Right Brain, Left Brain: Or, How My Shaky Yoga Skills Made Me Re-think My Writing

I was at yoga class last night, breathing deeply and stretching my sweaty body from one end of the universe to the other, when I realized something: I am entirely unable to balance on my right foot.

When I’m on my left side, my balance is rock solid – my Tree Pose isn’t just a tree. I’m a freaking redwood. And my Warrior 3 would have stopped Genghis Khan in his tracks. But on the right side, forget it. I wobble and sway. My breathing becomes ragged and panicked as I utter little yelps of oh-my-g0d-I’m-going-to-FALL. And then I do.

But, you know, it wasn’t always that way. When I was young, I kicked with my right leg in soccer, and led with my right leg in the 300-meter hurdle race, and used my right leg as my launch for the high jump. You’d think that my leg-preference wouldn’t change as I got older, but it did. And when it changed, my writing did too.

So, I was thinking about this as I walked home, and my mind wandered to one of my favorite poems of all time:

(Sonnet CXVI)

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

William Shakespeare

My dad read that poem at the grooms dinner right before I got married. I was twenty-five, pregnant, happy, and terribly, terribly in love. At the dinner, my dad’s point was that my marriage to Ted was one step beyond the idea of true minds, but was rather the union of two halves of one mind: Left brain (Ted) and right brain (Kelly). Ted, analysis; Kelly, language. Ted, logic; Kelly, intuition. And so forth.

The thing, is, I’ve never seen myself as much of a right-brained person. Firstly, I’m right-handed, which would lead one to believe that I’m left-dominated and not right. Secondly, while it’s true I’m a bit of a language freak, I’m not at all visually inclined. I don’t think in pictures, nor have I ever. Art, though I appreciate it and am moved by it, doesn’t have the same language for me that it has for my artistic friends. I know people who are utterly fluent in the language of images. I don’t even have a rudimentary vocabulary. And, even more: When I was a senior in high school taking Calculus, I became instantly aware that becoming more adept in that sort of interconnected and nuanced mathematics was making me a better writer: My papers were more precise, my arguments more delicate and reflective. The language of mathematics made the tools of written language more available to me.

So wouldn’t that make me left-brained?

And I thought about that as I made the final preparations for the wedding the next day. Ted, with his growing exploration of architecture and design, was becoming far more fluent than I in the language of images. Meanwhile, my writing was lodged in the norms and mores of graduate school pedantry. My paragraphs were numbered, my arguments laid out with bullet points. I spoke the language of institutional logic, and finished near the top of my class using writing as a tool to cut, slice, lay the matter bare. Perhaps my dad was wrong. Perhaps Ted was the right-brain.

And I probably would be thinking that same thing even now, if it weren’t for a major event ten years ago.

Ten years ago, I was in the passenger seat of a car. My sister was driving, my eight-month-old baby was in the back, as was my dog. And a large, white van smashed into us. I was the only one hurt in the accident (thank God!), but I was hurt. Right ankle broken, bruised jaw, the skin of half my face ripped right off (thanks, airbags!).  My right ankle has never been the same: It’s still swollen, the joint’s unstable, and it has about half the strength of my left ankle.

And starting then, I came to prefer my left leg over my right. It’s the leg I lead with when I start to walk; it’s the foot I kick with; it’s the foot I use while hoisting myself up a ladder. And you know what’s weird, once I started favoring the left, my writing changed. I began thinking in images. My use of language became more intuitive, impulsive and rhythmic. Metaphor made more sense to me than explanation. I embraced surrealism, fabulism, the fantastic. I became this writer. And, barring any more car accidents, I’ll likely stay this writer. I am right-brained. I go cross-eyed at forms, I can do the same equation fifty-seven times and get fifty-seven answers and cannot logic my way out of a baseball cap.

Which brings me back to the poem: The heart of that poem is alteration, that we are buffeted and tossed on a vast and undulating sea, and it is Love that guides us and sets us right again. But we are always in motion. We cannot not be in motion. I am not the same person that I was when I was twenty-five. I think differently, I speak differently, I reason differently. I think in paradox and speak in poetry. I care little for precision and instead embrace ambiguity and organic gesture. The one thing that has remained? My ever fixed mark? That would be Ted. Because he is magnificent and I am, after eleven years of wedded bliss (and a few more of non-wedded bliss),still terribly, terribly in love.

Right brain, left brain. All that matters is the heart.

16 thoughts on “Right Brain, Left Brain: Or, How My Shaky Yoga Skills Made Me Re-think My Writing

  1. Wow, beautifully woven essay (blog-style). I’m working on a book about how writing and movement work together. I was writing about it today in my own blog, which is what got me looking in other people’s yoga blog posts for ideas along the same lines. Thanks for your insights. Thanks for your skill in delivering them.

    • What a cool idea for a book! I know so many people who find so much resonance between yoga practice and writing. For me, it’s all types of physicality – yoga, running, walking, dancing, climbing, whatever. I’ve started so many writing projects while I’m running, it’s not even funny.

      Keep me posted on the book!

  2. If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of “My Stroke of Insight.” Insight is an understatement. Nevermind the left/right brain bits, it’s also (IMHO) medical evidence of samskaras, karma, and the like. Wicked entertaining to boot. And me? I’m an MBA number cruncher type, who started off an art major and definitely thinks in pictures. Go figure. (And I do a mean balance on both sides– despite a little bit of scoliosis.)

    Rock on with your bad self. Cheers—

  3. Beautiful – I love how you turned something as simple as (not) finding balance in a yoga class into a journey deep into your own poignant intuition as a writer.

    Incidentally, I can only balance on my left leg, too.

  4. Beautiful writing and reflections. I love the part where you speak of us always being in motion. It’s true. I am not the same person I was before I came here.

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