RESTORATIVE-YIN YOGA involves supported body/mind relaxation. This is gentle, gentle yoga that promotes deep relaxation for stress reduction while also stretching and rehabilitating connective tissue.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Asymmetry As Functional/Harmonious In Body-Mind Practice

Obscure White Oak Branch, 2012:
Few straight/identical branches (making them stronger and accessing light for leaves) and patterned chaos of lichens on its surface

Everyone has an “easy” side and a “hard” side in this pose [Janu Sirsasana] because of the inherent asymmetries of the human body. [p.86]
Leslie Kaminoff, Yoga Anatomy

A POPULAR ASSUMPTION in yoga is that differences between the right and left side are the result of dysfunction.  However, to assume that differences are the result of injury or misuse may be incorrect/false.  The differences can be inherent and natural.  They may be exaggerated across time by favoring one side or the other, but asymmetry is an inherent design of the human body, and these differences can optimize function.

Symmetry in yoga can express a drive toward bringing bond-mind into harmony, but asymmetry is also a natural expression of harmony.

Functional, inherent physiological/morphological asymmetries are found throughout the body and, paradoxically, form natural “patterns of irregularity”—beautiful “chaos” theory that appear to be random but that are patterned and the essence of everyday process throughout nature.  The random appearance of a forest has a pattern involving perhaps two dominant tree species, a specific set of vines, a pattern of layers from canopy to sub-soil, as well as fauna in rather predictable populations per acre.  Utilizing chaos theory even the “randomness” of where flora appear in a forest play out into a pattern.

Functional human body asymmetry examples:
Brain, right/left
Heart on side vs. centered [as in popular image of heart]
Right/left handedness
Vision/hearing, rt/left dominance
“Universal” variation between individuals in many aspects of body structure

A popular assumption in yoga is that skeletons and muscles are largely identical except for differences in height and gender. Thus, for example, illustrations of the human skeleton appear to be universal.  However, Yin Yoga stresses that skeletal structures are variable, with hips possibly angled differently [e.g., more forward or back leaning] or femur ball going into the socket at different angles.  Occasionally, there are other processes, such as being “double-jointed,” and likely many other aspects of the body were we to give more attention to asymmetry.  And these occurrences are natural rather than the result of disorder or accident, and not subject to change.  This can make a significant difference in how a yoga pose will be expressed vs. a universal expression as the only way. 

Human femurs showing natural variations in length and width, torque, head angles and length of necks, and variations between the neck and shaft affecting abduction
[Photos from Biff Mithoefer, The Yin Yoga Kit. Rochester, NY: Healing Arts Press, 2006, pp. 97 and 99 respectively]


Meaningful symmetry/asymmetry work in yoga: physiological and spiritual

Physiological Symmetry:
  • [A] Pose sequences that are “symmetrical” in, for example, a balance between front and back-bending poses, or a balance, for example, across a week of daily yoga practices that might balance out front and back-bending poses.  Symmetry in yoga can focus on equalizing attention to both right and left, and especially to front and back body.  Front body tends to be more visible and back work can also be more intense, so that more time may be less consciously directed toward the front body.  Symmetry in yoga might also lead to practice that balances emphases such as flexibility and strength, or seated practices and standing practices.
  • [B] Yoga therapy to correct imbalances caused by injury or over-reliance/”favoring” to protect on certain body structure that leads to irritation and physical problems

Spiritual symmetry:
  • “Meridians/chakras” reference inherent “energy structures” that are described as universal and identical in all persons that can be related to but not identical with physiological structures such as nerves. 
  • From a Western psycho-spiritual perspective, these are “Eastern” examples of terms that can reference a process of integration vs. having to be physical symmetry.

Spiritual “Asymmetry:” 
In the spiritual orientation that is expressed in Zen aesthetics—irregularity is prized as natural/organic, as a reflection of the process of the larger universe/cosmos.  Example: tea bowl/chawan—irregularity (with different sides revealed as it turns), and variations in the finished piece that result from “give and take” between artist and kiln.

In yoga, we might explore an “integration” of body asymmetry into practice as functional rather than as deficit. Positively, differences may allow for

  • Innovation
  • Honoring diversity:  “individuation” is an expression of ongoing creation, testing variations for “fittedness” with the larger ecosystem that ultimately favors one over the other and leads to adaptation and even morphological change of the species across the long run so that we become the “beyond of ourselves,” as our ancestors did to become you and I. 

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