What to do when you catch yourself being asymmetrical
You're stretching, maybe in a yoga class.
You look down at your feet and notice one is more turned out than the other.
What do you do?
Would your natural response fit into any one of these categories?
Quickly fix it - make it symmetrical
Slowly fix it - keep stretching
Ignore it - it’s not interesting
Notice it - that’s how I am
Appreciate it - leave it alone, see what happens...
Turn it out MORE
What do you do?
Does any one of these options have emotional valence?
Which responses seem especially right or wrong?
Asymmetry is scary.
I don’t know why, but it is.
When I notice that my back doesn’t feel symmetrical or that one leg seems to be longer than the other, it freaks me out.
I think something must be wrong with me.
This side’s not like that.
Oh no. This can’t be good.
And for many people, asymmetry is tied up with pain. I’ve seen it tied up with physical pain, and emotional pain. One person I worked with had an asymmetry that had her feeling deep disgust with herself, and it affected her relationships, everything.
And, on the other hand, there are so many things that we do every day that are not symmetrical. Cutting up food. Bringing food up to the mouth. Writing things down. Holding a phone up to the ear. Driving with one foot on the gas. Using the same foot for the brake. Shifting gears with one hand. Throwing anything.
How many other functions are we compelled, if not happy, to do in a one sided way? And yet sometimes we catch a glimpse of our self-image being asymmetrical, and it brings up fear. Why?
Jess Curtis has been doing a choreographic project for years about symmetrical movement. It’s probably dance like you haven’t seen before :) NUDITY WARNING!
If any of us were truly symmetrical, which we’re not, where would we see symmetrical movement in every day life?
Walking - or any kind of locomotion that results in movement in a straight line...
Sex [some versions] - although sex with self is often asymmetrical if you’re using a hand
Singing [or speaking] - unless you are the type to speak or sing out the side of your mouth
What am I missing?
What is ideal posture?
Would ideal posture be symmetrical?
Ideal for what? Doesn’t it depend on what you want to DO with your posture?
David Zemach Bersin, one of my Feldenkrais teachers, talks about working with a major league baseball pitcher and realizing the work needed to be tailored because, That guy doesn’t want to be symmetrical! He wants to throw a ball faster than 100mph!
But let me get back to the question of correction.
Because we know asymmetry is scary, because most people correct it. And for the most part, the first thing that happens after a conscious sensation/perception of asymmetry is an attempt to get rid of it! Correct it.
Now, I want to preface what I am about to suggest by saying that I am all for understanding how to make changes in life.
And the truth is, there are some ways of deliberately changing that are more effective than others.
First of all,
The muscular patterns that result in asymmetries are DEEP. They are habits of daily living that have been grooving since very early on. They are things you have done so many times, for so long, that you have stopped noticing that you even do them. ‘So common they disappear,’ as Paul Simon puts it. And from what I know, habits like those, deep habits, are not particularly amenable to changes by will power.
You can’t just re-position your foot in yoga class and expect that the next time it won’t do the exact same thing it always does.
How many times have you gone through the sequence only to find the foot back where it started?
If it was going to make a difference to just re-position it, don’t you think it would have worked by now?
So what is a more effective way to correct deeper patterns?
Please allow me to make a suggestion:
If we want to change our deeply held patterns, we should start by understanding how to make ourselves suggestible.
What is suggestible? It means a state where new experiences are possible.
We should understand that it takes a certain something to get ourselves into a suggestible state—a state of mind, or a state of body, or a state of being or a state of becoming where NEW things—new muscular organizations—have the possibility to come into being, and maybe even to become part of our repertoire.
There's the old Feldenkrais maxim:
If you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want.
Sometimes I rephrase it as, ‘before you can do whatever you want, you have to understand what you’re doing already.’
This is the key to suggestiblity.
So what am I saying?
The correct way to correct is to start the process by becoming suggestible, and that process starts with a yes.
In the foot example, that means not just acknowledgment that the foot is turned out, but a supportive, actionable yes to what is already happening. ‘Yes, that is what I am doing already! Even if I am doing it without knowing how. Yes. Let me find out how I am doing it.’
When you look down at your feet and notice one is more turned out than the other, I suggest that you turn it out MORE. This will give you [your nervous system] conscious experience of what is usually unconscious. And as soon as you turn it out a little bit MORE, all of a sudden your conscious self will be in collaboration with your unconscious habit.
If you do it right, you’ll notice a particular texture or feeling to the unification of conscious and unconscious. If you do it carefully, you could slip into a trance. When you turn it out more, you could start to feel HOW you do it. What muscles in your leg are producing the turn out? What muscles in your hip? In your back? In your chest and neck? In your mouth and eyes? How do you actually produce the symphonic coordination do this thing you are always doing?
If you know that, then you might start to feel how you could do otherwise. But first you have to join yourself in what you’re doing already.
Suggestibility is the key. Joining is the doorway.
It’s just one of the weird secrets of ourselves—the elusive obvious—that we can unmask our unconscious habits by learning how to do them consciously.
The next time you catch yourself in some asymmetrical situation that you might otherwise correct, lean into it first! Do it more. See what happens. See what you learn about that part of yourself that you don’t identify as you. Let yourself know what you find out.