The Herald is this week profiling people who have made a living by turning a hobby into a job.

Miguel Sant'ana has hands down a most uniquely rewarding career.

The 30-year-old travels the world teaching people how to perform handstands.

"It's a dream come true," the Brazilian-born New Zealand permanent resident said. "Teaching people how to feel good, how to be more confident."


Performing and passing on the art of hand balancing was "not only a practice - it becomes a lifestyle".

"The way I teach, the way I train, the way I live - I just share that." That sharing was his "best reward".

Sant'ana has taught thousands of students in three-hour introductory classes to 30-hour intensive workshops in at least 25 countries – "you stop counting".

His travelling "office" has included studios and gyms to private mansions in Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, China, Canada, the United States, Costa Rica, Dubai, the UK, Germany, Greece, Italy, Australia, Hong Kong, Brazil and New Zealand.

His social media posts show him balancing on one hand at astounding angles at spectacular scenic sites around the planet.

"I still pinch myself every day… I live the dream."

Sant'ana was back in New Zealand in December to show his Australian yoga instructor girlfriend Elise Hamilton the country – where he taught himself his art in a suburban Auckland flat - as part of a five-month globe-trotting holiday.

The couple were also journeying to the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, where he grew up and is about to build his mother a house, before returning to Hong Kong for another contract.

Miguel Sant'ana says travelling the world teaching people how to do handstands is a
Miguel Sant'ana says travelling the world teaching people how to do handstands is a "dream come true". Photo / Supplied

Sant'ana met Hamilton, 30, at a salsa class after a workshop Sant'ana held in the Chinese territory in May last year.

He got a contract at a major gym there teaching hand balance techniques to personal trainers and yoga teachers three weeks of each month. The other week he travelled to destinations including Bali and London taking handstand retreats.

His students over the past five years have ranged from a 75-year-old Australian pensioner who cried with joy at being able to stand on her hands to mixed martial artists, dancers and circus performers.

Sant'ana enjoys not only imparting the skill and technique of hand balancing, but also seeing the sense of achievement and joy his students experience from challenging themselves to perfect the moves from the basic to the most advanced handstand.

He establishes such bonds with students he feels like he is saying "goodbye to family every time I leave a place".

His "journey as a hand balancer" began in an Auckland apartment.

A capoeira practitioner as a schoolboy, he had resumed the Brazilian martial art after moving to New Zealand in 2010. A fellow practitioner, also an acrobat, showed him a YouTube clip of a troupe performing astonishing handstands.

He started climbing the walls of his flat – backwards – to get the strength and balance to perfect the gravity-defying moves, Skyped overseas professionals on techniques and studied videos. Three months later he was instructing others in a Ponsonby studio.

Sant'ana is planning to base himself in Hong Kong for another contract next year and save for his own home – "a studio house, a place where I can teach".

He was "blown away" he can make a living out of his passion.

Handstands are great exercise, said Sant'ana, who trains three to five hours a day.

The whole body was engaged – "wrists, forearms, shoulders, and core - you have to be stable before you're able to hold a handstand".

His classes start with a focus on flexibility, mobility and strength. They then move on to building the confidence for a student to achieve a handstand, from a basic straight body position for beginners to moves such as one-arm handstands and handstand walking for the more advanced.

• Instagram @miguel_hand_balance