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Why Symmetrical Yoga Makes You Smarter

Healing | Health

We all have a dominant side—a stronger hand, more flexible leg, a foot we put in front. We favor the side in everything from standing up, eating, carrying a child, loading laundry, and on and on. Our movements and body have, since birth, become accustomed to this tendency.

Our brains are “cross-wired” so that the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and vice versa. Thus, hand dominance is connected with brain dominance on the opposite side—which is why we say that left-handers are in their right minds!

In my right mind, I have been fortunate that my minority status offered me many opportunities to discover the use of my right hand in life. With the vast majority of tools and furniture made for right-handed people, I have had to learn some things with my non-dominant side. This has been a blessing. I’ll explain…

Getting Comfortable With the Unfamiliar

When the mouse arrived as a tool for the personal computer, I was a marketing specialist doing some graphic design (in Corel Draw if that tells you how long ago this was!) Equally awkward in either hand, I decided to learn the mouse with my right, believing I’d have my left free to write or whatnot. (I know, again, remember how long ago this was.)

This seemingly innocuous decision was life changing. Who knew? More than 25 years later, I still use my right hand for the mouse and have designed countless pieces of digital media with it. About the only thing I can muster with a pen in my right hand is perhaps filling out prescriptions, since pharmacists can apparently read anything.

The opportunities to learn new to me sports have been boundless too. The short story is this: using the opposite side of your body in new attempts creates more balance in the usage of your brain.

Body Symmetry Can Avoid Injuries

In a review of scientific research on the subject of handedness and intelligence, researchers found that neither lefties nor righties came out ahead. Instead, the people with the biggest boost in cognitive performance were those who weren’t heavily wedded to a single hand. The more ambidextrous the subjects were, the better they performed on cognitive skills' tests.

How about them apples that you'll now be trying to eat with your other hand? In addition to this intellect-improving benefit, choosing an ambidextrous approach in your body can reduce sports injuries.

Many injuries that stem from overuse (plantar fasciitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome, runner’s knee, etc) are due to asymmetric dependence or mechanical instability. Creating symmetry in your body can provide the advantage of balancing out usage, thereby minimizing injuries.

Symmetry in Yoga

In a yoga class, you may hear the teacher ask you to attempt to move into a pose on the 2nd side to the same degree you did on the first. The teacher is promoting muscular symmetry by asking you to choose to mimic the depth of yoga poses on each side of your body.

By balancing out the use of tissues and muscles, you can prevent injuries from the imbalance of depending on your dominant side. Try it. Next time you are in a yoga class and the teacher asks to sit in Sukhasana (Easy pose or "criss cross apple sauce" as my kids were taught), switch out your legs for the non-dominant side.


Do this often enough and you’ll begin to create a more symmetric positioning of your sit bones, translating eventually to a more vertical spine. Next class, try binding your hands in the opposite way. Begin movements with your non-dominant side. Stretch a little more on that stiffer side.

You will be helping your body grow more balanced towards a more symmetrical yoga asana practice, and likely prevent some injuries associated with asymmetric overuse. Plus, that smarts thing…

Featured in New York Magazine, The Guardian, and The Washington Post
Featured in the Huffington Post, USA Today, and VOGUE

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