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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 (http://www.icyer.com, yognat2001@yahoo.com), 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.

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Yoga & Mental Health Booklist

The under construction website ‘The House of Love’ is a magnet for information on the subject Yoga and mental health and a place to create network. Because this site is being reconstructed and I still like to share some information, I use this temporary spot for it, my blog. If you have useful information (book tips etc.) you like to share; please email me on anneke@thehouseoflove.nl and I will add this to this list.

Thanks! Love,

Anneke

INFO & BOOKLIST:

    •  How to Use Herbs, Nutrients and Yoga in Mental Health Care. by: Brown, Gerbarg and Muskin.
    • Peter Levine, Somatic Experiencing Training
    • The Relaxation Response – Herbert Benson, M.D. (Yogic Mantra Meditation)
    • Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. (Buddhist Mindfulness Meditation, Theravada Tradition)
    • The psychospiritual clinician’s handbook, alternative methods for understanding and treating mental disorders’ door Sharon G. Mijares en Gurucharan Singh Khalsa.
    • ‘The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness’ by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal en Jon Kabat Zinn.
    • Amy Weintraub; ‘Yoga and Depression’ (also video)

Yoga & Mental Health Book Store

Books on Yoga & Trauma

  • Herbert Benson – The Relaxation Response
  • Norman Doidge – The Brain that Changes Itself
  • David Emerson – Overcoming Trauma through Yoga, Reclaiming your body
  • Bo Forbes – Yoga for Emotional Balance
  • David Frawley – Yoga for Your Type
  • Stanislav Grof – Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis
  • John Kabat-Zinn – Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction
  • Bessel van der Kolk – Traumatic stress
  • Peter Levine – Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma
  • Richard Miller – Yoga Nidra
  • Pat Ogden – Trauma and the Body
  • Swami Satyananda – Yoga Nidra

ARTICLE:

  • 1975: The Relaxation Response published by Herbert Benson, M.D., Faculty, Harvard Medical School
  •  ‘Application of Yoga in Residential Treatment of Traumatized Youth’ – Joseph Spinazzola, Alison M. Rhodes, David Emerson, Ellen Earle, and Kathryn Monroe
    from: Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, November/December 2011; vol. 17, 6: pp. 431-444., first published on August 25, 2011

LINKS:

Yoga Class summer information

There are a few important changes about yoga classes I like to share.

As some of you also already knew… I am pregnant! So, after the holidays I start to slow down a bit and prepare to be a mommy! What does this mean for you?

Holiday starts in August for me, so the whole month of July there will be classes on Thursday and on August 2nd will be the last class.

In these last 6 YOGA weeks (July 5 – Aug 2):
– You have the chance to finish up your class-card
– You cannot buy a new 10-class card, there’s not enough time. But, untill summerbreak eveyone can join classes for 10 euro (instead of 12,50) p/class
– If you still have an old card, that’s due but with some classes left: come and use it now. In these last weeks I give you the opportunity to finish up your old cards sitting in your wallets…
– I will let you know when new classes start again!
– You can boost yourself with some Surya – summer energy

For your curiousity ;-) I am 15,5 weeks pregnant and the belly starts to grow just a little bit. This summer I will start a new training, yoga-therapy. Yoga and mental health is my main expertises and I will develop my knowledge in a special way in Austria. More ideas in this field are bubbling in me, projects will start this summer aswell and changes will come… If you are interested in what’s going on, please check my page here on WordPress now and then or just ask me! Follow me on twitter via yoga_amsterdam.

Hope to see your pretty faces in July on Thursdays 20.00pm in yogaschool Golden Link, Den Texstraat, Amsterdam. If I don’t.. that’s a pity… but wishing you a LOVELY SUMMER and hope to see you again…!

Much Love,

Anneke