As you might have guessed from my photos and posts, I am totally obsessed with everything there is to learn and know about handstands. During my quest of the holy handstand grail: gathering as many repetitions, information and hours spent on my hands I have come across many wonderful practitioners and incredibly talented performers and teachers. This is the second issue of my new ALL ABOUT HANDSTANDS Interview series, which I have started to share the many beautiful souls out there who dedicate their time on one or two hands instead of their feet.
I have started to train with this amazing human being called Yuval about 4-5 years ago when he first came to teach in Berlin. I have never spoken to someone who can enter and stay in a One Arm Handstand before, and was fascinated by the sheer ease he radiates even in the most complex positions. Since then, I have traveled to Cologne and Paris for his workshops because he is one of the few who is just down to earth, lovable and caring. There is no need to be scared of judgment in his workshops, of being forced or punished for not being able to perform the way you would want to. Let's find out what it takes to get this skilled.
1. Tell me about yourself: Who are you, what did you do in the past and what are you passionate about?
My name is Yuval and I am a professional handstand teacher. Yet, I see myself first and foremost as a practitioner of the craft of handstand and headstand (Equilibre). For the past 5 years I have been sharing my knowledge and experience in workshops which I conduct with hundreds of practitioners around the world. I started Gymnastics when I was 8 years old and was completely obsessed by this fascinating and challenging sport. Until I retired at age 26, I can say that my identity was dominated by the sport. I competed internationally for Israel and finished my career competing for the University of Illinois in the US collegiate gymnastics league. When I realized that my dream to participate in the Olympics would not materialize, I decided to end my career as a gymnast and proceed into the next chapter of my life…
For a few years I played with the idea of getting a “real job”… And after a few not so successful experiences in the hi tech industry (what was I thinking?), a crisis approaching my 30’s, and a long trip to India, I returned to Israel and made a decision to search for a path that would reflect my experience as a gymnast and also to do something physical. At some point I started teaching acrobatics to non-athletes, (dancers, artists, and circus artists). Handstand, a fundamental acrobatic skill, was something I found myself teaching on a regular basis. This new/old skill sparked my interest and I found myself experimenting with it. At this point two things happened: First I reached out to Claude Victoria who became my first handstand teacher. His guidance provided me with the foundation and approach to how I practice and teach handstand today. The second thing that happened was that I learned about Cirque Du Soleil, and realized that I have the profile that may fit… To make a long story short, I started preparing for auditions and in 2005 I “ran away to the circus” and spent most of my 30’s performing as a general acrobat in a huge circus spectacle called Le Reve in Las Vegas. During those 8 exciting years of performance, I kept exploring my skill as a hand balancer. In retrospect, I consider those 8 years in the show as my second career, which prepared me for my current “third career” as a handstand practitioner and teacher. I’m also a dad and a husband, but that is a different story…
2. Your IG name is @yuval_on_hands How much time do you spend upside down per day? Is there one thing you ALWAYS do when warming up?
I spend between 3-5 hours on average practicing handstand related work every day, which includes, mobility work, strength, movement, and, of course, lots of handstands. I believe I spend about 30-60 minutes upside down per session.
When warming up, I usually start with my spine (moving it in different ways), always make sure that my wrists are ready to go before I go on my hands. I would say the first few minute long handstand sets are also part of my warmup.
3. What is the craziest One Arm Handstand variation you can do and what is your favorite Handstand of all?
After many years of exploring the one arm handstand, and also headstand in recent years, it is more the quality and stability I’m after rather than getting that next big trick. There are a few fundamental positions (full, straddle and the tuck) that once mastered open the door to almost any handstand position or variation. The ability to do them will generally depend on flexibility and strength… The skills I practice are still evolving!
4. At what age did you start training?
I started doing handstand at the age of 8 and practiced it throughout my career. I then returned to it in my 30s and have been exploring for the last 15 years… I have been doing handstands for almost 40 years!
5. That's amazing! Your gymnastics background probably prepared you for being so flexible and strong at the same time. What would be your best advice to get bendy and stronger?
You simply have to go and do it! Splits, forward bends, straddle pancakes, back bend, spinal twist, are all required when going after advanced handstand skills. There is no magic, you need to spend time exploring these ranges daily. As far as strength is concerned, I always start with acquiring the handstand (on the wall at first). The learning process of the free standing handstand which will include daily work on the hands will provide the strength needed at least for starting the journey…
6. Which are the 3 most important exercises everyone should do?
I don’t see handstand as a type of work-out or exercise for that matter. It is a practice….
Learn the handstand first (simple) and there are many different drills, skills, positions that will follow. It’s a never ending process that will evolve over time. Depending on abilities or limitations, people will need to focus on different areas when starting the journey.
7. Is the world prettier upside down?
Handstanding is one of those primal activities, that unfortunately most adults stop exploring… I think that when learned later in life it connects people to their inner child which is always a good thing.
8. What are the most common mistakes in training handstands & how to solve them?
Handstand is not a strength skill but a balance skill. It is not necessary to ”engage the core” when doing handstand. You don’t need to develop strength in order to do a handstand, but rather do handstand in order to develop the strength necessary to do it… And so forth...
9. Beginners always wonder on how to get started with training handstands when there is lack of strength. How to start as a beginner?
I personally think that learning how to work with the wall is very beneficial especially since it’s so accessible. Then, I suggest to anyone who has an interest in learning this skill to go and learn from an experienced practitioner or teacher, at least in the start. It will save a lot of time.
10. How do you eat?
I don’t follow a specific diet. I think that what’s important (whatever the diet you choose to follow) is that the food one consumes should allow them “show up and do the work”. I personally don’t supplement (beside an occasional intake of Magnesium), and try to eat well… I always loved to eat apples as a kid, and still do.
So boys and girls, AN APPLE A DAY, it’s good for you! :)
11. What was the last book you read?
21 lessons by Yuval Noah Harari (the other Yuval), in both English and French!
12. What was the last thing (tool, toy, food… anything!) you bought that made your life easier?
Don’t know if it made my life easier, but I love my new composter! Beside “doing garbage” I now visit my big green compost once or twice a day.
13. Where can I train with you? Any upcoming events?
I teach mostly workshops. My upcoming list of events can be found on my facebook event page…
Thank you dearest Yuval for taking the time and sharing your work with the world!
Click on these links to find out more about Yuval:
Youtube: Yuval Ayalon
Photos by @dimitryroulland