After an operation in 1974 put my right shoulder out of commission for a couple of months, I realized how little dexterity I had in my left hand relative to my right. What’s that all about, I thought. Who made that dominant hand rule that we live our lives by anyway? What’s so great about only developing half my body.
That’s when I began my lifelong quest for ambidexterity and I now consider it to be an essential aspect of my fitness lifestyle.
For the last four decades I have experimented with switching hands (and feet) for a wide variety of daily activities. In the bathroom I learned to hold a razor and shave with my left hand as well as my right and recently I started using my left hand to hold the toothbrush. I also noticed that in the shower, I would always stand on my right leg and wash my left leg first. Now I stand on the right first.
In the dining room I am equally comfortable eating European-style (fork in the left hand, knife in the right) and periodically, for a change of pace, I put my water glass or tea cup on the left side of my plate.
Any time I switch to using my non-dominant side I am exercising not only my muscles, but also my brain. I am building new sensory/motor pathways that build upon each other making any subsequent change a bit easier.
While these experiments may slow me down a bit initially, they can turn each moment into an “sensational” adventure. When I use my left hand I no longer brush my teeth automatically and unconsciously. Because I am learning a new motor skill, I am forced to pay close attention and really feel the bristles as they cover each surface of each tooth.
That level of attention can shift me easily into a timeless place where the two minutes that I used to begrudge to this task become a gift of intimacy with my body. Yeah, I know I’m weird. But so are dancers, musicians, and athletes, all of whom seem to find “the zone” more easily I qould guess because of their bilateral efforts.
There are literally dozens of opportunities every day to nurture ambidexterity throughout all parts of your body that take no time and little effort. For me this relatively modest effort at ambidexterity has had a big payoff personally and professional.
When I do massage it is clearly an advantage that both sides of my body are nearly equally adept at techniques and both hands are equally sensitive. Likewise, since much of my day is spent working at the computer keyboard, being able to alternate “mouse-ing” hands has been crucial to alleviating and preventing repetitive strain injuries.
On the more mundane level, I am better prepared for those awkward occasions when only a left hand will do, like tight spaces with a screwdriver or a wrench.
Give bilateralism a try!