At a recent lesson with my teacher I was reminded of some important lessons regarding asymmetric postures. I was practicing two versions of triangle pose – Pārśva and Parivŗtti Trikoņāsana. In my daily practice I was very aware that one side felt much easier and more natural while the other felt stiff and resistant. I had been trying to get the stiff side to feel more like the flexible side but couldn’t figure out where in my technique I needed to put the effort.
Of course most of us have one side stiff and the other more flexible. However the important point here is that the stiff side is tends to also be the stronger side, the flexible side weaker. So while the intuitive thing to do is to try to stretch out the stiff side what I actually needed to be doing was stabilising and strengthening the flexible side! With a more stable base on the weaker side the technical pointers I needed were the same for both sides.
This is overlooked in a lot of modern Yoga – we need to prioritise strength and stability over flexibility. It was a useful reminder of a story Paul told very early on in my training: his teacher TKV Desikacher was trained as an engineer before following in his Father’s tradition of teaching Yoga. He taught that energy put into stretching a stiff area will always escape through the weaker side. So instead of focussing on stretching the stiff side we must work to stiffen the flexible side. Then once the two sides are balanced we can increase flexibility of both together. The body is not intelligent! It will take the easiest route. Conscious effort is required to move out of our usual patterns.
(Figure from ‘An Illustrated Guide to Asanas and Pranayama’ by MJN Smith)