Why do we move the left side first in Forrest Yoga? It could be connected to the special functions of the brain hemispheres.
A major difference between Forrest Yoga and all other styles is that in Forrest Yoga we activate the left side first. In poses and Sun Salutations, left leg comes before right, and this pattern is essentially a mirror image from the way that traditional Hatha Yoga systems prefer.
I’m currently reading The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Ian McGilchrist, an in-depth journey into the two sides of the brain covering current scientific research into the function and nature of the two hemispheres of the brain. The argument of the book is that the left side of the brain divides things into rational chunks and the right side sees the big picture:
“…there [are] two ways of being in the world, both of which [are] essential. One [is] to allow things to be present to us in all their embodied experience, and their interconnectedness, as part of a whole which is forever in flux. … The other was to step outside the flow of experience … to re-present the world in a form that is less truthful, but apparently clearer… From this world we feel detached, but in relation to it we are powerful.” (McGilchrist, Yale 2009, p93)
The book also argues that culturally, especially in science, we are predisposed to cutting things into chunks, itemising, tick-listing. But we are neglecting the right side of the brain’s disposition to see the whole, to rest in wholeness and unity.
The right side of the brain is connected to the left side of the body, and vice versa. Even the eyes are cross-wired to opposite hemispheres of the brain. Hence if we’re using left side of body, we’re also stimulating the right side of the brain.
So why do we use the left side of the body first in Forrest Yoga? The obvious response is that this alteration to the habitual status quo is redressing an imbalance. Typically the right side is dominant in our society – most of us already do a lot of things with our right hands. Additionally, the left side in Native American spirituality is associated with our spiritual side, the side of visions.
Having learned about the hemispheres of the brain, it’s easy to see why Forrest Yoga puts the left side first. We are activating the big picture vision first, before allowing the more rational side of the brain to be in control. The left side of the body (right brain), according to McGilchrist, is also the side of somatic awareness – subjects with a damaged right hemisphere experience loss of body consciousness or a breaking up of whole-body awareness into parts. So by doing Forrest Yoga, we are feeding and prioritising our mind-body connection by focusing on the left side first.