Summer of Left

I am right-hand dominant. I catch myself thinking down the right side of my body. My right is more sensate, stronger, and more skilled with fine-tuned movements. As yogis and yoga teachers, we typically practice asymmetric postures starting on the right. This summer, I’m changing my practice and teaching with a focus on our left.

If I devote half of my practice meditating down the left side of my body, it will become stronger and more refined over time. I have no delusions about becoming ambidextrous, but there’s no downside to become more familiar with my non-dominant side.

I’ve come up with a couple ways yogis and teachers can enrich their practice on their non-dominant side. These techniques also help us fully inhabit our complete self.

Out in Left Field

If we always practice one side first, we inadvertently make that side the standard. When I teach, I incorporate self-study cues. On the first side, I ask students to notice engagements and sensations. The first side becomes our baseline; we see it for what it is and appreciate it without comparing it to anything.

The second side winds up being comparative. “Does this side feel more restricted, more mobile, or the same?” is a typical cue in my classes. We wind up exploring our second side in reference to the first. It’s the same complaint many younger siblings have; they’re often compared to the first born. Although comparison is a valuable skill, it’s not a complete self-study.

If we reverse left and right, our powers of absolute and comparative analysis are reversed, and we see our asymmetries in a new light. We can appreciate our left side for what it is, without referring to our right side. We gain more insight in studying each side of our bodies both ways.

Drive Like a Brit

Perhaps some of you may not do this, but it happens to me: In symmetric poses, I often catch myself thinking down the right side of my body. I then adjust my left side to match the right. Not only do I prioritize the right side in asymmetric poses, I prioritize my right even when the pose is symmetric.

We can counter this by thinking down our non-dominant side. In my experience, you’ll know you’re doing this if your pose feels less intuitive. An American driving in England needs to think through each intersection, because their driving intuition will get them in an accident. In a similar way, studying our symmetric poses down our non-dominant side takes some getting used to.

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Side angle pose at Frank Curto Park, Pittsburgh, PA

Since this technique is for symmetric postures, any student can use this technique in a class. Notice where to place your awareness in Mountain Pose, Plank, Down Dog, or any symmetric pose. Is it on both sides? Or is it down one side, followed by micro-movements on the other side to “catch up?” When your teacher offers a cue, think down your non-dominant side when processing the cue.

Teaching Like a Leftist

For teachers, starting cues with the left side may take some getting used to. But this can enrich the practice in two ways. First, it will bring your students out of their habit patterns. As explained above, they’ll regard their left side with a fresh perspective.

It will also help physically balance your students out over time. Especially in strength-based postures, we yogis often give it 100% on the first side, only to be too tired to fully express the second. Starting with the left will help even out our range of motion and strength.

“Ocean Beach 23” by Michael Fraley is licensed under CC BY 2.0