When I’m listening to a client tell their health history, I’ve instinctively begun to tilt my head to left, and rotate a little to the right. This allows me to focus on them with my left eye, and hear them with my left ear.
As someone who is right-side dominant, this gives me an important advantage as a practitioner: it allows me to more fully process their story with my right hemisphere.
The left hemisphere of the brain is a serial processor. It recognises events in the past, assigns meaning to them, and uses the bulk of past information—coupled with the feedback of the present—to generate predictions for the future. This recognition, and the predictions that follow, are coded verbally. Not all of them are expressed, but they all could be. It’s a powerful tool, but a neurologically expensive one.
The right hemisphere, by contrast, is a lateral processor; it takes continuous snapshots of the current environment, but assigns no meaning to them in the moment. The colours I can see, movement in my visual field, my feelings for my wife as she lies in bed reading: it’s a collage, a series of impressions without consequence. These impressions are mute. Language holds no dominion here.
When I point my left eye and ear at my client, I am putting my right hemisphere in the driver’s seat. They are telling me their story: the narrative that they have assigned to their pain, their injuries, their previous experiences of treatment. These stories are riddled with “whys” and “hows,” burdened with the weight of prejudice, propelled by the momentum of identity. It is extremely unreliable information, objectively speaking.
Processing that information with my left hemisphere would be to adopt their story: to accept their version of these events—and of themselves.
My right hemisphere hears the sounds they are making, but ignores the meaning of the words. It instead adds that sound to the other inputs of the moment: the shape of their mouth, the position of their shoulders, the rise and fall of tone, the shift of their weight, the pheromonal signals for fear, or trust, tensing, grabbing, dropping, twitching, blinking, breathing.
When they are done speaking, my right hemisphere will download all that data into my left and then it becomes my turn to tell a story—but this story will include all the amalgamated data from a decade working with people and their bodies. I’ll remember the hundreds of people whose tone of voice and body posture remind me of this person in front of me now. Their breathing will remind me of a time I felt my own breath draw in short and shallow, and how I felt, and how I recovered. I’ll watch them walk and remember a book I read once where the author described in perfect, evocative detail how the protagonist limped with fatigue.
My story will intentionally look past this person’s personal narrative. They believe themselves uniquely damaged, uniquely to blame, but this is not so; they are one of a thousand people I have seen struggling similarly. They are the furthest thing from unique—and thank god.
My left hemisphere will then prepare verbal communications that will let them know I’ve heard them, and validate their story. I will honour their sense of individuality, but I will not treat it. To do so would be a great disservice; I won’t reinforce a narrative that isolates someone in their discomfort.
Instead, they become a single datapoint, nestled into millions of other data points I have gathered as a practitioner of human movement. As we work, my left hemisphere adjusts their position along the spectra of sensorimotor learning, while my right continues its simple job of merely listening—and telling the left when it’s gone astray. From this place of synthesis, a solution for their problem unfolds effortlessly.