The “Strong Side” Myth

“I thought this was my strong leg, so why does it hurt? Why does it feel so weak?”

J, K, and S are three clients of mine. Each of them have a preferred leg to stand on. For J and K it is the right, and for S it is the left. We will call this their dominant leg. Their dominant legs are very good at being stood on, turned on, balanced on, jumped on, and these three have begun to label their dominant leg as being their “strong” leg.

But strong is not the correct word for this situation, and I will explain my thoughts on why.

One day, for J, K and S, something on their dominant side started to ache. For J it was her back. For K it was her SI joint, and for S it was her hip. From this experience, each got the idea that because things hurt, there must be something wrong with this leg. It must be weak! “But how is this possible? This is my STRONG side!”

But when we explore this more deeply, we discover that, in fact, neither of the three could shift their weight to the other leg. Neither of them even had a clear sense of where their non-dominant foot rested on the floor. It’s like the other foot wasn’t even there. Which is the “weak” leg? The one you can feel- the one in pain, or the one that gives you no problems, but that doesn’t exist in your mind map?

And then J, K, and S all explored an uncomplicated single leg weight-bearing position on their preferred leg- their “strong” leg, and it became nearly impossible to support themselves without bending, twisting, or contorting in some way or another.

So what is happening? Their preferred leg can go from being weak to strong in the blink of an eye. So which is it? What’s the truth?

It’s both.

You can be strong at your dominant pattern, strong at standing on a favourite leg, so strong that it is even getting you into trouble with your body. You are strong but at the same time you are weak. Weak in any other context other than the one you are stuck within. And even the context in which you are stuck is limited just by the fact that you are stuck in it. It is not your leg that is strong, but your favouritism. You were simply not aware.

A part of the process is to understand that “strong” and “weak” are not even the right words to describe what is happening. Stuck is a better word. Lacking variability. Lacking options. Patterned. These are better words than “weak” or “strong”.

Now meet H. For H, things were a little different. She had some trouble with her left knee, and so she for years considered her left leg to be the “weaker” side. But what we discovered was the same situation as J, K, and S: She could not shift her weight off of her “weak” leg. Her leg that gave her troubles, aches, and pains, was really her dominant side. She was simply not aware.

What if your pain was just a symptom of your “strength”?

Your strength brought to where you are now. Your inability to bring yourself to feel “weak” is what caused a system overload. Not that you are weak, but that you could not allow yourself to feel vulnerable.

Were it not for the judgments of “weak” or “strong”, “good” or “bad”, pain could be avoided. Weakness and strength are just two sides of the same coin. The right leg is not heads and left is not tails, but both legs are head/tails. We should avoid the desire to flip the coin and assign heads, tails, strong, or weak, but to help each leg feel as if they can both have the same experiences, the same quality in their feeling of movement, free from positive or negative judgements. This is the way suffering can be avoided. Each leg is a spinning coin, neither heads, not tails, until we stop the coin from spinning and make a call.

We don’t like to feel weak and vulnerable. We will avoid situations in which we feel weak unless we are aware of how we can grow from vulnerability. And this includes dropping our favouritism, dropping our labeling of good leg/bad leg, and to practice standing on our non-dominant leg.

More on the lateral biases in dance training: Lateral Bias in Dance Training 

More Information Won’t Change The Way We Dance

More Information Won’t Change The Way We Dance

The Dance Training Project blog has evolved over the years I’ve been writing it.

This blog started as a means to teach myself when I had no teachers.

I started working as a personal trainer the day I finished university. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had a mission, and I had clear values and standards for how I wanted to practice.

Writing became a necessary part of this phase of self-apprenticeship (I say self-apprenticeship because at the gym I initially began working at, there was no one with whom I shared the values and standards I one day hoped to be appreciated for).

In the book Mastery by Robert Greene, he states that there are three typical phases to an apprenticeship:

  1. Deep observation
  2. Practice
  3. Experimentation

These three phases will typically overlap which each other, but I foolishly attempted all three at the same time. Not having yet found my teachers, it was necessary to teach myself as I waited to find my tribe. And so this blog became a place to record my observations as I experimented and practiced.

Over the years, people actually started reading my blog. Now there are close to 6000 of you who like what you read enough to agree to let me send you an email when I write something new. That feels pretty cool. It’s humbling to think that there are people out there who care about what I have to say, and are interested in the same stuff I’m interested in. I really appreciate you guys.

However, having people regularly reading my work as changed the nature of my writing. I have to consider YOU (the reader) a little bit more. What do you want? Because it’s not just about my process anymore.

One day I received an email asking me if I could stop using the F-word because she wanted to share my blog posts with her younger students, and so I realized I would have to choose my words a little more deliberately (still the occasional F-bomb though… sorry!)

The role this blog played in my life began to shift from teaching myself and recording observations to spreading ideas, asking for change, and aiming to empower the dance world to take ownership of their physical needs. It changed from speaking to myself and asking myself questions, to speaking to an audience. I saw that I had gained some potential power to influence an industry, and that was a cool place to find myself.

But you know what they say about power and responsibility…

As a vehicle for spreading ideas, this blog is part of the mass of information available on the internet in the blink of an eye. Information that is frequently misinterpreted, and causing confusion and arguments.

Sharing and exploring ideas with people is something I value highly, but It doesn’t leave me feeling good to contribute to the overwhelming amount of information on the internet. It is just not good enough to be just a consumer of information expecting to have problems resolved, much a like expecting health problems to vanish by consuming a pill. Information is not a quick fix.

I love this blog, and I love what I stand for, and I love being able to share my passion through this medium, but I’m beginning to have an issue with words. As a writer, this is somewhat troubling.

I wonder quite often, how many of the people reading this blog genuinely try to apply the ideas, concepts, and exercises I write about? How many actually get creative and tinker with these ideas? How many actually embody the message before deciding whether or not they agree with it? Because not trying things out for yourself is what makes my writing part of the information problem.

Consider the following passage from Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now:

Don’t get stuck on the level of words. A word is no more than a means to an end. It’s an abstraction. Not unlike a sign-post, it points beyond itself. The word honey isn’t honey. You can study and talk about honey for as long as you like, but you won’t really know it until you taste it. After you have tasted it, the word becomes less important to you… If,for whatever reason, you disliked the word honey, that might prevent you from ever tasting it… You would be cutting yourself off from the possibility of experiencing your reality…. So if a word doesn’t work for you anymore, drop it and replace it with one that does work.

We don’t understand the world through words, we perceive it unconsciously through metaphors that we embodied from when we were small children. This is called embodied cognition. Before we had language we understood the world through our senses, internalized it, and developed language to represent it. In fact, all grammar has it’s roots in metaphor. Words do not represent the complete understanding that only our bodies can have.

So if you are trying to understand information at the level of the mind, this is incomplete understanding. Words distort the truth, and if we stop at the level of words, we deny ourselves the truth.

If you read my, or any other person’s blog, please don’t stop at the words. There are many self-proclaimed “gurus” who write well, are good at marketing their content, and collect followers who spread their word. There are also many smart people writing and sharing resources on the web that are worth following, but these genuine masters we should be looking up to for mentorship are rare in comparison.

You may read something, a book or a blog post, and disagree, but it might not be that they are wrong, just that the words used to describe their ideas are not ones that resonate with your current experiences- You just don’t have the same circuitry. It is 100% fair to not agree, but recognize that not everyone understands the world through the same nervous system lest we wage semantic wars (which never happens…).

All this to say, please, don’t believe the words I write in this blog until you try them out for yourself. And likewise, if something I write does not resonate, please, try it out in your body before you make your final decision.

When I say “strength training”, or “resistance training”, don’t reject that idea just because you don’t like that word.

When I say, “core training”, please set aside your typical association with these words and realize that they have become overused and meaningless. But, because I am not yet aware of other suitable verbiage to describe this aspect of training, I’ll probably keep using them for the time being (with said disclaimer)

When you read about injuries, injury prevention, syndromes and disorders, please do not become attached to those words, but realize that they are just a way to concisely wrap up a pattern into a neat package to facilitate communication (ironically making communication more difficult.). So when you read “scoliosis”, be curious with how things might change in your mind and your body if you use a different word less meaningful to you. If you’ve been saying, “I have scoliosis and my back pain stops me from dancing my best”, try, “My spine has unique curves that have developed to serve me, and I must learn how to work with them to dance my best”.

How could your world change if you tried out everything you read before deciding on it’s use for YOU? If you omitted words like syndrome, pain, and weak?

Words. Freakin’. Matter.

Please, keep reading this blog (pretty please!), but don’t stop at the words I write. My words may limit you if you limit yourself to only my words.

This is part of the reason why I created things like the 30 Day Challenge, and Dance Stronger, so that you can try the things I say out for yourself. Words are great, but they will never be enough.

Read wisely.