There may be a time in our lives where we become aware that the two sides of our body are not exactly the same. For some of us, this may happen at our roots: the feet. We may notice that when we go to buy shoes, that one foot is slightly bigger than the other. Sometimes this difference is so small that it’s almost imperceptible; yet for others it is quite noticeable. Another way this difference may be noticed is in a slight differentiation in the length of the legs. This may also be a very slight difference, but it may be there nonetheless. You can apply this difference test to several other parts of the body including arms, hands, and other areas as well.
It is possible that these very slight imbalances in the body can contribute to other greater imbalances, when combined with other factors. Our dominant sides may also play into this equation. Whether you are right handed or left handed may also impact strength and weakness in the body. The right handed person will likely have developed more strength in their right side then left, simply because they utilize that side more than the other. Conversely, that right handed individual may present with greater tightness on the left side of the body as a result of under utilization of that other side body. Patterns and habits (perhaps coupled with anatomical factors in some) may result in an exaggeration in these imbalances. The opportunity to explore this imbalance is a gift that yoga can give us.
We come to class and we assume a cross legged seated position on our mats. We feel quite balanced and stable and content. The instructor then asks us to change the crossing of our legs, and just like that our world changes and we feel off kilter, off balance and maybe even a sense of discomfort: the imbalance has surfaced. The class continues…. we are guided into a hamstring and calf stretch. We are feeling quite good as we stretch open our right leg, but when we shift over to our second side the picture also shifts “why is my left leg so much tighter than my right?” The investigation continues, and the difference in the two sides of our bodies is more noticeable then ever before.
As our yoga practice becomes more developed, it is easy to try and ignore the imbalance. We may try to convince ourselves to lean into our strengths and disregard our weaknesses. All this does is drive a wedge between the two sides of our bodies, strengthening the strong and weakening the weak. Unless we interrupt our habits and patterns, we will continue to not only experience discrepancies between our two side bodies, but we will actually increase these differences.
The good news is that halting and even beginning to reverse these differences can happen! In a yoga practice this is par for the course as yoga emphasizes using each side of the body equally; whatever we do on one side of the body will without a doubt happen on the other side body as well. But off the mat there are many things we can do as well. As travel season approaches for the holidays, notice for instance what arm wants to carry your bags; try using the other arm instead. Notice how you carry your purse – try alternating this from shoulder to shoulder. Notice how you stand: do you favor leaning to one side or the other? Try balancing your weight on both feet instead. If you always begin activity on your right foot, try using your left foot first every other time and see what happens. Rome wasn’t built in a day and patterns are not easy to change, but it’s all in the noticing. Small changes will start coming about when we begin to pay attention to our tendencies.
The two sides of our bodies may never be exactly the same, but if we can bring them towards harmony they will be able to sing together.