Your body is not perfectly symmetrical in yoga poses. It’s OK.

April 30, 2023 0 Comments

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It was during a recent eyebrow-trimming session that I finally realized something about my body that had been bothering me since I started yoga. When I approached my esthetician about the wrong part of my eyebrow not matching the other side, she blurted out, “Our two sides are like sisters. Not twins.”

That one sentence changed everything for me.

In the early years of my practice, I was convinced that the goal of yoga was to be completely symmetrical on the right and left sides. I thought there was something wrong with me when the pose on one side seemed different than the other. I constantly worried that my body was “broken” or that I was hopelessly out of alignment.

I remember waiting one evening after class to ask my teacher to check my Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (pigeon pose) because my sides were different, even though I gave up at the last minute. I couldn’t figure out why I could almost fall asleep when I folded forward over my right leg, it was so comfortable. But on my left side, I could barely bend forward, let alone get comfortable. It felt like someone was hitting me in the thigh.

I was fascinated by symmetry. If the teacher forgot to indicate the pose on the other side, I would sneak it in when they weren’t looking, or I would stay after class and do the pose. I also started obsessing over alternating which hand was on top when I interlaced my fingers behind my back, or which leg was on top in Padmasana (lotus pose).

When I started teaching in 2008, I realized how different we are not only from person to person, but also from side to side. As I learned to look at my students’ bodies for safe alignment, I couldn’t help but notice the differences in everyone—including my own. Everyone had something that looked different on one side than the other.

So when she brought up the fact that our sides were sisters and not twins, everything went down. Maybe our right and left don’t have to be exact copies of each other.

Should people be symmetrical?

“In the grand scheme of things, we’re probably not going to be perfectly symmetrical,” says certified physical therapist Dr. Lida Malek. “Although most people have the same amount of muscle on each side of the body, the number of muscle fibers can vary, and even the shape of the bones can vary.”

This is why leg length discrepancies are incredibly common: according to one recent study, 90% of the population has them. Or why Yin Yoga teacher Paul Grilley is so adamant about teaching teachers and students about the different shapes of our femurs and their corresponding hip sockets and how that dramatically affects the mobility of our hips, especially in poses like Garudasana (Eagle Pose)

Instead of focusing on trying to equate our two sides, says Dr. Malek, we should recognize how different our sides really are. These differences are problematic and need to be addressed if they cause pain or interfere with function and movement.

Embracing our asymmetry

Yoga teacher Andrew Pio believes that focusing on symmetry can perpetuate tendencies in us that are at odds with the deeper intentions we are trying to bring to yoga asanas (poses). “Without a sense of detachment from the outcome, the idea of ​​symmetry can foster an unhealthy obsession with perfectionism that can leave us feeling ‘less than,'” says Pio, who teaches a popular Iyengar-influenced flow class at The Well in New York City. city. “It can potentially become a barrier to deeper observation and self-knowledge,” he says.

These days I’m still working on my non-dominant side, but instead of trying to make it perfectly match my bro side, I’ve come to the conclusion that things on my left will always be a little different than my right. Sometimes it’s weaker, like when I practice Vasisthasana (Side Plank). Other times, like when I’m in Pigeon, it’s tighter. Everything is fine and dandy.

I’m still working on making my asymmetry less noticeable, but I’m realizing that the way is not to try to do every pose the same way or hold it for the same amount of time. In fact, when I began to respect the differences between my right and my left, it was when they began to converge.

And I remind myself that there are actually a lot of fun things my left side does that my right side doesn’t, like carrying my kids all the time so my right hand is free to do whatever needs to happen for the day.

Our differences are also what make us unique, says Pio. “(Asymmetries) are the little details that contribute to our individuality. In yoga asanas, it is important to notice and observe our habits and imbalances, which ultimately help inform and reveal who we are,” he says.

4 ways to celebrate the asymmetry of your body

Here are some things you can start doing in your yoga practice to celebrate your asymmetry (and potentially make yourself more symmetrical in the long run):

1. Stay in the pose for different lengths of time on each side

We can get so caught up in making things “equal” by making sure we stay in the pose for the same amount of time on each side, that we can actually perpetuate our asymmetry. Consider making your grips meet the needs of each side of your body.

For example, hold a standing pose like Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior Pose 2) a little longer on the left side if you need to increase the strength of that leg. Or stay in pigeon pose on the side that needs a little more stretching.

2. Practice the poses on the left side first

Do you always lift your right leg first in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) and start the pose standing on that side? Try the left side instead. Even rolling onto your left side after Savasana at the end of the practice can be a way to make a difference—and not just physically. Energetically, the left side of the body is connected to the ida nadi, which is our energy channel associated with the yin-like feminine characteristics of each of us.

One way to do this is to practice Chandra Namaskara (Moon Salutation). Unlike traditional Sun Salutations that ask you to step back to Plank or jump back to Chaturanga, this sequence involves low lunges where you step back with your right leg first, meaning your left leg is the first side you work on.

3. Change your position to respect that side’s differences

I’ve spent years trying to get my hips level in my Warrior poses and my shoulders equally open in asymmetrical backbends like Ardha Dhanurasana (Half Bow Pose), in which you bend only one ankle at a time. As a result, it often happened that my differences became even more pronounced, and my weaker or tighter side constantly caught up. I now retreat from my stronger or more outgoing side as much, if not more, than I spend time with my less dominant side.

For example, in Virabhradrasana I (Warrior 1), I started shortening my stance on the right side, but lengthened it on the left to help account for the difference in psoas tension.

4. Process the entire mat

The way to overcome your imbalance is to explore different sides. Instead of always looking at the front of the mat, occasionally turn your body (or your students’ bodies) onto your back. Pio uses this sequencing tactic to avoid tying multiple standing poses together on one side, which he calls “loading the hips” and can lead to fatigue.

He recommends practicing one pose on one leg facing the mat, then turning around and doing a completely different pose with the opposite leg forward. For example, he might move the students from Warrior 1 on the right foot to the front of the mat to Warrior 2, left foot forward to the back of the mat, and then back to the front, so that Warrior 3 is standing on the right foot to the Triangle with the left foot forward, facing back. With this approach, it is easier for him to make sure that the students hold the poses evenly on both sides.

RELATED: How to Create a Yoga Mandala Sequence (To Take You From the Front to the Back of the Mat)

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