I was ambivalent about tackling ardha matsyendrasana, not only because it’s a pose I love to hate, but also because I think the main reason it is such a pose is because it’s not so accessible to me on account of my abdominal fat. And boobs. And it’s really, really hard to find modifications that offer the same stretch and opening while allowing room for my midsection.
Which sort of boils down to: There seem to be modifications for people with more or less spinal flexibility, modifications for people with tighter outer hips, modifications for people who are pregnant (and for whom strong spinal rotation is therefore contraindicated) — but no modifications for people who are fat.
For a long time, I was — legitimately, I think — grumbly about that. Now, thanks to a discovery a few months ago, I’ve found a version that works for me — for which I’m very much thankful. My only current complaint — which is maybe less of a big deal in the grand scheme of things — is that none of my current teachers are familiar with this option. So they keep trying to offer suggestions and “correct” my pose, even though this is the one that works best for me. (Did I mention I’ve switched yoga studios recently? The switch was for reasons unrelated to the ones here, but it does mean I’m now trying out new teachers once again.)
So. The sort of “standard option” for half spinal twist first:
[Amy Reed instructing for Expert Village. Video via YouTube.]
Both hips are adducting here, which means both sets of abductor muscles are lengthening. For me, I always feel it more strongly in the top leg, I assume because of the extra leverage of my arm.
My chief issue with this expression of the pose is that when my legs are crossed that much, it pinches something in the area of my pubic mound. (Not hair, not surface skin — something more internal than that.) And there are few things more awkward than telling a questioning teacher you had to come out of a pose due to pinching in the pubic area.
One common modification I’ve seen that would work for my pinching issue is this:
[Nora Forziati of Half Moon Yoga instructing for Expert Village. Video via YouTube.]
Which, there’s less risk of pinching because there’s less flesh getting crowded into that area. On the other hand, this option doesn’t really do it as an adductor stretch for me, presumably because my leg isn’t moving as far across my body (which, ironically, is what’s alleviating the pinching). Additionally, it’s much less of a spinal twist because there’s nowhere for my arm to get a good hold on my leg.
I’m a bigger fan of the open version of this twist, which is sometimes offered as a prenatal option:
[Gina Kennedy instructing for Expert Village. Video via YouTube.]
In terms of adductor stretching, this actually works better for me than does the previous version. I end up pressing my front arm into my inner knee and my knee back into my arm. And when I take this option in class, none of the new-to-me instructors say a thing. I wonder if they think I am pregnant.
Eh. Better things to worry about.
Like while this version is better as an adductor stretch, it is still not so great as a deeper spinal twist — and, you know, there are times when I specifically want that, especially later into a practice. So when I attended one of Meaghan’s classes at Santosha Yoga last summer, I was pretty well overjoyed to find this option offered:
[Me in a modification of ardha matsyendrasana with the bottom leg folded under but the top foot outside the bottom shin rather than outside the bottom thigh.]
(Apologies for the crappy video quality. I couldn’t find an already existing version of what I wanted, so I tried to quickly make one myself.)
I know it’s a really simple change, but for my hips, pelvis, and back, it’s translated into so much room to get into a deep twist.
But even when I take this pose now, I can’t help but think of all the times I’ve taken and been frustrated by those other poses. And those memories still carry — if you’ll forgive the pun — a lot of emotional weight.