We’re just going to say this upfront—it’s a pity having Ted Charles for Health Club. Sure, the guy can bust out a mean hollow back* on almost any given surface and looks like he came out of the womb walking on his hands, but there’s a lot more outside the physical ballpark that he can do too.
But hey, protocol first. Let’s get into the whole handstanding shebang you see on his Instagram account. Well, one of them anyway. “I haven’t really done a proper inversion class per se,” the 33-year-old Australian considers. “Only one intensive workshop in Thailand by French hand balancer and circus performer Yuval Ayalon back in 2019.”
If that sounds like going from zero to hundred, well, it kind of was. Charles had dabbled in yoga before, segueing from classes offered at the gym and realising that he actually enjoyed inversions.
“It’s funny because I was training [headstands] and [forearm stands] on my own and when I first started handstands—I kid you not—I would go from a crow** and press from there. I know most people kick up but that was how I did 90 percent of my handstands initially because I had all this upper body strength, so it was actually a safer entry for me,” he laughs.
*An advanced handstand variation that involves deeply arching the lower back.
**An arm balancing pose where shins rest upon upper arms. Think crouched handstand.
Before you start feeling sorry about yourself, rest in the fact that Charles has always been athletic since young. Count a year and a half of gymnastics as a wee kid, casual soccer as a teen and discovery of the gym after. Still, despite correcting the basic entry, his handstand duration posed a problem when signing up for Ayalon’s handstand workshop two years ago.
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Passing over a minute of freestanding hold, Charles was beyond the prerequisites of the intermediate class. However, advanced level meant pros working towards one-arm variations and contortion poses. An audition video demonstrating your handstand abilities was required for admission, which he submitted regardless. It earned him a spot in class, mainly to fix the bad posture he held to maintain balance; another fundamental flaw compensated by brute force.
“You had to upload your video into a Facebook group introducing yourself,” he recounts, almost cringing at the memory. “The predominant majority was wondering who I was. Everyone was either a gymnastic or yoga teacher hailing from Taiwan, Canada… and I was like, ‘Yeah, wassup, guys? I’m a filmmaker!’
“They were all about precision and lines and I was not exposed to that. My mind was blown that there’s so much I could do with this.” Which is what you see on @neverazeroday. Deriving the name from an inspirational Reddit post about committing to even the smallest effort every day because it’s still better than nothing, the project was an artful exploration of fitness, but also a means to keep himself accountable.
“You can’t buy a handstand; you can’t go to an ATM and withdraw it. You have to consciously allocate the resource and time to the practice."
“Things can really run away from you when you don’t prioritise. The more you do it, the more used to it you become, the more you integrate it as part of your lifestyle, and suddenly it comes to the point where you become excited to do it. It took me a long time before fitness became a daily part of my life,” Charles admits.
That usually takes the form of morning workouts. “Even if it’s just 10 minutes, it gets your mind so sharp those first couple of hours. It also means that if [crap] completely hit the fan the rest of the day, at least I’ve checked that box; I’ve invested in my own wellbeing. It became my gratitude of sorts.” Charles sees physical strength and endurance as complementary to his work, which doesn’t fall short on the likes of operating a gimbal for 16-hour shoots.
Apart from commercial work on the day job, last year saw Charles dive into the unprecedented; and no, we don’t mean Covid. Though that certainly pushed it. In a bid to scratch a creative itch, he pulled a one-man show in writing, composing, directing, shooting, editing and starring in a music video (complete with its own one-minute trailer) about dealing with the pandemic during the circuit breaker. Meanwhile, most people just got fat.
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“If I wound up not doing anything, I knew I was going to be really upset with myself,” he justifies. “I was just getting really infuriated with negative online groupthink, people who weren’t taking it seriously or selfishly putting individual freedom above the greater good in a time when society needed to unite the most.”
Realising he was taking on a lot of emotionality for things beyond his control, Charles wanted to vent in his style, but not entirely under his name. Thus, the passion project was presented under the pseudonym Tom. (Origin story: Tom is a persona Charles created during his ad agency days. Traits: Won a Kinder Bueno competition with nerdcore rap and went on to perform it on MTV. The said video still exists on YouTube).
Charles verbally attests that he doesn’t separate his personalities. There’s ‘Tom’ whom all the experimental work is parked under, main alias ‘Ted Charles’ (which, wait for it… is only an adaptation of his full name, Edward Charles Cryer—“a very English name I don’t really like the ring of”) and ‘Ed Cryer’ for LinkedIn. Even SCOBY, the kombucha culture doling out sage advice in his music video.
It’s not that he hides behind any of these monikers; the characterisations simply license differing points of view not necessarily his own. The multifaceted individual, who originally studied medicine in his father’s footsteps, also plays the piano, guitar and violin alongside the saxophone you see in the passion project. And because that isn’t enough to put us to shame, he also makes it a point to meditate regularly.
“I’ve been doing it for so long and I’m still falling over because every single time I fall over, I’m pushing the edge of what I’m capable of doing."
“It’s not about blanking out your mind or anything, it’s just becoming very aware of the present moment,” Charles divulges. “Some people think, oh my God, meditation! There’s a set of rules and if I’m doing it wrong, it’s not gonna work. For me, it’s about how much time you’re prepared to put into it.”
It can quite literally be five minutes of sitting on the bench with the phone on ‘do not disturb’. Even the act of observation is in itself an exercise of withholding. “People are getting so mentally cluttered and we’re having 50 conversations all at once online and in real life. We have this tendency to get so worried about places we aren’t actually at and neglect where we are at the current point of time, so it’s a good way of being kind to yourself. Mental health, right?”
This concept of investing time is paralleled in handstands. “You can’t buy a handstand; you can’t go to an ATM and withdraw it. You have to consciously allocate the resource and time to the practice. Anyone who does handstands understands that it’s a long process,” Charles addresses the common error of treating the skill as a binary; where you can either do a handstand or you can’t, plus the general fear of being judged for falling.
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“I’ve been doing it for so long and I’m still falling over because every single time I fall over, I’m pushing the edge of what I’m capable of doing. The more you fall over, the less you fall over. The more you become comfortable with knowing how to come down, the more confident in your ability to do it anywhere.”
Naturally, the next goal is to go on one arm. “It’s brutal!” he effuses. “I’ve had friends tell me if doing a regular handstand is a 100m sprint, a one-arm is a marathon. A good handstand feels effortless because your weight’s aligned. It’s a combination of strength and balance working in synergy and a one-arm is that, to the power of that!”
Charles is confident he’ll get there eventually though, citing moves he once thought he could never achieve (pressing up on kettlebells) and crediting all improvements to being consistent.
“It’s quite nice that handstands say something about discipline. It used to be something you could only do if you know the secret rules, whereas it’s now more democratised to how much you practise.” He barely pauses before grinning, “But then again, what practical use is a handstand?”