We're all somewhat familiar of the tale of the philanthropic Dr Jekyll and his chemically-induced transformation into the sinister murderer Mr Hyde. The same person compartmentalised into two distinct personalities - one good, one evil. How can one person have two such distinct sides?

While nowhere near as dramatic, we can sometimes find our ability to use our body somewhat split. Many people who are in good touch with themselves through some sort of physical pastime or sport will feel that one side obeys their intentions where as one side seems to have a mind of its own. How is this so and how can we become less Jekyll and Hyde?

It is first worth pointing out that we are not symmetrical beings structurally. There are minor asymmetries with most people externally and internally this becomes much more the case. Think about the layout and distribution of our organs. Our heart is off-centre, our lungs are different sizes to accommodate for this, we have one stomach and kidney that are both off-centre and our intestines lay in a space-efficient, asymmetrical trail. I haven't done the dissection and weighing myself but I have read that our torso weighs differently each side and it is our kinesthetic sense that makes us feel even rather than the matter itself.

Most of us grow up into a culture that encourages unilateral development of the hands and arms too. This creates functional asymmetry. Learning to write and brush your teeth and throw and etc, etc etc with one side will over time create changes in the brain and body that lead to our split-body feelings. 

This widespread culture is so deeply engrained that handedness and footedness are thought of as inherent qualities. I remember a conversation I had with a friend of mine from an elite sporting background at the start of the year where we talked about the necessity of focusing learning skills on one side for professional athletes. I pointed out many counterexamples to this - Arsenal's two-footed midfield maestro Santo Cazorla and the legendary ambidextrous, eccentric snooker champion Ronnie O'Sullivan are amongst those competing at the very highest level with no observable functional differences between left and right.

I think that these examples point towards one of the ways that we can feel more even through our sides - practise. I remember as a teenager injuring my left hip and being unable to play football as I couldn't run or kick with my favoured left foot. My uncle, who was trialling as a pro footballer, moved to England shortly after my injury. I had the option to sit in while my dad, uncle and brother went to play daily or find a way to play without running and without kicking left-footed. My right foot had only been previously used for standing. Within a few months, I had turned my 'blank canvas' of a right foot into a masterpiece that was as good as my left at the skills that didn't incorporate running. I will talk more about this learning process in another post. Through limiting the use of one side, you will accelerate learning on the other side and this will even out the differences. With already knowing how to do something well with one side, learning with the second is much quicker than your original learning.

In addition to practise, freeing yourself from the physical habits that have came from a lifetime of unilateral usage will aid the integration of your physical Jekyll and Hyde. Muscular imbalances and skeletal organisational asymmetries - a shoulder height difference, a habitual twist of the spine, etc - can be undone by making the brain aware of how it is doing these things and providing it with new sensory information that allows you to select a new, easier way to align and use yourself meaning that both sides obey you more easily.

We needn't be a Jekyll and Hyde. Civilize your body.


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Does part of your body have a mind of its own?

Does part of your body have a mind of its own?