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Yoga and Influence of Symmetry on the Spine

Prasarita Padottanasana-Symmetry

The most general law in nature is equity-the principle of balance and symmetry which guides the growth of forms along the lines of the greatest structural efficiency. Herbert Read

We and most creatures on earth follow some kind of symmetry or symmetrical patterns. Symmetry is visually appealing and we along with other creations of nature have learned to understand it over the eons of our evolution as something exceptional and good. It perhaps even represents a good genetic makeup and is favored in natural selection. Just like a perfectly round apple will attract us more than a crooked one. So, we should never ignore its relevance in keeping us healthy.

Yet we break it every day – leaning on one foot, crossing one leg over the other, slinging our backpack on one side, typing with one hand, sleeping daily on the same side, sitting incorrectly for long hours, hunching over our electronics and so on. If any other creature was to walk or operate in such a manner we would probably consider it deformed. And in propagating voluntary deformity every day we are only bringing injuries are way.

Writing with one hand, playing a sport or eating food also work on only one side but these are periodic activities which are not done consistently for hours at a stretch in normal day today life. Yet, these too influence our brain in their own ways (that is why right handed and left handed people have different brain activities). Secondly, they are constructive as they provide us education, fitness and nutrition. The others however are pointless and add no value and we instead pay a heavy price for them with our health.

Any minor change in the perfect balance of our spine has a domino effect which then first attacks the weakest joint/limb or organ in our bodies. Imbalance could lead to pain in the knee, hip, ankle or give us frozen shoulders. It can even create breathing difficulties or compression in our organs which may in turn result in hormonal imbalances.

Nature even crafted our bodies such that we could tell something was off just by a visual. Even though we are not symmetrical on the inside, we are completely so on the outside. There’s a balance and efficiency in the internal asymmetry that lets us function well and allows our organs to do their jobs. This asymmetry gets disrupted if we interrupt the symmetry outside.  Our body is balanced evenly on two limbs such that any deformity is easily detected. Whether one foot constantly splays out or our hips are uneven, any anomaly is easy to spot. And any anomaly is a reflection of an internal misalignment. Most imbalances start from these simple deviations so we must always be watchful of our gait.

The evenness and symmetry of our physical body also helps our brain know where we are in space or where to find our nose even with our eyes closed. It is what helps us know that our hands and feet are moving in the right direction as we walk or what pedals to press as we drive without craning to look every time. Through symmetry we get balance, through balance we are able to have a sense of self, a better awareness of our physical bodies.

Body gets this awareness through the visual inputs from our eyes, through the tension and stretch in our muscles and the fluid in our ear canals. Ears are extremely important for balance as the tilt in the fluid in the inner ear helps the body know how the head is positioned. This awareness also called proprioception is integrated in the yoga practice – various movements when coordinated with breath create awareness about our body and its position. This enhanced awareness becomes more permanent with continued practice and makes us more aware of how we are standing, sitting or moving in our regular daily life.

Proprioception is the body’s way of knowing where it is at any given moment without seeing it ~ Dr David Selvadurai

A few units of imbalance can create long term injuries, organ malfunction, disorientation and or even what is called as ‘Nara’ in ancient yogic books – a misalignment of physical and subtle bodies causing a person to continually bump into things because the mental calculations about distance are no longer right. Sounds familiar?

In ancient metaphoric parlance, if the posture is bad then our subtle bodies also fall out of alignment. If our physical body is not cored by our subtle bodies then we may find ourselves constantly disoriented mentally as well as physically. If our pranic body is out of alignment then we will suffer emotional disturbances, if our mental body is the culprit then there are more serious repercussions and so on. Nara is a common human condition but has a potential to aggravate. And I’m not too far out of line both scientifically and metaphysically in saying that by correcting our posture we correct our emotions.

Only when there is perfect alignment do the higher forces of consciousness flow unhindered ~ Swami Gitananda Giri

To assess your posture there are some simple tests that everyone can do at home with help from a partner like this one or you can contact your physiotherapist or doctor to do an assessment for you.

All articles in this series about Spine:
  1. What is Yoga? The Answer is in your spine
  2. Yoga and evolution of the Human Spine
  3. Physical Spine and the Nervous System
  4. Spiritual Spine and the Nadi System
  5. Yoga and influence of Gravity on the spine
  6. Yoga and influence of Symmetry on the spine

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