Hatha Yoga – means uniting the hot (right) and cool (left) energies in the body. If you’ve perfromed any physical discipline over a period of time, you have probably realised you have a “good” side and a “bad side”. In yoga, that might mean: having one side that’s more stable when you do standing balances; a preferred leg that you kick up with when you do handstands; one side that’s more flexible; less prone to injury; that you relax deeper in. The physical differences can have repercussions on your posture and muscle tension. They also have profound energetic repercussions.
For me- my right side is strong and stable- it’s the side I favour when I do my inversions and stability work. My left side, however, is more flexible- borderline unstable. A few years ago, during a chiropractic visit to heal all sorts of back muscle spasms that I was experiencing, I was told that the right side of my body is responsible for 75% of my total muscular effort- left side only 25%. For a yoga teacher of 13 years (at that point)- that was not good news. This was the reason for the back problems, as well as all sorts of misalignments during my yoga practice.
Since finding this out, I made a number of changes with my “off the mat” lifestyle: I started getting used to carrying bags, shopping and baby on my left side. Interestingly, I also noticed I dominate driving the steering wheel with my right hand, so started to work to coordinate the left better (yes- i know I should steer with both hands!).
All sorts of factors can cause one side of the body to dominate movement- and I rarely come across a student who can boast that he/she feels a posture evenly on both sides. Factors include;
- eye sight/ hearing- is one eye stronger in vision than the other? or do you tend to lean towards one side to hear someone? it may misalign your gait as you walk or do anything active
- injuries- if you have ever injured one side of your body – and have had to compensate on the other side.
- are you left handed or right handed? this can affect your coordination of left and right side.
- Did you play tennis? surf? golf? any sport that develops one half of your body differently from the other.
Next time you do your yoga practice, observe your concentration on your “bad” side, as opposed to on your “good” one. I started to observe how my mind easily fluctuates when I need to hold postures on my left side (thinking ranging from “I hate balance on my left side” to “what will i have for lunch”!, as opposed to how effortlessly still my mind could become when i held them on my right. Remember the right energy in the body represents all that is: physical, strong, hot, solar, fire, yang, masculine. Left energy symbolises: water, coolness, cerebral, lunar, feminine, yin. This doesn’t mean that women should be aiming to strengthen the left side over the right, and male vice verse. An imbalance of energy towards the “ha” (masculine) side can lead to aggression, excessive extroversion, anger; imbalance towards the “tha” (feminine) side can lead to depression, excessive introversion, overthinking without an outlet for expression. Men and women would do well to balance these energies within themselves.
So to achieve that union of the right and left energy in the body, let’s do some “lopsided yoga”. This is a practice you could do once a week to bring the strength and coordination of your “weak” side up to speed with the dominant side.
Start with Nadi Shodana. This is a pranayama technique that translates to “Psychic energy cleansing”- it clears the left and right energy in the body. Notice if it is easier to breathe through one nostril rather than the other. Normally, the dominant nostril alternates throughout the day, but if you notice a regularly dominant side, then see if it does have an energetic impact on your nature and moods. e.g.: if you dominate with right nostril- do you have an aggressive nature? lots of energy to expend physically? anger easily etc… if you always breathe clearer through the left nostril, do you experience passivity? moods? depression? introversion? Whether we are male or female, we ultimately seek equilibrium through both sides of our breath and body.
To start, breathe in “a square”: inhale left nostril 4 counts, retain breath 4 counts; exhale right nostril 4 counts; retain 4 counts; inhale right nostril 4 counts, retain 4 counts, exhale left nostril 4 counts; retain 4 counts…
Continue: Develop the breath and retentions as deeply as you can in a ratio of 1;2;4 (e.g. inhale 4; retain 8; exhale 16)
One side weaker/ less stable than the other?
Side forearm plank: yes- our pilates and fitness colleagues have nailed it with t his pose. This posture requires pure core strength- the longer you hold it, the more you realise you need strong obliques, transverse abs (the deep/ core muscles); and leg strength. Hold for anywhere up to 2 minutes supporting yourself on you “bad side”.
Balances: Before I became a teacher, I spent a whole Christmas holiday (the yoga school I attended had shut down for 2 weeks)- just practising balances on my left leg. At that point = my left leg was so unstable, I couldn’t hold tree pose for more than 2 breaths. What I had to teach myself was to stay calm and focused on my left side… I’m still slightly unbalanced, favouring my right side.. but I enjoy drawing my attention inwards very consciously when i balance on my left side.
Kick up to handstands: If you have a side you favour, don’t use it for a while. Just kick, kick, and crazy kick with your “bad” side until your coordination on that side improves.
One side stiffer than the other?
Leg lunges: this crescent moon shaped posture requires the ideal mix of strength and fluidity… if you have any tightness in one buttock (glutes!!) more than the other- then hold the pose for longer on this side each time you practice until the tension starts to release.
Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana- the one legged king pidgeon. Do the resting version on your stiffer side, working up to 5 minutes. If you find the posture stressful around the hips and that the tension is not releasing, pop a block or blanket underneath the tight buttock.