Whenever I get asked this question, I am reluctant to give a direct answer. I like to spend time with students to find out why they have these questions. They often reveal that the student is caught up in comparisons and judgments, perhaps focusing on the look of the pose rather than on a deeper understanding of yoga practice.
When teaching poses such as Ardha Matsyendrasana, it is important right from the get-go to shift the intention from wrapping the arms or from holding the foot to extending the spine and twisting correctly. This approach helps students disassociate with external goals of the posture and promotes a deeper understanding of the pose.
That said, the length of the arm bones can play a significant role in how hard it may be to wrap the arms around the leg. Students with shorter bone length may have to work harder to wrap. But they may learn a deeper appreciation and understanding of the pose in the process. Those with longer limbs can rely easily on their natural abilities and avoid working deeply in the twist.
Teaching good yogic “vitamins” and sharing good learning tools is our job as yoga teachers. I cannot overstress the importance of teaching yoga rather than asana. We need to help our students see past the poses and into their own journeys of self-discovery.
Therefore this is the perfect opportunity to reinforce and discuss the real importance of why we do yoga. Asanas are simply tools for us to learn about ourselves. When students are caught up in comparing themselves to others, it is necessary to help them see that letting go of that is, in and of itself, their yoga. Until students understand this, they will continue to judge and suffer.
Maty Ezraty has been teaching and practicing yoga since 1985, and she founded the Yoga Works schools in Santa Monica, California. Since the sale of the school in 2003, she has lived in Hawaii with her husband, Chuck Miller. Both senior Ashtanga teachers, they lead workshops, teacher trainings, and retreats worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.chuckandmaty.com.