Has anyone ever told you that your body is asymmetrical? That you don’t move evenly?
That you are…gasp… not the same from side to side???
Don’t sweat it. We’re all like that.
I often see clients who are afraid to move. Somewhere along the line, someone told them that their body isn’t symmetrical, and that it needs to be fixed. And so, trying to stay safe and make sure they don’t make it worse, they stop doing things they love.
I often hear from clients that they’re concerned about a hip hike or a lowered shoulder, that they can balance on one leg better than the other, that they have a “bad” side/ shoulder/ leg/ etc. I’m always interested in how that asymmetry is affecting them. Would they have noticed it if someone hadn’t told them their body isn’t symmetrical? If there is pain or discomfort, what makes it feel better or worse? How do they generally move? What do they do most often and for how long have they been doing it? We focus on how they move and what we can add to their movement diet, rather than what matches up to what.
Because here’s the thing… Almost everyone I’ve seen over a long time and hundreds of bodies, has a bit of a hip hike. Almost everyone has a slight rotation of the pelvis. Lots of people have what seems to be a longer leg. Everyone has one shoulder a bit higher than the other. None of those things are inherently bad! Can they be changed? Maybe. Do they NEED to be changed? Maybe not. Often it’s just about moving more, moving differently. Wake up the sleepy bits and get more variety of motion and diversity of muscle use.
But let’s get back to this whole issue of the sides being different and having a “good” side and a “bad” side.
I am not a huge fan of that word BAD as it applies to our amazing human bodies. Sure, you may have a side or a part that is less skilled at something, isn’t as strong or as agile or maybe hurts more often. We all have some of that. Some of it is actually really helpful.
Your body isn’t the same from side to side
Look at the picture below. Right from the inside, your body isn’t symmetrical.
Your heart is off centre, one lung is bigger than the other to accommodate that, your diaphragm is asymmetrical and your liver and stomach are unevenly placed right and left in your abdominal cavity (among other things). You may have a psoas minor on one side but not the other. There are some variations in the human form from person to person, which I think is really cool.
In many movement modalities we look at how the body moves. We try to refine and improve our form, mechanics, strength, flexibility and flow. That’s cool, it’s part of getting better at something. Sometimes we try to address asymmetries and level them out, and that’s cool too. I spend a LOT of time looking at bodies and how they move. Sometimes I’m helping a client address the way one part moves compared to the other. But it’s not about trying to “fix the bad side”.
Here’s one of the things I say more often than anything else:
DON’T FORGET… IT’S OFTEN NOT THE SAME FROM SIDE TO SIDE!
You have a dominant hand. That’s going to inform how your arms and shoulders work. You have a standing leg and a gesture leg. The standing leg is better at balance, the gesture leg is better at motion. Your breathing is usually different from side to side. Don’t believe me? Try this breathing exercise and see if one side of your ribs usually expands more than the other!
But is one side the “bad” side? Or is it just better at something else?
I have a client who has been experiencing pain in her left hip. She’s working on it, getting hands on treatment from an osteopath, seeing me, walking and doing all the stuff that helps. But she’s been thinking about the discomfort that often strikes at night, she’s been aware of the pain and moving a bit less. And thinking of it as her bad side.
We were working on the reformer at her last session and doing single leg extensions. Imagine her surprise when her RIGHT leg was less fluid, less strong and less controlled that her supposedly “bad” side! Her left leg was actually really happy to do this particular movement. In this particular motion, it was the “good ” leg.
Having that realisation helped her to feel confident about moving more again. She also felt less limited about her left hip. We worked on finding ranges and angles that work better for that side so she can go back to building strength and support for that joint. Not always the “bad” hip after all!
I am passionate about alignment work, about really delving into those underserved parts of our bodies and restoring capacity to all our blind spots (and believe me, I have them as much as anyone else!). Often that means addressing those uneven bits in the shoulders, the hips, the feet… well, you know, the everything. For instance, we are often pretty limited in our hand, arm and shoulder movement, given our mostly sedentary lives and limited movement challenges. It’s amazing to discover new ways of moving the arm in the shoulder socket that actually get into your rotator cuff. And of course, it’s going to be different on side compared to the other. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact of living in your human body.
Unless you are ambidextrous, never drove a car, carried a bag or a baby, never played a sport or used a computer and alternated your sleeping position every night. Then you might be exactly the same from side to side. Sure.
As excited as I get about alignment and precision, I am equally passionate about de-demonizing (that’s a word, right??) the idea of the bad sides. Our bodies are doing amazing things, getting us around every day. Even a body part that is hurting you might be good at something, even better than its’ partner on the other side.
Instead of putting the good/ bad perspective on your body and your movement patterns, think instead about “used more often in that way”, “showing me where my habits are” and “has the most potential for change”. I heard that one the other day and absolutely love it.
How about this? Spend some time exploring how your body moves. Try new things, go deep into the details of how your joints and muscles and connective tissues work together. Be humble and acknowledge your blind spots and work on them, knowing that they will be different from one side to the other. Sometimes it will feel like the easiest, why-bother kind of work ever, and sometimes it will kick your ass.
Here’s a lovely, detail oriented exercise for your shoulders that I’ve been using a lot recently. It’s my version of something created by Ron Fletcher, one of the first generation Pilates teachers. This will for sure make you feel uneven before you do the second side.
Ok, now get out and move. Try this mini-lunge series for another way to explore how your body isn’t symmetrical. Walk, climb, run, dance, hike, swim, do Pilates, Restorative Exercise, yoga, crossfit, lift heavy, play with your kids, garden, bike, paddle, do whatever you like to do! Go hard, be gentle, just move.
And don’t worry about how symmetrical you are. Or aren’t. Because you’re never going to be completely even from side to side!
I’m the owner of Boomerang Pilates and creator of the Move SMART program. I teach teachers how to incorporate sustainable movement and authentic teaching in their classes.