handstands and started looking for somewhere to train.
“There are adult gymnastics classes in Manchester, but the centres tend to be focused around children,” he says.
Eventually he found a teacher and went onto become their assistant before hosting workshops around Europe.
The studio in Chorlton is relaxed, warm and welcoming with music, plenty of space and the sort of support that means you don’t feel self-conscious.
Sessions typically begin with a warm up and stretching followed by learning the basic techniques including alignment and engagement as well as exercises such as push ups, planks, core and back work which will help you hone the perfect handstand.
“Classes are quite small so you vary it for different people,” says Adrian. “Some people don’t need any strength training, some people don’t need to work on flexibility. You tailor it because everyone’s got their weaknesses. No-one’s going to be perfect when they walk in.”
And it’s not the case that yoga teachers or super strong people will reign supreme.
“People can be overly flexible, too floppy, so don’t have the control they need, while people who do a lot lifting tend to be tight in the hips and shoulders, so flexibility is an issue for them,” notes Adrian.
“It’s yin and yang, trying to be strong and soft at the same time. To kick up into a handstand you need to be light, and to retain it you need to be strong and stable.”
There’s a session each Tuesday from 5am until 9.30am.
“It’s an open session so people can pop in before work. It costs £5 and there’s also a beginner’s class that runs from 6.30am that’s £10,” says Adrian.
Workshops led by top hand balancers and circus artists are held at One Yoga, too.
Just recently, international handstand artist Natalie Reckert, who’s been balancing on her hands from a young age and has performed at The Lowry Theatre, hosted a workshop and is set to return later this year.
“People do wonder how you can train handstands for five hours, but once you get into it, you realise there are all sorts of tricks, walking, one-armed handstands, contortions… it never stops,” says Adrian.
Handstands might be great for the circulation, developing strong, lean muscle and flexibility but they’re good for the mind, too.
“We try and cultivate a culture of not doing angry handstands because if you’re approaching handstands aggressively, nine times out of 10 it’s going to fail. You need to approach your handstand mindfully, so we try and teach people to approach a handstand with a feeling of lightness.
“Come along and try it. You’ll have someone giving you tips and correcting things. Even if you came once, you’ll be able to pick up some ideas, and find out what you need to work on.
“Any beginner will get some benefit out of it.”
Handstand sessions run from 5am until 9.30am every Tuesday at One Yoga, Chorlton.