Interview: Gabby Parker of Bristol Handstands

A couple of weeks ago I got to chat to the incredible Gabby Parker from Bristol Handstands. She literally has an army of handstand enthusiast followers. Hearing her story, I realised how accomplished she is in her field and you would be hard pushed to find a more knowledgable and experienced coach. Here’s what she had to say about life upside down:

Tell us a bit about you and how Bristol Handstands began.

I trained professionally in Duo Acro at the national school in Paris and graduated in 2012. I moved back to the UK and I didn’t really have a discipline any more but I kept practising handstands a little bit.

People would to be like “wow, I want to learn how to do that” and they started to ask me to teach them. To be honest, I actually never wanted to teach, I always wanted to perform. But I realised I had some technique that people didn’t have access to in this country, or at least not in Bristol. So I set up a group class in a friend’s house and I did it every week and it was really popular and it sort of grew from there. I realised that actually, this is potentially a really great business.

I also found that a lot of people in different areas of sport wanted to learn the skill. For example, I teach in a lot of yoga and CrossFit studios. They use it for a different purpose but they still basically want access to a technique that is safe and efficient.

I’m just so surprised at how popular it is!

Yes it’s a real trend at the moment isn’t it?

Yes I’ve just done a huge tour over the UK teaching in loads of different studios. The demand is there.

As I was starting out I wanted to teach beginners and not athletes, so the idea was that I would create a formula that made it accessible to almost everyone. It’s still a developed skill, I don’t think people realise how technical it is.

I get such a varied range of people in my classes. People that are young and old, people with no fitness background right up to dancers and they get addicted to it. I don’t know why it is?

Well, it’s because it’s just so cool!

Do you know what, I don’t know what it is and so I’ve written a book about it with a friend of mine called Ash Bond. She’s an amazing yoga teacher in Bristol. Last year we thought: “What is it about handstands? Let’s write a book!” We’ve been writing the book for a year and it’s being published in October. It’s called “The handstanding Yogi The Hows, Whys and WTFs of Being Upside Down.”

Wow, that’s brilliant! What do you think it is? What’s your conclusion?

I think it’s really different for everyone. I don’t remember it as a process of enjoyment because I was trained professionally. It’s like any form of fitness in that you do it to feel good but you get a skill along with it. Sure, you can go to the gym for health and fitness reasons but you don’t walk out with an awesome party trick!

It’s also an appreciation of your body and all the amazing things that it can do and I’ve noticed in my intermediate students that it can be really addictive.

What do you love about your job?

I enjoy teaching so much more than I thought I would. I like coaching a huge variation of people, for me that’s interesting and challenging.

What’s your fitness routine?

Barely anything! My personal training has almost completely disintegrated since I started teaching but I’m ok with that.

I still do a bit of corporate circus work but not at the same level I was at before. I’m a bit more of a hobbyist now.

I like to take classes in other disciplines. I like Pole (dancing) and ended up competing in 2014. Then it was a choice of dedicating my life to it at a professional level or not. Pole started out 10 years ago and the whole industry has just boomed massively.

Where do you like going out for brunch/lunch in Bristol?

My favourite place is The Crafty Egg. I swear they do the best brunch in Bristol.

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to start trying to handstand?

I think with something that is quite a specialist, acrobatic skill, the truth is, the best way to learn is to find a teacher. You can learn on your own (watching videos etc) but it’s not personalised and everyone’s bodies and mindsets are different. If you want to learn a skill that has quite intricate or niche technique I think it’s better to seek out a coach that has that knowledge because it will keep you safe and it’s much more efficient.

A skill like learning how to handstand takes a long time and you can do it by yourself but it’s going to take a lot longer which can be quite frustrating.

How long does it take?

This is a classic question I get asked! It’s so hard to put a time on it because everyone is different and it depends on how much you are training. I would personally say that a nice, consistent, straight handstand, would take about a year.

Having done one class I would say that is definitely true as it’s so much harder than I thought!

Yes, it took me a year. However I have students who have done it in a lot shorter time. I have one student that learned to hold a 10 second handstand in 3 months. She wasn’t going at it crazy hard, she just loved it. She came to one class a week and practised at home. Again, people’s levels of progression are so different.

Some people have the fear and some don’t. Some people might have a physical background that might help, or hinder. I have private students who have very capable bodies but it’s taken much longer.

I find that the head part is harder to coach than the physical part. People’s bodies are actually a load more capable than they realise. I get people in class whose bodies are perfectly capable of following the steps but their heads say no. But I think if you want to learn a skill you’ve got to enjoy the journey either way. If you expect to come to the class and be able to handstand after 4 weeks then it might not be the skill for you!

If you would like to book a class or find out more about Gabby and Bristol Handstands, visit here:

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