The ways of classifying yoga poses are seemingly endless: forward and backward bends, standing and seated poses, inversions and twists. All of these types of poses are either symmetrical or asymmetrical. In a symmetrical pose, you work both sides of your body equally and simultaneously. In an asymmetrical pose, you work one side of your body at a time. Both symmetrical and asymmetrical poses have their advantages and disadvantages.
Recognizing Your Own Asymmetries
Asymmetrical poses such as Janu Sirsana, or Head-to-Knee Forward Bend, give you the opportunity to recognize asymmetries in your own body. When you do this pose, see if you have more difficulty on one side than on the other. The side that is more difficult is less flexible. Recognizing this imbalance is the first step toward creating a more symmetrical, aligned body.
Correcting Your Asymmetries
Because asymmetrical poses give you the opportunity to focus on each side individually, you can use this to your advantage. Say you’ve figured out that the left side of your body is generally less flexible than your right. You can then do asymmetrical poses more frequently on the less flexible side to correct this asymmetry. Taking Janu Sirsana as an example, do it two times with your left leg and once with your right leg. While it may at first feel frustrating to spend time on your “bad side,” remember that yoga is not a performance or an exam. It’s an opportunity to become aware of your body and how it works.
Placement in your Yoga Practice
While asymmetrical poses allow you to correct your own muscular imbalances, you do need symmetrical poses to help bring your body into better alignment. After performing asymmetrical poses, do some symmetrical poses such as seated forward bends or Cobra to reinforce the symmetry in your body.
Accepting Your Asymmetries
Don’t let the recognition of your body’s asymmetries become an obsession when you are performing symmetrical poses. Instead, aim to feel symmetrical, even if the position looks asymmetrical when you do it. Over time, with focused practice on asymmetrical poses, your body can become more symmetrical.
While asymmetrical poses certainly offer potential benefits, they might not always be practical. Asymmetrical poses require at least twice the amount of time as symmetrical poses, because you have to repeat them on each side. If you’re running short on time for your practice on one day, symmetrical poses might be a more attractive option.
- Anatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teachers, and Practitioners; David Coulter
- Ashtanga Yoga -- The Intermediate Series: Mythology, Anatomy, and Practice; Gregor Maehle
- Yoga Journal: Bringing Your Practice Home
- IDEA Health & Fitness Association: Yoga to Benefit Body, Mind & Spirit
- Yoga Anatomy; Leslie Kaminoff
Kat Black is a professional writer currently completing her doctorate in musicology/ She has won several prestigious awards for her research, and has had extensive training in classical music and dance.