Why the right side first?
The answer to this question concerns the aspects of the liver and the spleen, Nadi: Ida (Candra) and Pingala (Surya), the right and the left nostril, so also cerebral hemispheres, and both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. In yoga, it is a great science Sivasvarodaya, a science of Prana, Nadi, and Pranayama.
Krishnamacharya paid attention to starting yoga practice with the right side and put the right leg first in Asanas. This way, we activate the liver, and thanks to it, it starts to purify itself. The dominance of the right side activates a sun aspect of our body; as a result, we generate warmth, and sweat and detoxication occur. The liver stores blood, so when we start from the right side as the first one, we let fresh blood flow into the liver, rinsing it like a waterfall.
The liver stores toxins and blood. It weighs about 1500-1700 grams plus an extra weight of 500-800 milliliters of blood that is stored in the liver. The spleen produces lymph and bodily liquids. It weighs 150 grams on its own plus 50 milliliters of blood. So, the liver is much heavier than the spleen. That is why it is much more challenging to lift a right hip or a right leg and rotate the right side of the body). The right leg is usually much heavier and stiffer. That is also why most people find it easier to take a lotus posture with a left leg laced first or hold the left leg in vinyasa as an external (it is outer because it is easier to keep this lever).
In yoga, we distinguish two key Nadis:
– Ida (Candra Nadi) is the Nadi going through the left nostril and the right hemisphere. It is a Moon Nadi related to our intuition and feminine qualities. This Nadi tones the nervous system, cools the body, and quietens the mind. It aims at hydrating and completing bodily fluids (when it is active, we should drink). It prepares us to sleep. This Nadi is connected to the spleen.
– Pingala, the second Nadi (Surya Nadi), is the right nostril and the left hemisphere. It is a Sun Nadi that reflects our mind and intellect and represents male qualities. This Nadi activates digestion and assimilability, so we should eat meals when it is active. It stimulates the nervous system to do actions and sports activities and warms our body. This Nadi is connected to the liver.
During the day, approximately every hour (2 ghatas), the activity of the nostrils changes. The air goes mainly through one nostril – left or right – then changes and flows through the other.
When we want to fall asleep or calm our nervous system, we activate the left nostril by lying on the right side. When we want to activate digestion, clear the mind, or warm the body, we lay on the left side to activate the right nostril.
After practice, we turn right from Shavasana to get up. We gradually and a bit lazily activate the nervous and digestive systems. The heart and the liver slowly return to activity without a sharp hit of warmth (hot blood and high pressure) and, as a result, with no irritation or anger. It is no coincidence there is a saying in Polish, ‘to get up with your left leg (first)’ (it has the same meaning as ‘to get up on the wrong side of the bed’ in English).
However, there is one exception to this rule, which is pregnancy. Before getting up from lying, a pregnant woman should turn and lay left first. The reason is that an umbilical cord (including two arteries and one vein) is located on the right, and the weight of a baby should not pinch it while they are getting up. Very often, women intuitively, after the first months of pregnancy, begin to lie down and sleep mainly on the left side of the body.
Coming back to Ashtanga practice:
When asked by students, K. Pattabhi Jois often quoted Yoga Shastra ‘The right leg first, and the left on top cleanses the liver and the spleen. The left leg first and the right on top do not bring this effect.‘
Guruji also said that the lotus done this correct way stimulates insulin secretion.
Some modern teachers suggest doing the lotus (Padmasana) on both sides to balance the body. However, we improve body symmetry mainly through standing Asanas. Ashtanga practice works on the body’s symmetry and simultaneously considers the asymmetry of internal organs. These two different planes go beyond the mere logic the mind seeks, and it is the knowledge of many generations of practitioners, not just a theory arising from individual experiences.
About 75% of the Shastras (Sacred Texts) mention Padmasana only on the right side and Siddhasana only on the left side. The other 25% may simply be a mistake of scribes (often not yogis) who don’t understand the importance of one leg position over another.
Poses that strongly impact the abdomen and chest, such as Padmasana, Supta Kurmasana, Dvi Pada Shirshasana, and Pasasana, are not intended to make the body symmetrical but to take into account the asymmetry of the abdominal and thoracic organs. When weaving the lotus, we should therefore consider that the liver is on the right side of the abdominal cavity and the spleen is on the left side, so the right leg is placed in the pose first, and the left leg goes on top.
However, it is worth remembering that in Asanas that develop the chest, with the legs lying behind the head, such as Supta Kurmasana, Dvi Pada Shirshasana, Yoga Nidrasana, due to the heart being on the left side of the chest, we place the left leg first.
Padmasana is an Asana mainly used for Pranayama. We use Siddhasana for Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation) practices. We practice Siddhasana starting from the left side, with the left heel stimulating Mula Bandha. It may be that combination of these two positions (Padmasana on the right, Siddhasana on the left) that creates balance. I mean long hours of practice here, not just doing thirty breaths at the end of each Ashtanga sequence.
However, if there is a sizeable pelvic tilt or a locked and misplaced femur in the acetabulum and, as a result, it is not possible to perform the Asana with the legs behind the head, then switching the leg in Padmasana while sitting for a long time will give the result of balance. We can also work on that during workshop activities and verify unbalanced pages.
Krishamacarya talked about not being too dogmatic. It is important to treat Ashtanga as a practice of individual development that leads to full health. We must remember that what is good for one person at a given time may not be suitable for another. The therapeutic effect of yoga is achieved by looking at each person separately and by looking at the same person each time without previous prejudices or expectations that come from former experiences.