Why do we always start yoga poses on the right side?

5 min read

Recently, a friend asked me over a glass of wine: “why the heck do we always seem to start yoga poses on the right side? I prefer the left!” I remember asking this same question to my “guru” in India when I first got into yoga, so I was able to answer with the basics.

He had asked it in a rather casual manner, but his eyes suddenly lit up. He hadn’t expected a response. My initial reaction is complex. It addresses the perspectives of energy, tradition, history, and science. However, my conclusion is straightforward.

The Flow of Prana in Yoga

The next night, I told him that in yoga, we conceptualize vital energy (prana) as flowing through the body but concentrated along its spine. I showed him the image we are all familiar with — the symbol for medicine, or the caduceus — which is two snakes wrapped tightly around a pole.

This symbol was rooted in many traditions, including yoga. The two snakes are the masculine and feminine energies (called pingala and ida). The energies are balanced around the central channel, called the Sushumna.

Hatha Yoga, the most popular type of yoga in the world from which all others stem, is a balance between masculine and female energy. “Ha” is masculine energy or sun, and “the” is feminine energy or moon.

The Masculine-Feminine Balance

These ideas were not unique to ancient Indians. Chinese called it “yin and Yang.”” I’ll explain the basics:

Did you notice the final word in each column? The question is: Why do we start our Asana practice by using masculine energy? Is it sexist? The answer is probably simple: It is tradition.

The concept of starting with the right does not mean that masculine energy is “better”; it implies that both parts work together and are equally beneficial. The balance of the two is essential to our prana or life force.

It is interesting to me that I teach Tai Chi, and I have noticed how many sequences begin with the left, which represents the feminine or yin energy. Why? Maybe because Tai Chi is more of a defensive, peaceful martial art than an offensive one? We could speculate endlessly, but in this case, I believe it’s likely just tradition.

My friend was satisfied with my answer. I was sure there were more, so I said I would find out and get back to my friend (and this article was born). The tradition of the ‘right side’ being the first and most holy is a long-standing one.

Tradition of ‘Right Side First’

In India, traditionally, gifts are always given with the right hand. To increase your luck, step into new buildings with the right leg first.

My mother told me that when she was a college student in India or Sri Lanka, it was tradition to greet people eat, with the right hand and use the left in the bathroom. These practices were also safer since sanitation wasn’t always the best.

Perhaps this practicality is what has sparked this tradition. Was the reason why we started our yoga poses with the right side due to sanitation concerns in medieval times?

After exploring the energetic, traditional, and historical reasonings, it was time to explore a possible scientific perspective. As a hobby, I study anatomy and physiology. Naturally, I’ve tried to prove the benefits of starting on the right.

A Scientific Perspective on the Possible Explanation

The vital organs are arranged clockwise in the body, so we might start by twisting to the right. By turning right, we can help move the colon from the transverse colon to the descending colon and ultimately out.

We may turn over to our right side and lie down after Corpse Pose because our heart is located on the left. Gravity can help to distribute blood more evenly throughout the body when lying on your right side.

When we move our right-side limbs, the left side activates and accesses the thinking mind. We may need to start with this logical perspective because that’s how we process our thoughts in our daily lives before we can explore the right brain. The right brain is more conducive to creativity, spirituality, and meditation.

While these things are true (and fascinating), their effects are probably minimal.

In an attempt to solve this mystery in a hurry, I sent a message to every master yoga teacher and expert that I knew. (And I know a great deal). It was almost comical. The majority said they started with the left so that they could remember what they had done or taught.

I sent a message on Facebook to my “guru,” who lives in India. He told me exactly what I had written above (he must’ve taught me well). Most people I spoke to had not given it much consideration.

This is my simple and final conclusion

Traditions and rituals are fascinating to me, and I find them fulfilling. Perhaps our culture does not value them enough. Whether you choose to begin with the right or left side, make sure that you do so mindfully and deliberately.

It’s important to remember which side you started with, especially if you are a teacher. So you can practice both sides and feel more balanced after your practice.

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