Robert Schleip has an interesting discussion at his website, The Dominant Leg, summarizing an article by Simone Kosog in the science section of the ‘Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin’ (1999) on the fact that we tend to walk in circles to the left, when bereft of external cues to orient us to a straight line.
From our experience with our hands/arms, we create a certain idea for ourselves of what it is to be right-handed, to have a certain dominant hand, to be “stronger” on one side. And if I’m right-handed, am I right-legged too?
But is one side stronger, faster, better–or do they specialize, and typically play different roles, each doing some things more skillfully than the other?
One night, during my Feldenkrais training, with some irritation in one shoulder, I decided to wash dishes “the other way”–to use my left hand to wipe the dishes. To my surprise, far less challenging that using my “weak” arm to wipe was using my “strong” arm to stabilize the dish being wiped. It became evident quite quickly that one side was not so much weaker than the other as it was accustomed to, and skilled in, doing certain activities.
The same is true for our “leggedness”. If you want to know which leg is stronger, ask what for first. To hold your weight? For most people, the left leg. To kick a ball? For most people the right leg. Yes, this will have expression in muscular development among other things down the line.
Moshe’s instruments for teaching included a long thin stick, about the height of a human being. If someone lies on the table and you hold such a stick over him or her, parallel to and above the centre-line of his/her face, you will probably find that the continuation of the centre-line of the face comes closer to one foot than the other: it orients over one leg. Usually the left leg. Usually, then, the left foot is more pointed to the ceiling than the right foot; the latter has its toes turned out more to the side.
The drawing here is obviously very rough, and it exaggerates the phenomenon I’m pointing to! [[I just redid the diagram in 2011: improved the spine, and the tilt of the head. And I did it opposite to what I’m describing–because my own organization produces a more fluid tilted circle and the rest if I’m drawing the stick figured organized in a mirror way to that in which I am organized.]]
If you ascertain which leg this person would find it easier to balance on–the answer is likely to be “the left.”
The right knee might be slightly bent as well, slightly turned to the outside and/or lifted minutely more away from the floor than the left.
Schleip summarizes Kosog’s explanation to say that the right leg is stronger, and therefore we take larger steps with it. And all that hard work of the hard-working strong right leg wears it down, making it shorter.
This is actually a very funny view of walking! Wouldn’t I in fact push off more strongly with my stronger leg–and so take longer steps when the weaker leg swings forwards? Moshe, quoting Mabel Todd quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes, says “legs are spokes” in walking…you don’t reach forward with your leg when you bend it, grab the ground, and pull yourself forward; you swing it to come under yourself just as you pass over it and come onto its support under you. How far you move ahead to pass over it depends more on the leg pushing off from behind–how far that takes your whole body forward; your leg going forward only needs to manage to get far enough forward to be in the right place to receive the weight of your body.
So if the question is “stronger at doing what?”–then the usual pattern is that the right leg is stronger in bending (flexion) and more agile in manipulations in flexion, and the left leg is stronger in stabilizing and pushing off (extension). The right leg carries this preference for flexing into rest–hence it typically lies shorter when I lie on the ground. And you can see that with that configuration, you may well rather stand on your left leg (stronger at standing) and kick with your right leg (stronger at kicking). But not because you’re “right-legged.”
But is it really fundamentally about strength? According to what I just said, I should walk in circles to the right, not the left, without those external cues to help me correct the line, because my left leg will push me off more strongly.
The next level of explanation is to consider the extent to which we, in action, are orchestrating a symphony of inertial forces. Looked at from a certain perspective, we don’t so much act as manage our tendency to fall in this or that direction in the course of carrying out our intentions.
Walking exploits the capacity of ourselves in gravity to act as a spiral pendulum. Take this figure lying on the table with the plumb-line through the centre of his or her face and continuing closer to one foot than the other. Now see this image as vertical, and see the green line as the pivot around which the spiral pendulum turns. Remember that this pendulum involves not just the legs swinging in the hip joints–that’s just the last finesse of walking–but the whole spiralling movement of the spine from the base of the skull down. The left leg swings a very small amount (taking small steps); the right leg swings a lot (taking large steps). The tendency, then, is to drift to the left.
Other explanations or considerations?
Thanks to Eva Laser, Russ Hall, Michael Krugman and Paul Rubin for our lengthy “legs as spokes” discussion on Feldyforum in 2003!