Matsyasana | Fish Pose
matsya = fish Matsyasana is often sequenced as a counter-pose after Shoulderstand.
Type of Pose: Back Bend
• A traditional text says that Matsyasana is the “destroyer of all diseases.”
• Stretches the deep hip flexors (psoas) and the muscles (intercostals) between the ribs
• Stretches and stimulates the muscles and organs of the belly and front of the neck/throat
• Strengthens the muscles of the upper back, shoulders and back of the neck
• Improves posture
• Improves respiratory conditions eg. asthma
• Stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid
• Nourishes the 4th chakra area of heart and lungs
• Therapeutic for constipation, mild backache, fatigue, anxiety and menstrual pain
• High or low blood pressure
• Serious lower-back or neck injury
Step by Step
1. Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent, feet on the floor. Inhale, lift your pelvis slightly off the floor, and slide your hands, palms down, below your buttocks. Then rest your buttocks on the backs of your hands (and don’t lift them off your hands as you perform this pose). Be sure to tuck your forearms and elbows just under the sides of the torso. Straighten the legs, aducting them toward each other.
2. Inhale and press your forearms and elbows firmly against the floor. Next press your scapulas into your back and, with an inhale, lift your upper torso and head away from the floor. Then arching the back, release the head back onto the floor. Depending on how high you arch your back and lift your chest, either the back of your head or its crown will rest on the floor. There should be a minimal amount of weight on your head to avoid crunching your neck. (For more about this, see the Beginners Tip below.) Keep the abdominals engaged.
3. You can keep your knees bent or straighten your legs out onto the floor. If you do the latter, keep your thighs active, and press out through the heels.
4. Stay for 15 to 30 seconds, breathing smoothly. With an inhalation lift the head off the ground and with an exhalation lower the body, releasing the elbows and lower the head to the floor. Draw the thighs up into the belly and squeeze.
• Beginners sometimes strain their neck in this pose. If you feel any discomfort in your neck or throat, either lower your chest slightly toward the floor, or put a thickly folded blanket under the back of your head.
• The back bending position in Matsyasana can be difficult for beginning students. Perform the pose with your back supported on a thickly rolled blanket. Be sure your head rests lightly on the floor and your throat is soft.
Deepen the Pose: To increase the challenge in this pose, slide your hands out from underneath your buttocks and bring them into Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) with arms outstretched and fingertips pointing toward the ceiling.
Teacher’s Tip: Press the bottom of a student’s feet so that they are flexed instead of pointed. Approach them from the front, straddling them and place both your hands behind their backs on their upper thoracic spine, and gently lift them upwards.
Variations: This pose is typically performed with the legs in Padmasana, a position that’s even beyond the capacity of many experienced students. The following is a challenging variation of the pose described above. Perform the pose with the legs straightened on the floor, as described in step 3. Then with an exhalation lift the legs off the floor to an angle of 45 degrees relative to the floor, without compromising the arch in the back. This will protect the lower back. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, pressing actively through the heels. Finally lower the legs to the floor with an exhalation, and lay the torso and head on the floor. The benefit of this variation is not how high you lift your legs but in experiencing the intense pull of the hip flexors on the accentuated lumbar arch.