Hope for Clumsy Clods

Right handed or left? Worldwide, about 90 per cent of the people prefer to use their right hand for doing things. Not surprisingly, life in all cultures is geared to the right-handed individual. Implements like nuts and bolts are difficult to handle for the left-handed. Incidentally, “right” also means “correct”. The word “left” is derived from the Anglo-Saxonlyft” which means “weak” or “useless”.
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Our brains are wired for handedness. During the process of evolution, the centre for language moved to the left hemisphere in the majority of the people. The human brain functions such that the left and dominant hemisphere controls the right side of the body, making the majority (80 per cent) totally right-handed. The dominance does not extend to the use of the hand alone — such people are also are “right sided”. Their dominant eye, ear and leg are on the same side of the body.

Problems arise in 20 per cent of the population that doesn’t have a dominant hemisphere to determine laterality or handedness. Their brains are “cross wired”, giving them mixed handedness or laterality, cross dominance, mixed dominance or cross laterality. In short, the right hand may be matched with the left foot or the left hand with the right eye. This leads to confused, crossed signals in the brain when complex tasks are performed. The electrical and chemical signals have to criss-cross the midline before they eventually reach their final destination in the designated area of the brain. Therefore, such individuals are accident prone, and have things around them explode, collapse, catch fire or fall apart. Day-to-day objects are misplaced, and navigation from one place to another (with left to right confusion) — even along familiar roads — becomes a nightmare.

These adults evolved from clumsy children, who kept bumping into things and frequently fell down. Their bodies have scars and evidence of healed fractures. Their school projects get “excellent” for imagination and “zero” for execution. Life is difficult for people with mixed laterality. Career choices are affected, with professions like driving or piloting a plane remaining distant dreams.

People with mixed laterality alternate hands when writing and legs when kicking. They hold the telephone to the ear opposite to their writing hand. They subconsciously use one hand first and then the other to perform complex tasks. Earlier, such people were considered ambidextrous, but true ambidexterity is almost unknown.

The uncertainty also extends to the mental image of their own limbs or body surface. This causes an inability to rapidly execute commands to turn right or left. The march past becomes a formidable hurdle, with everyone doing a “right turn”, while the affected individual wanders off in the wrong direction. Hesitation is evident if they are asked to perform complicated tasks with alternating hands initiating the movement. Slowed reactions preclude split second decisions, causing frequent accidents. Also, people with mixed laterality do not perform well in track and field events. Their feet do not alternate quickly enough. Running is slow and uncoordinated. The good news, however, is that they excel in games involving a bat (such as hockey, cricket, tennis, badminton and table tennis). This is because the bat is held across the body on the dominant side.

Mixed laterality also has its advantages. The criss-crossing of brain signals uses and strengthens many normally unused brain synapses and pathways. Hence such people are exceptionally talented, creative and artistic. If portraits or photographs of some famous artists — such as Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt — are scrutinised, you will see that they may paint with one hand, while tilting the head to the other side and crossing the opposite leg. This demonstrates mixed laterality.

To check your laterality, figure out —

* Which hand you use to write, pick up objects or dial the telephone

* Which leg you use to kick or which is uppermost when your legs are crossed (this remains constant all through life)

* If you cannot hear clearly, to which side you tilt your head

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* The side of your jaw you use to chew (this is also constant unless there is a dental problem)

If you have mixed laterality, it is possible to overcome the “defects” and strengthen both sides equally, in a way that it “compensates” for mixed laterality. These exercises, that require 10 repetitions, may be of help


• While walking, clench and unclench your hands, alternating them with the foot you use to step forward (right hand and left foot)

• Standing on one leg at a time

• Close one eye first and then the other

• Close one ear at a time

• Doing yogic breathing through one nostril at a time.

If a child is “left” handed, that may be the “right” laterality for him or her. Punishment, ridicule or forceful correction messes up the brain connections. Desist from interference, or you might just have sabotaged the emergence of the next Einstein.


The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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