Symmetry In Yoga
We all have a dominant side – a stronger hand, more flexible leg, a foot we put in front. We favor the side in everything from standing up, eating, opening a door, carrying a child, loading laundry, and on and on. Our movements and body have, since birth, become accustomed to this tendency.
Our brains are “cross-wired” so that the left hemisphere controls the right-handed side of the body and vice versa. Thus, hand dominance is connected with brain dominance on the opposite side – which is why we say that left-handers are in their right minds!
As it turns out, I’m a lucky lefty. I am fortunate that the minority status of left-handedness offered me many opportunities to discover the use of my right hand in life. With the vast majority of tools and furniture made for right-handed people – like those “normal” scissors I had to learn to use in kindergarten because the other lefty in class was a boy and he got the one pair of left-handed scissors – I have had to learn some things with my non-dominant side. It really is lucky for me. I’ll explain…
When the mouse arrived as a tool for the personal computer, I was a marketing specialist doing some graphic design (in Corel Draw if that tells you how long ago this was!) Equally awkward in either hand, I decided to learn the mouse with my right, believing I’d have my left free to write or whatnot. (I know, again, remember how long ago this was.) This seemingly innocuous decision was life-changing. Who knew? More than 25 years later, and I still use my right hand for the mouse and have designed countless pieces of digital media with it. About the only thing I can muster with a pen in my right hand is perhaps filling out prescriptions since pharmacists can apparently read anything. Throughout my life, I had opportunities to learn sports that were brand new to me with my right side. This happened in tennis. As the dapper, young 20-something pro teaching this 40+-year-old thought I looked better with my right than left, I learned to play and serve right. Six months later, another coach saw me hitting balls on the ball machine one day and asked to see me play right. I never switched out my serve but became a better player and a right-handed player that day. So now I’ve got a couple of advantages in tennis.
The short of the long story is this…using the opposite side of your body in new attempts creates a balance in the usage of your whole brain. In a review of scientific research on the subject of handedness and intelligence, researchers found that neither lefties nor righties came out ahead. Instead, the people with the biggest boost in cognitive performance were the folks who weren’t heavily wedded to a single hand. The more ambidextrous the subjects were, the better they performed on tests of cognitive skills. These skills relate to a specific kind of creativity called “divergent thinking,” or the ability to generate new ideas from a single principle quickly and effectively.
In addition to improving cognitive intellect, choosing an ambidextrous approach in your body can reduce injuries. Many injuries that stem from overuse (plantar fasciitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome, runner’s knee, etc) are due to asymmetric dependence or mechanical instability. Creating symmetry in your body can provide the advantage of balancing out usage, thereby minimizing injuries. In a yoga class, you may hear the teacher ask you to attempt to move into a pose on the 2nd side to the same degree you did on the first. The teacher is promoting muscular symmetry by asking you to choose to mimic the depth of yoga poses on each side of your body. By balancing out the use of tissues and muscles, you can prevent injuries from the imbalance of depending on your dominant side. I’m not implying that your body is designed symmetrically. No one’s is. But treating it more balanced can help you.
Try this. Next time you are in a yoga class and the teacher asks to sit in Sukasana (easy pose or criss cross apple sauce as my kids were taught) switch out your legs for the non-dominant side. Do this often enough, and you’ll begin to create a more symmetric positioning of your sit bones, translating eventually to a more vertical spine. Next class, try binding your hands in the opposite way. Begin movements with your non-dominant side. Stretch a little more on that stiffer side. You will be helping your body grow more balanced, and likely prevent some injuries associated with asymmetric overuse. Plus, that smarts thing…
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