Q&A: In asana practice – left or right foot first?

Question: In the January–April 2004 issue of Yoga Studies, Richard Rosen responded to the question: “I’ve been teaching for a number of years, always leading clients in standing âsana with the left foot or left side. I have always done this because that was what I was taught. Could you please send me any literature references or other references giving the reasoning behind this practice? Does it extend to all âsana, standing or not?”

In this issue, Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, chairman of Yoganjali Natyalayam and the International Centre for Yoga Education and Research in Pondicherry, India (,, further elucidates from the traditional Indian point of view: I felt that I have to try and address some of these core issues for non-Indian Yoga practitioners, as we often have our Western students (never an Indian student!) ask these same questions.

The major problem facing Yoga in the West is the fact that Yoga has been cleaved from Indian culture (sanâtana-dharma; editor’s note: lit. “eternal teaching,” the name traditionally given to Hinduism by adherents). Without an understanding of the Indian (Hindu) culture and way of life from which Yoga originated, it is difficult to find answers to such questions.

The concept of polarity, or balancing the opposites, is vital to both Yoga and Indian traditional life. The right side of the body is related to the solar/positive/masculine flows of energy that are manifest by the sûrya-nâdî, which is related to the termination of the pingalâ-nâdî. Similarly, the left side is related to the lunar/negative/feminine flows of energy that are manifest by the candra-nâdî, which may be said to be the termination of the idâ-nâdî (editor’s note: nâdîs are subtle energy channels).

Traditionally in Indian culture, all daily activities are always started on the right side, because the right side is considered to be auspicious. If an Indian (a traditional Indian, that is) were given an offering by the left hand, he or she would consider it an insult and refuse it! Similarly, receiving anything with the left hand is totally out of the question! Modern Indians tend to be as uninformed as Westerners in this regard, and I am not considering their example here.

When a newly married bride in India comes to her in-laws for the first time, or when we enter the premises of a newly constructed building or any such new “starts,” we always use the right leg first  (as in “put your best foot forward”). Thus, to my mind, the traditional answer to the question would be to start on the right and then make sure you follow it with the left for balance.

In spinal twists, the turn is always clockwise first, as the concept of pradakshina or circumbulation around Hindu temples is always clockwise. It is interesting to note that the Hindu swastika turns clockwise, whereas Hitler’s swastika turns anticlockwise. (Speak of opposite energies bringing about opposite effects! Auspicious in the first and inauspicious in the second.) Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri also always taught us that the energy in the cakras moves in a clockwise direction. If you take ten traditional Indians and ask them to turn around, they will all, at least almost all, turn in the clockwise direction. Twists are thus done first to the right, then to the left.

Regarding the forward and back bending âsanas, when we bend forward we stimulate the solar plexus, and so this is termed the loma, or positive action. When we bend backward, we relax the solar plexus, and this is termed the viloma, or negative action. In practice it is thus better to do forward bends before back bends if we follow the polarity concept.

Some interesting research in South India (at VK Yogas Bangalore) showed that relaxation practices done following strenuous activity provided greater benefit than the pure relaxation practices done alone. Viewed from the standpoint of right and left, if we do the right, or active, side first, then we may benefit more from the practice by ending with the left. This will lead to a state of balance (of steadiness, relaxation). On the contrary, if we do the left, or passive, side first, then we may end up stimulated (hyperenergetic, imbalanced). As Yoga is the science of balance, performance on the right side before the left side may help us to maintain homeostasis (samatvam).

We must also remember that even the term Hatha-Yoga has the right side placed before the left in its esoteric association of ha with the sun and tha with the moon (editor’s note: hatha lit. means “forceful”).

With regard to the common question of how to tell whether one is doing the left side or the right side in standing poses, I would say that the side that bears the maximum weight of the body in the pose is the side one is doing. For instance, many students get confused when they first stand in natarajâsana on the right leg with the left arm and foot raised behind the back, thinking that they are doing the left side because both the left arm and leg are being used, whereas they are actually doing the right.

Of course, all of the above discussion applies to normal, balanced individuals, of whom very few seem to practice modern Yoga! In cases where stimulation is required, as in patients with depression, excessive sleepiness or drowsiness, and so on, then right after left may be preferable.



It’s interesting to experience that the guy who is supposed to watch children from drowning tries to rescue me from drowning in my non Christian beliefs.

At the Serena Hotel I was yesterday, teaching the hotel guest Yoga. It was a nice class and after this I went for a nice and freezing dip in Serena’s luxurious swimming pool. The guard who was watching starts to speak in French to me, and in the beginning I just acted as if I understood everything. Which i didn’t. I understand the outlines of his speech but he kept going and going and after a while I had to admit that my French is not that fluently.
He smiled brightly and without hesitation he kept talking and changed his language into English. At least now I could understand.
He spoke about God and how wonderful life is, all created by the Lord. I smiled and listened. When he asked me “Don’t you think?”, I had to make another confession, one that he, i found later, didn’t understand at all. I told him my view on God and that I believe that All is God, but also nothing is God. We are, Jesus is, Allah might be as well, Buddha was… it’s all the same, different name. And I added that I believe that if nobody would judge eachother on their beliefs or let eachother be free to believe or not, or what to believe in and find peace at, there would be less or even maybe no war in the world.
He seemed to have a hard time to let me finish my sentence and before I knew he showed his bright white teeth again and continued his preach about creation and the creator. He points at a little girl playing in the pool, and asks me if this can exist without a creator? And he tells how not innocent people are when they are born, etcetera….

A few times, here in Rwanda the religion conversation started and just by telling them that many people in The Netherlands do not go to church or do not believe in God, make their eyes roll out of their skull almost. They would shake their heads, from left to right. No, no, no… That’s very very hard to believe…

Then, interesting is, that in the book I was reading (La stratégie des antilopes) I read about religion in Rwanda too. And what the Genocide changed in the way people believe. I read that many do not believe in God anymore, they gave up after they saw their whole family was slaughtered in front of their eyes of had to crawl in the mud for days, weeks to escape the (final) cut of the machetes. Or they do believe in God as a creator, but not believe that He offers help or support. Many do not go to Church anymore, because of tragic what happened IN the Church even. One story was told, that the priest asked the people who were on the run, to get into Church to become safe. They would trust the priest and could look for shelter in Church with their babies, parents, families… until 3 days later, without a word the priest disappears in a big car, fast as lightning without saying goodbye, without wishing them luck or anything… and everyone in Church would become a victim of these machetes. Death. Young and old. Fooled by the priest. Then, who cán you believe? Also nowadays, the murderers who came out of jail, would be front row in Church taking the Holy Communion tree times and tell how happy they are that they are forgiven, while the person who lost all his family under the hands of that same murderer next to him is just watching and see this every Sunday, over and over again. The people in the mud, hiding from being murdred would listen secretly to small radio’s, hoping every day to hear that the Pope in Rome is telling all the murderers to not kill their children. But without any result. They never heard the Pope. And the murdering continued. What also changed, i read, after the Genocide is, that people switch church all the time now. Sometimes 3 times a year! While before, if one was born Catholic, probably he would die Catholic. Which doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

So, I am wondering. Who is believing what? Why are they believing? I believe they are on a search, a search for God. A search for themselves.
In Yoga class i hear women telling me that they didn’t ‘felt’ their bodies, the didn’t feel their muscles. When they started to learn about yoga, that feeling came back. They feel themselves again. Yoga is teaching people to be aware of themselves. Simply be aware of your breath, your legs and your fingers. In my opinion, that’s the best search you can be on. Once you find yourself (back), or you become aware of who you always were, just be aware, you are aware to choose which God can add something to your own stability instead of completely depend on external factors and drown in that.

The guard at the swimming pool added that he saw me teaching Yoga that morning and imitated me by showing Virabhadrasana A (Warrior pose), exaggerating the inhalation and exhalation and said in another exaggerating way, looking at me with eyes as if they would spit fire soon: “And then you are loooooking for that pleasure far away, take you up, high, you want to find it far away and take it…” and I replied calmly: “No, nothing far away. But as close as can be. In yourself. That’s where we look. Standing on the floor with both feet.”
He smiled big and didn’t seem to believe me. I invited him for class next Saturday. But he just smiled.

Namaste! Anneke



for me, are not just all about cakes and presents. Well cakes are tasty and getting presents can be fun, i won’t lie, but more important for me on a birthday is creating this moment of awareness. I am 31 one. And am i happy? Am i on the right path? Am i going in the right directions? It’s a great moment to evaluate, i believe. So that’s what i did. I thought back to the goals i made lasts year and made some new ones for the upcoming one.
Besides that, i did ate cake at night! The cook here in the Project Air house, is a great one.. this friendly man made a dish of my choice (Quiche it was, yummy!) and an awesome birthday cake and ate it all with Deirdre here. That was sweet…..
Also i talked with my Lover and friends on Skype (i love that Skype!) and received many sweet messages on facebook! Thank you all, it did make me feel a Birthday girl, all the way in Africa!

Love, Anneke