The axial skeleton, the appendicular skeleton, and muscles throughout the body all contribute to determining our bilateral symmetry. For perfect symmetry, every right-left member of every pair of bones, skeletal muscles, joints, and ligaments must be identical on both sides of the body—right and left knee joints, hip joints, femurs, and clavicles; and right and left erector spinae muscles, quadriceps femori, hamstrings, adductors, and gluteals.
To check out the symmetry in your own posture, look at yourself frontally in a full-length mirror, preferably in the buff. Place your feet about twelve inches apart and let your hands hang relaxed. Look carefully. Do the right and left extremities appear to be of equal length? Is one shoulder higher than the other? Do you lean slightly to one side? Do both forearms hang loosely, or is one elbow more bent? Does the waistline make a sharper indentation on one side than the other, creating extra space between the body and elbow on one side? Is the crest of the ilium higher on one side than the other? Is one nipple higher than the other? If you draw an imaginary line from the umbilicus to the center of the sternum, is it perpendicular to the floor, or slightly off?
Look down at your feet. Are they comfortable in a perfectly symmetrical position, or would it feel more natural if one or the other were rotated laterally? Do the toes all spread out and down squarely, or do some of them seem to clench in? You are not trying to change anything; you are just making observations. Don't despair if your body is not perfectly symmetrical; few are.
Most of us were born symmetrical, but our habitual activities have undermined our balance. Carrying a handbag on one shoulder, always lowering the chin to the same side against a telephone receiver, swimming freestyle and always turning the head in the same direction for breathing, and countless other right-left preferences create habitual tension on one side of the body that eventually results in muscular and skeletal misalignments and distortions.
So far we've been discussing only static anatomical symmetries and asymmetries. But these terms are also used in the context of movement. In that realm a symmetrical movement is one in which both sides of the hody move at the same time and in the same way, while an asymmetrical movement is one in which each side of the body moves sequentially As it happens, most of our everyday activities are accomplished asymmetrically. You don't hop forward two feet at a time—you walk, swinging your right hand forward in concert with your left foot, and swinging your left hand forward in concert with your right foot. Likewise, a boxer hits a Punching bag with one hand and then the other, not with both hands at the same time. And every karate master knows that the power of a Punch with one hand depends on simultaneously pulling the opposite
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elbow to the rear. In swimming we see both possibilities—the butterfly the breast stroke, and the beginner's back stroke involve symmetrical movements; the freestyle and the back stroke crawl involve asymmetrical movements.
You can correct some right-left asymmetries with patience, persistence and a well-thought-out practice plan. In fact, right-left balancing is ai important quest in hatha yoga ("ha" is the Sanskrit word for "right." an. "tha" means "left"). And apart from its importance in hatha yoga posture bodily symmetry is beneficial to our overall health and comfort.
The best approach for correcting right-left imbalances is to concentrat on asymmetrical postures and activities, working first with one side an then the other, and watching for differences between the two. If you sp< an imbalance you can do the same posture three times, starting ar ending on the more difficult side, and over time this will tend to correct tl situation. Symmetrical postures, by contrast, are often not very effectiv for correcting right-left imbalances. Both sides may get stronger and mo flexible, but they will remain different. In certain cases the differences c; i even become exaggerated because making an identical effort on both sid may favor the side that is more flexible, and this leaves the constricted si even more out of balance.
If right-left imbalances are best remedied with asymmetric postur front-to-back imbalances are best remedied with symmetric postures. Ll s say you can't bend forward and backward very far, or that you perceive tl t your backward bends are more convincing than your forward bends, a d you can't detect any difference in tightness when you compare the t o sides of the body. The solution to this problem is to develop a perso il program of symmetrical forward bends and backbends to redress t .e imbalance. But keep watching. These improvements are sooner or la -r likely to uncover asymmetrical limitations which until that time had b< n hidden: limitations to forward bending in the hip or hamstrings on c <e side, limitations in the hip flexors on one side for eccentric backw; d bending, or limitations to side bending on one side. Don't complain. St t over. Enjoy.
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