On symmetry

Regarding my prior post, “Exiting savasana,” here’s another thought: I am obsessed with symmetry in asana. Thus I question any repeated asymmetrical movement (including always rolling right to exit savasana).

Is there a good reason always to turn right? Or should we alternate right and left exits, for symmetry? (In class, of course, I’m all for preventing collisions and awkwardness, so right turns should rule there.)

While I am open to non-modern, non-Western ideas (obviously), I’m also rooted in the scientific method. Thus the oft-cited reasons for exiting right are plausible but weak. Lying on the right might be easier on the heart, but only negligibly (especially if we lie there only for 30 seconds!). As for the yin yang nostril hypothesis, any effects are similarly imperceptible.

Creating symmetry in my practice

In my own practice, I try to promote symmetry in various ways:

  • Alternate left/right sides by day On even-numbered days, my left side goes on top. For example, in sirsasana (headstand), my left fingers cross on top. In sukhasana (crossed-legged sitting), my left shin crosses on top. On odd-numbered days, I switch to my right side. This best applies to daily poses.
  • Alternate the first side Of course, most asymmetrical poses are done twice, once on each side. Here, I sometimes follow a similar rule: On even-numbered days, I do the left side first. For example, paravatasana hand clasp. After all, doing one side inevitably affects the other side (especially in twists).

(Disclaimer: I break this “rule” all the time. Out of habit, I do gomukasana first with my right leg on top. I do supta padangusthasana first with my left leg up. And I habitually twist first to the right.)

  • Repeating the harder side When I am trying open one side of my body, I might do the harder side first, then the easier side, then the harder side again.
  • Doing only your “clumsy” side My tried-and-true solution to body imbalances: Do only your “clumsy” side for a while. In sirsasana, I initially found it awkward to clasp my fingers the “wrong” way. So I used that clasp exclusively. Eventually both clasps felt equivalent. In adho mukha vrksasana (handstand), kicking up was harder on one side. So I kicked up mostly with that leg until I couldn’t tell the difference.

Back to savasana: I’ll try alternating turning right and left at home. It’s an experiment!

Image: Improve Your Digital Photography, Bilateral Symmetry

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8 thoughts on “On symmetry

  1. So much to think about here! Because of my scoliosis the imbalances in my body are quite obvious to me, especially in poses that require lower back strength (read: all poses lol)! My teachers never could figure out why when learning headstand I kept falling over to one side… I’ve never tried crossing the fingers the other way… And I graciously ignore my weak side in handstand kicks.

    Thanks for this reminder to keep working on balance.

    @Bob – but do you practice levitation equally through both nostrils? 😉

  2. I, too, have been thinking about this since I read “Exiting Savasana.” I have 2 stories involving two of my teachers.

    The first is about my teacher when he was a student-teacher working for his teaching credential. He taught a class in front of a VERY senior Indian teacher. My teacher was nervous, and he eagerly anticipated feedback from a protégé of Mr. Iyengar. The only feedback was the question, “Why did you do the poses to the left first? It is inauspicious.” So, it is traditional to do them to the right first.

    The other story is really about myself. I had been practicing for several years. The teacher announced Trikonasa, and my right foot shot out to the right, and my left foot turned in. She saw immediately that I was mindlessly doing the pose, and she did the rest of the class going to the left first. This taught us all that changing your routines leads to a more mindful practice.

  3. Yes, yes, yes! I love this post. I’ve talked to my fellow yogis about this, but no one other than me seems to be bothered by the asymmetry. There has also never been a strong consensus as to why we exit Savasana to the right. I like to alternate sides. The thing I find most challenging, though, is that nearly every teacher I take classes from cues the right first and then the left. I imagine I’m in the minority, but I’m left-dominant and always feel like I should be doing the left first.

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