As you might have guessed from my photos and posts, I am curious like a cat with everything there is to learn and know about handstands. During my quest of 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 fifth issue of my 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 been admiring Mauricio on my Instagram feed for a while, which is why I was stoked when he said YES to the interview. This performer looks like he knows what he's doing on IG, especially when he is dancing on 2 hands or shaking 'what his momma gave him' on one arm with so much ease and finesse that I got curious on what his journey to get to where he is looked like. Let's find out more about Mau.
1. Tell me something about yourself: Who are you now, what did you do in the past and what are you passionate about?
My name is Mauricio Jara, and I’m a professional handbalancer from Costa Rica. I’m a circus performer but also a full time teacher of the handstand discipline, now living in Portugal and working at an international circus school. The love for being upsidown started as young as 7 years old, though at the beginning it was just a hobby I had, with no real knowledge about this art. My background was more in the way of floor movement and acrobatics, which I started training with two of my brothers, having them around to play was definitely the best motivation I had. I did one year of gymnastics but I never really liked the competition behind it, so I came back to my first passion and started training handstands as a main discipline when I was 20 years old. Being on stage as a performer and teaching are my greatest passions, as I could never decide to focus on only one of them.
2. How does a ‚normal' day in your life look like? How much time do you spend on your hands per day?
Nowadays, because I work full time in a circus school I don´t really think of a day as normal. And I definitely spend a lot of time in my hands, but in the past I usally traind one full long session, when now is more like divided in sessions of practice during the day. I can still do from 3 to 4 hours of handstand related practice 5 or 6 days a week.
I also get time to do some research in handstands when Im practicing, trying to find new ways of creating my balance or developing a character for a performance. I also recently started training hand to hand with a partner so I train at least 2 hours that normally in the evenings after classes. When I have energy left stay in school until 9pm training more handstands.
3. What is the ‚craziest‘ One Arm Handstand variation you can do and what is your favorite Handstand of all?
If we are speaking of a shape then I guess the hardest one to hold in terms of balance is also the simplest, so a full one arm handstand with the other hand attached to the body:
Full One Arm Variation (Also known as Svetchka)
But in terms of flexibility and strength it would be the one arm full flag variation:
Full Flag One Arm
That being said, the hardest variation of a handstand I can do wouldn´t be a pose, but most likely a skill or transition, like the one arm press starting sitting on the ground or going up and down from crocodile position to a one arm handstand. As for favorite... I kinda like all of them, but maybe all the Figa variations, because they give so many possibilities.
4. At what age did you start training?
I was always passionate about movement in general, so since I was a kid I enjoyed jumping, climbing and all kinds of related activities. But the one that caught my attention from the start was trying to walk with my hands, which became one of my hobbies when I was turning seven years old. This weird hobby was also followed by my twin brother (I have an identical twin) and my middle brother, and I know it was great having always someone to play with and to push forward to get better. Later we discovered Gymnastics (more like acrobatics on the floor) by the time I was 16. Despite that I wanted gymnastics, the owner of the gymnastics Club we discovered near our home insisted on us to start in a cheerleading team, as we were a little late to start a career in that sport. And even though at the beginning I did not like it, cheerleading became something special, as it taught me about teamwork and of course acrobatics on the floor. But 2 years after, the same coach helped us find a place to start with gymnastics, when i was turning 18 years old, as she realised we were passionate and disciplined. I really only did one year of competitive gymnastics, because I was starting University by that time and could not keep up with training and a full time demanding career.
And sometime after I also injured my knee, this time off helped me figure out what to do next. It was then when I got back to my original hobby, which was always present. I knew very little about circus and handstands but with some research I realized there were people training specifically for handbalance. My idea was getting in circus school but there was none in my country, so I just followed my instincts and began to train handstands as a main discipline by myself. I was 20 when I started training to become a professional handbalancer. And I never did ballet, except a few classes, but I wish I started earlier as it is a great tool to develop awareness, flexibility and goes well with handstands. It is never too late though...!
Circus happened by accident: one day I found myself performing with an aerial danze group and realized I also liked being on stage and all the possibilities it could offer. I traveled to Europe for the first time in 2016 and even though I was already a handbalancer, I stayed in France for one week with master Claude Victoria, from whom I had heard so many great things. It was a ver special time for me. I came back to Costa Rica and continued working mainly as a handbalancer and as a teacher.
At the end of 2017 I got an invitation to be a teacher in INAC, a circus school in the north of Portugal, and I understood this was the opportunity I was looking for, as I could do both things I was passionate about: teaching and performing. So now my new home is also home for a lot of artists triyng to find a place in this small big world of the circus arts.
5. Which are the 3 most important handstand exercises?
In Handbalancing endurance is a key point, so I always reccomend training to be able to spend long periods of time in a handstand. There is no exact time you should do, but if you are aiming for being a handbalancer, then is good to get to the 3 minutes mark at least (no wall).
The second important skill is pressing to handstand. This will be important to learn, because the handstand press is a very complete skill, involving 3 factors you need to combine in handbalancing: flexibility/mobility; technique and strength.
To name a third one I recomend working on handstand tucks, so this means tucking in and out in a handstand, compressing your body as this will be good for your shoulders, specially if you are aiming for the one arm skills.
But there are tons of other skills you should learn, some of them will mostly focus on your flexibility, especially on your shoulder mobility, your splits and general conditioning of your body.
6. Is the world prettier upside down? Why do you train Handstands?
I never asked myself that question when I was younger, I just did it because it was fun. When you get older, things always get more complicated of course, but I would like to think that this remains my foundation. And even though it won't always be just fun, because it's a lot of hard work to get better at it, this is a lifestyle. I also love how it can bring people together, even when practicing handstands is such an individual practice.
7. What are the most common mistakes in training handstands and how to solve them?
One big mistake is not being consistent in your practice and still expect to get good at it. Handstands are always slow, though it will depend on many factors like your background and current level. How to solve this? Well, first do not stress about it. Find a coach that can guide you. If you can't find one, find people that also like to handstand because not everyone will feel motivated to train alone. I never had that problem, but I find for many people it is better to be surrounded by friends that like to do the same. Be constant and worry not about how long it takes, put yourself little goals that you can actually measure.
If we mention other kinds of mistakes, then I can add getting obsessed with the perfect line before even trying to balance. This might seem strange to hear, but Í’m not saying handstand alignement is not important. What I mean is people sometimes go nuts about this when I truly believe it is best to find proper alignment that works for your body, so that you can also practice the balance. At the end it will depend more on the amount of time you spend upside down. It's good to get creative with drills to build strength but don't forget to just do more handstands.
And talking about more common mistakes for beginners: the fear of doing handstand with no support (a wall). It's ok to be scared, but the first step to do then is to understand how to use the wall, not relying to much weight on it when doing holds, and finding ways of building your confidence. This means learning to fall properly. Yes, it doesn't matter if you need to fill your room with mattresses! It's better to learn how to fall down towards the side, so that you can start practicing more. It is also important to find an entrance to the handstand that works for you, it doesn't matter if it’s a press or a kick up, it's good to have at least one thar you can use so you can have more attempts of balance without struggling just to go upside down.
"BE CREATIVE SO YOU ARE NEVER BORED."
8. Beginners always wonder on how to get started with training handstands when there is a lack of strength.
Strength is overrated in handstands. You do need strength but I would dare say that's normally the last reason why a beginner can't do a handstand. And this is also a good thing: a lot of the strength needed is very specific and the only way you will get stronger will be by doing more handstands. This accompanied with a general conditioning practice of course, doing more physical activity will be good but it should aim to work with your body weight only, there is no need for big equipment, as it is only your body you will be balancing. It should also be accompanied by flexibility and mobility work.
Suggest a general routine is way too personal, all people will have different needs in terms of strength. But of course, the handstand itself, even with a wall, is the only way to truly prepare your body.
Also handstands is a lot about shoulder work. The idea is to learn to control your center of mass so that it will always be connected to your supporting base: shoulders, elbows and then your wrists that are connected to the floor.
If lack of strength really is the a main trouble, follow all basic positions and exercises that demand arms and general upper body work, especially those that will make your body stay in a hollow position: planches, regular push ups, elbow planks, handstand with walls etc... Be creative so you are never bored.
9. How can I get started to work on a One Arm Handstand? Is it possible to learn this skill without a teacher?
Well, first make sure you can already control a regular handstand before setting this goal. When to start with One Arm Handstand is a tricky question. Playing with some shifting of weight won't do you any harm if you can always control a handstand on 2 arms, but I think it is better that you can always hold a handstand from 30 sec to one minute, being constant so 10 holds out of 10.
But this is relative, for example, in some circus schools they won't teach you one arm if you can't do 3 minutes on 2 arms. At the end it is your practice which will tell you when to start.
And how to start? Focus on being able to correctly put your center of mass in your new line, connected with your supporting arm. Learning to shift is a skill in itself, and the balance is another thing. So once you can do this in all 3 basic positions (legs together, small straddle and straddle) then it is time to start releasing your other hand off the ground. Again, this will be a long process but be patient and more consistent than ever.
Is this possible without a coach? Yes it is. I met my first handstand teacher when I was already a professional handbalancer and I know of many other similar cases. But a teacher will definitley help lots, and this process is already slow enough without a guide, so find someone that you can trust and like. Or join workshops when possible and develop your method of training based on your actual goals and body type. Most people that teach have already gone through lots of mistakes and this will make them easier for them to spot.
10. How do you eat? Meaning, what style… vegan, veggie, paleo etc.. Do you use protein powder or other supplements?
I just try to take care of what i eat. But I´m a simple person and easy to please in terms of food. I eat all kinds of food, just try to balance it correctly. No supplements. Maybe I do eat a lot of carbs but that is also because I spend too much energy training. And my biggest problems in terms of eating healty food are definitely coffe and late big latenight meals when i get home after work.
Im from Costa Rica so coffe is tradition, but yes, I stopped getting too much of caffeine and try to not have more than 2 cups in one day. To be honest, I also dont worry too much about it, just listen to my body and even ocasionally, like one meal per week I think is not that bad to eat something a little out of the healthy standards.
11. What was the last book you read?
A book related to Astrophysics, something about Stephen Hawking’s theories. Well yes, that’s another weird hobby I have: I like reading about things I don't know anything about. Quantum Physics is cool.
12. What was the last thing you bought that made your life easier?
A rubber band for stretching and a camera holder, as I normally take videos from some training sessions. I also acquired a pair of...well they are like socks but for the arms, that keep my arms warm when I train.
13. Where can I train with you? Any upcoming events?
I´m based now in Villa Nova de Famalicao, in the north of Portugal, where you also find the Instituto Nacionl de Artes du Circo, my place of work. It is not very far from Porto. But you can also follow my instagram as I always use it to promote my upcoming events and workshops around the world.
Thank you Mau for being so insightful and sharing your passion with us!
Curious about Mau? You can find him online here:
Facebook: Mau Jara Handbalancing
See Mau practice on Youtube: Portobalance
Handstand Interview: Handstanddiary