Fish pose, also known as Matsyasana, will build strength in the back of your neck and your upper back while stretching your glutes, the front of your neck, your deep hip flexors and your rib muscles.
Ancient texts claim that the performance of this yoga pose can help in destroying diseases naturally. Modern research shows that regular exposure can help improve the posture. Experts also claim that this pose can provide relief for constipation, menstrual-related pain, back pain, exhaustion, anxiety and respiratory conditions.
Meaning + Philosophy
The Matsyasana is derived from the Sanskrit name which is made up of two words — Matsya + asana:
- “Matsya” = “fish”
- “asana” = “pose or posture”
Matsyasana was first described in the ancient yoga treatise Gheranda Samhita in the 17th century, which explains its medieval appearance.
In addition, Swami Satyanand Saraswati and BKS Iyengar also explain this asana in their yoga sequence. This pose is ranked 5th out of the 12 basic postures in Hatha yoga.
It is said that when you do this yoga pose in water, the Matsyasana makes you swim like a fish. That’s why we call it Fish Pose.
This yoga asana is dedicated to Matsya, the fish avatar of Lord Vishnu, who is the source and maintainer of the universe and all things. It’s related that once the whole earth was corrupt and was about to be overwhelmed by a universal flood. Lord Vishnu took the form of a fish and warned Manu (Hindu Adam) of impending calamity. The fish then carried Manu, his family and the seven great sages in a vessel, tied a horn to his head. It also saved the Vedas from floods.
|Know as:||Matsyasana, Fish Pose|
|Pose type:||Backbend, Chest opener|
|Total time:||15 to 30 seconds|
|Chakra:||Sahasrara Chakra, Ajna Chakra, Vishuddha Chakra|
|Focus:||Neck, shoulder, back, abs|
|Indications:||Respiratory conditions, menstrual pain, constipation, exhaustion, anxiety, backaches|
|Counterposes:||Seated Forward Bend Pose|
|Preparatory poses:||Butterfly Pose, Cobra Pose, Bow Pose, Grasshopper Pose, Shoulder supported bridge pose, Reclined hero pose, Upward Facing Dog Pose, Hero Pose|
|Follow-up poses:||Cow Face Pose, Bridge pose, Reclining hero pose, Camel Pose, Hero Pose|
|Contraindications:||Major neck injury or lower back injury, high blood pressure or low blood pressure, migraine, restlessness|
Benefits of Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
Regular practice of this asana increases the flexibility of the whole body. It aids in strength and mobility of the hips and spine. The following are physical and mental benefits of Fish Pose (Matsyasana):
- Physical Benefits:
- Strengthens the muscles of the upper back, neck, and shoulders
- Stretches the hip flexors
- Opens the hips, abdominal cavity, chest, and throat
- Helps relieve asthma
- Improves posture
- Aids digestion
- Mental Benefits:
- Relieves mild depression and anxiety
- Reduces stress
- Energizes the mind
Step-by-step Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
- Sit with the legs folded in the Lotus pose.
- Lean the torso back and rest on the elbows.
- Lower the shoulders and the back of your head to the floor. Bring the arms out straight by the sides. Lift the chest upward. Lengthen from the pelvis out through the knees.
- Inhale, press the elbows down, lift the chest, curl the neck back, and rest the top of the head on the floor. Hold the soles of the feet with your hands. Press the back of the head into the floor and back toward the hips, deepening the arch of the back and coming more onto the crown of the head. Lengthen the tailbone, stretch the front of the thighs, and extend from the pelvis out through the knees. Actively pull the feet and bring the shoulder blades more onto the back behind your heart.
- Remain in the posture for several breaths. Come out of the pose by using the elbows for support to lower the back to the floor. Then use the elbows to bring yourself back up to a sitting position and release the legs.
Modifications and variations
These Fish Pose (Matsyasana) modifications will help you to perform this yoga pose without putting too much strain on your muscles.
- Beginners: Beginners sometimes brace their neck in this yoga pose. If you feel any discomfort in your neck or throat, either lower your chest slightly toward the floor, or place a thick folded blanket behind your head.
- Palms close to shoulders: Keeping palms close to shoulders is a great option to support the neck when confidence is lacking.
- Blanket under the head: Place a blanket under the head to give a slight stretch to the lower back and neck.
- Using bolster under lower shoulders: Bolster under your lower shoulders to bring the head back comfortably and still give neck and shoulders equal stretch.
- Using blanket under hips: In Fish Pose (Matsyasana), place a blanket under your hips to reduce stress on the hips. This will also give rest to the lower back.
The Fish Pose (Matsyasana) described below has two leg variations, no matter which leg variation you choose.
1. Straight Leg Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
- Sit on the floor with the legs extended straight. Lean back on your hands, fingers pointing back.
- Press the legs completely straight and rotate the knees towards each other until your knees are facing the ceiling. Bring the inner sides of your feet together, spread your toes, and step forward through the ball of each foot.
- Now slowly pull the stomach back towards the spine and roll the shoulders back, expanding the chest. Then use your breath to help lift the chest upward from the waist. Push down into your hands through the ball of each index finger, and move your spine forward in your back, especially behind your heart, to help propel your chest through your shoulders.
- Inhale deeply as you emphasize the upward extension through the sternum, then exhale as you press your shoulder blades and chest forward and turn your head back. Don’t scratch your neck. Keep your neck soft, pressing up from the base of your throat and extending out from the chin.
- Bend at your elbows with your hands pointing forward, fingers just touching your hips. Use your breath to expand the chest and raise the rib cage as before. Keep the head up.
- As you exhale, press your chest forward and tilt your head back. Press down into your elbows, up from your chest, and out through the chin. Squeeze your head inwards towards the buttocks. Your head is not on the floor yet. Inhale, Press the open shape from inside the shape. Expand from the inside out.
- Slide your elbows to the side and come down above your head. Bring your head towards your seat as far as possible. Keep pressing upward from your chest.
- Lace your fingers, palms inside out, and take your straight arms over your head. Draw a line of energy out through the arms. As you inhale, straighten the elbows and push out with the hands; As you exhale, squeeze your hands towards the floor.
- Grasp your elbows, then slowly extend them toward the floor. The secret is to stretch your elbows out before squeezing them down: press into your elbows as you inhale, squeeze them down as you exhale. To come out of the pose, release the stretch and lie on your back.
2. Fish Pose in Hero
- Sitting in Virasana (Hero Pose), lean back on your hands. When you’re ready, exhale. Roll your shoulders back and pull the abs in toward the spine.
- Use the breath to lift the chest away from the waist. Continue rolling your shoulders back as you press down into your hands, pushing the chest forward through the shoulders. Adapt here with your exhalation.
- Press down into your hands, up from your chest, and out through your chin. Take a deep breath while filling the pose with air. When you have enough volume, bring your head back to normal alignment.
- Grab your toes, press up against your chest, and turn your head back again. Use breath to expand the size you are.
- Slide the elbows out and come to the crown of your head. Bring your head as close to the buttocks as you can, then lace up the fingers, turn the palms inside out and keep the arms above your head as before. Draw a line of energy out through the arms. As you inhale, press the hands away from you, and as you exhale, press your hands towards the floor. Stay here for several breaths.
- Grab your elbows. As you inhale, stretch out through the elbows, squeezing them toward the floor as you exhale.
- Blood pressure: Persons suffering from high or low blood pressure should avoid this asana.
- Neck injury: An injury to the neck or any part of the lower back or mid-back can make it difficult to practice Fish Pose (Matsyasana) and hence should be avoided.
- Neck or back stiffness: If during the practice of Fish Pose (Matsyasana), if one feels any kind of tightness in the lower part of the neck and upper back, he should immediately stop doing the yoga posture and rest in the corpse pose.
- Migraine: Migraine patients may find this pose challenging, but if practiced it should be done slowly under the guidance of a yoga teacher.
- Spondylitis: Caution should be exercised when exercising by someone suffering from spondylitis. Preferably to be avoided if it is severe. But if the spondylitis is in the early stage, then Matsyasana can be practiced with proper guidance of a yoga teacher.
- Pregnant women: Since this asana puts pressure on the abdominal region, it is not prescribed for pregnant women.
- Common heart disease: Since breathing is deep in this yoga posture, it may not be comfortable for a person suffering from heart disease.