Asymmetry: A Lesson in Acceptance

I’ve been playing with this theme of “asymmetry” and it has come up a lot in both my movement and mindfulness practices.

To be asymmetrical means to lack the equality or equivalence between parts or aspects of something; put simply it is a lack of symmetry.

As humans, we are constantly trying to be the opposite: symmetrical (a sense of harmonious and beautiful proportion and balance).

We try to achieve perfection on both sides and find “balance”. In biology this is called “homeostasis” a term that describes finding symmetry or balance in your body. We are driving for this perfect balance in all aspects of our life.

It is also a prevalent theme in art and mathematics.

Beauty is often connected to this symmetry and balance, and for this reason it is something people all strive for.

From a movement perspective, an “ideal” person would be entirely symmetrical in their strength, flexibility, movement, etc. It’s what people often strive for in the gym.

But I have come to the conclusion that regardless of how much we fight for this balance, it honestly is unattainable in its complete form.

We are humans. Therefore, we are imperfect. We have flaws. Flaws that are asymmetrical. And what I have come to realize that this is okay. This is normal. True beauty is in acceptance of this fact.

Humans have two arms, and two legs. This is symmetry. But we each have one arm and one leg that is stronger than the other, that is more fluid than the other. Or some of us have only one arm or one leg. All of this is asymmetry, and it is natural.

It can be thought of as a weakness, or in the right frame of mind, a strength.

Asymmetry is even present in the brain. Brain asymmetry comprises of:

  1. Neuroanatomical asymmetry, which is pretty much what it says: differences in anatomy (structural differences) of the brain from left to right and front to back.
  2. Lateralization of brain function, meaning that the functional brain is divided into asymmetrical left and right hemispheres. The left hemisphere is associated with analytical thought, math/science, detail-oriented, and planning, while the right hemisphere is associated with emotional thought, creativity, and writing/art. Brain function can also be asymmetrical dependent on sex-differences, i.e. male versus female brain hemisphere function (an over-simplification of this is the idea that the female brain is the right hemisphere and the male brain is the left hemisphere). Asymmetry of brain functionality is also dependent on development of the brain from in utero, into childhood, continuing on through adulthood, depending on multiple factors both biological (genes and hormones) and environmental.

Even with this prominent example of brain asymmetry being a part of what makes us human, as a society, we still emphasize symmetry as perfection. In our society, acceptance of asymmetry takes courage. It takes both work and progress. For me it is definitely a struggle.

As I have developed my yoga and mindfulness practice, I have come to the acceptance of an imbalance in myself: an asymmetry in both my physical and mental body that intertwines together. I cannot separate one from the other.

Through my own practice, I have learned that in yoga, there is a meridian splitting across the body, separating the left and the right side. For some people, including myself, this is a huge line separating two very different sides of the body, an asymmetry.

Asymmetry is frustrating at times. We strive for balance in our body, and not being able to achieve balance is often difficult for people to accept.

Each person has their own unique “asymmetry”. What I have come to learn is acceptance of this asymmetry as part of who we are that makes us unique and that can be strengthened for improvement of both our mind and body. Awareness of this asymmetry is the first step to strength and restoring balance. And can lead to strength within ourselves for future growth.

The past few years, I have suffered from chronic pain that affects the left side of my body. It took years for me to become fully aware of this asymmetry and accept it, literally years. And I am still in the process of acceptance everyday.

I have come to conclude is that this asymmetry is who I am. The traumas and injuries I have suffered (both physical and mental) have created this asymmetry. But it is also how I was born: my genetics and development. My personality also draws a line between my body, creating an asymmetrical line separating my two sides. I could deny this fact, fighting with my body day in and day out to try to achieve symmetry, or I can accept it. Using my asymmetry to my advantage, understanding that I do not need to be perfect to live and be well. My left side may be “weaker” and cause pain, but it also has its own strengths. In this acceptance, it is not a weakness, but a strength.

By becoming aware and accepting my asymmetry, I am more in tune with myself. I hone in on emotions that arise when I stimulate my “emotional” left side. When I become aware of these emotions, I am able to become one with them, deal with them, and process them. Before my awareness of my asymmetry, I would ignore my left side and not stimulate it, nor move past my edge to see what came about in both my physical body and mind. I feel that this only harnessed more emotions, physical pain, and trauma on this side.

There are times where I find myself drawing back from my edge on the left side because it overwhelms me (emotions rushing in out of nowhere), but other times I rush right in to see what I can uncover and deal with. My awareness with this asymmetry has also taught me to harness my strengths, to notice my right “strong” side, and to find myself using that side as my rock. This awareness taught me that left or right, each side has its purpose (and boundaries). However, my right side gets me in trouble. It is the side that I am strong (fiery), confident, and analytical. And if I focus and emphasize this side, it takes over too much, overshadowing my left side (which is deeply important as well). By recognizing both sides, for better or for worse, I have learned immensely about myself both physically and mentally. I have learned to accept myself in this beautiful asymmetry and to accept myself for who I am, both sides included.

None of us will ever be “perfect”, and that is okay, we are okay as asymmetrical beings. This asymmetry can teach us a lot about ourselves and can teach others that it is okay to be “imbalanced”.
Imbalance is human.

About the Author

Sarah Ferrante, Ph.D.

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