When practising at home, should I begin postures on a particular side of the body (eg. right leg, then left leg) and keep this consistent throughout the practice? Melissa, Balwyn East VIC
The right side is traditionally the favourite starting point, as the right side is considered the more auspicious side in India, the home of yoga. It’s the right foot that’s used to step into a newly constructed building. Items are given and received with the right hand. Even the word hatha (ha meaning sun, a right-sided energy, and tha meaning moon, left-sided) places the right polarity before the left.
The sun-energy associated right side is considered to be a more active, warming, masculine energy. It is associated with the pingala nadi, an energy meridian which flows along the spine and terminates on the right side. The left side of the body is linked to the ida nadi (also flowing along the spine, terminating on the left side) considered the cooling, feminine, moon energy.
For an invigorating solar practice, charge the system up by starting on the right side first, then calm by completing the left side of the posture. If you want to counter drowsiness, lethargy or depression, then start with the quieter left side and complete with the more stimulating right.
Polarities aside, you might be working to correct a known physical imbalance. Here you could practise each asymmetrical posture three times, with the easier, stronger or more flexible side sandwiched between the sides that present more of a challenge to you.
Long-time yogis might automatically assume the right side first. However, as yoga aims to build conscious awareness, it’s best to guard against unconscious action. You could alternate which side you begin on with the days of the week. That way, each time you start a pose, you are forced to remain alert by checking in to the now.
Finally, for spinal twists, twisting to the right first is advisable to assist with peristalsis (the muscle contractions that move digestive matter) in the bowel. This compresses and massages the ascending colon first. Then, when you twist anticlockwise, the descending colon will be stimulated, encouraging the movement of digestive matter towards its elimination point.
Christina Brown is the author of The Yoga Bible: The Definitive Guide to Yoga Postures. She teaches yoga in Sydney and runs teacher trainings and corporate classes. www.christinabrown.com