The two rowers rowing in ‘tandem‘, need to be well matched and synchronized to make this work. If one pulls too hard or the other not enough, the boat will go off course.
You have two of each limb, this many fingers, these toes, matching hips etc. which is why you buy two shoes, two gloves, two legged pants. But they don’t work exactly the same way. They may even look different on close inspection but you don’t notice. It’s like, how long have you had that mole? I don’t know. What mole!
We don’t notice the subtle differences one side to the other because they don’t matter until we are uncomfortable.
The intelligent way to practice yoga when you want to refine your impressions is to work unilaterally.
Divide the body down the spinal line to conquer habit and dullness. Bring your awareness to the skull as well, divided by the bridge of the nose. When you can expand your focus to hold more events at once, you will unite and conquer the same postures that can otherwise be your downfall.
For example, you can spread your collarbones and stop or you can see if one or the other can move again. The one that can move again would not have had the opportunity if you had left it at the first pass. Behind, the shoulder girdle and its muscles will become uneven in effort and tone as well. This will effect the spinal muscles which will effect the pelvis.
The tailbone is an interesting place to consider as well. You can’t see it but you know what a tail might look like at the end of your spine. If the buttock muscles are stronger on one side it will pull the tailbone off center. Try moving into chair pose from a standing posture and imagine two sides of the tail moving back and down in tandem. If you can imagine the pubic bone in front in the same way you might see that one side moves forward more quickly than the other. Maybe one inner thigh is tighter than another. Look at the foot on that side. Is the inner arch dropped more on that foot?
Observe the bones one side to the other. The tailbone was a tease if you haven’t practiced this way yet. Start with joints. Look by looking at your ankles and knees. Feel your hips with your hands. Use a mirror to see shoulders. Look at wrists and elbows.
Later you’ll begin to notice the angle of the head on its axis. You will understand that connection to your tail. In downward facing dog imagine each ear drawn in tandem to the floor as each side of the tail is drawn in tandem behind you.
You also might find a place where it all begins for you. You might liken this to the thread of a sweater with a pull. Trace the pull to the thread. That will determine how to work for the greatest good. It helps to have skilled eyes on you for this at first. One can become confused inside the initial darkness beneath the skin.
Thirty years later, I’m still absorbed in the practice of yoga because of these refinements. If you’re not in the mood to pay attention to me now, sock this away for another day. You’ll be glad you did because it’s a beautiful way to create peace of mind through your body.
In this last week of a troubling election season this lesson is also a reminder to look at both sides, at all parties involved deliberately and thoughtfully. Even two sides of the same coin are not the same. We must be discerning to maintain balance in a people as well as each person.