Yoga Posture Guide - The Fish Pose (Matsya-asana)

The Fish Pose (Matsya-asana)

Translation: The Sanskrit word matsya means fish, therefore this is the fish posture. Matsya (depicted to the left) is a divine being, found in Hindu mythology that saved mankind from a universal flood.
Pronunciation: maht-see-yah-sa-na
Difficulty Level: (3)

The Fish Yoga Pose (Matsya-asana) creates a great expansion and stretching of the chest which helps relieve upper respiratory congestion as well as benefits the heart. Additionally, the siss are drained and opened from the inversion of the head, stretching of the neck and pressure placed on the top of the head. The thyroid and parathyroid glands are stimulated as well.

Tips for The Fish Yoga Pose (Matsya-asana)

  • Practicing Fish Yoga Pose can be a great way to regain balance at the end of a long practice. Keep the following information in mind when performing this pose:
  • Keep your neck extended and comfortable throughout the pose. Be careful not to bring your head back so far that you strain your neck.
  • Keep your legs strongly engaged and active. Press your thighs down firmly on the floor. This will help you lift your chest higher in the pose.
  • Do not press firmly through your head. Instead, lift yourself into the pose by using the strength of your back muscles and by pressing down through your thighs.
  • Remember, it doesn’t matter how deep your back-bend is! Focus instead on evenly distributing the curve of your spine and breathing smoothly throughout the pose.

Health Benefits of The Fish Yoga Pose (Matsya-asana)

  • Fish Pose stretches the front of the body, particularly the throat, chest, abdomen, hip flexors, and intercostals (the muscles between your ribs). It strengthens the upper back muscles and the back of the neck, which improves spinal flexibility and posture. Fish Pose also opens up the lungs, which improves breathing and helps to relieve respiratory ailments. By positively stimulating the muscles of the abdomen, it also helps to relieve constipation and menstrual pain. Regularly practicing Fish Pose will energize the body, and reduce fatigue and anxiety.
  • As with other back-bends such as Camel Pose (Ustrasana), Fish Pose is known as a "heart-opening" yoga position. In yoga, this refers to the fourth and fifth chakras (energetic centers), which are located in the heart and throat, respectively. Many people shield and obstruct these chakras with poor posture, slouching, and lowered chins. Practicing back-bends and opening the front side of the body will help these chakras expand, which can increase self-confidence, well-being, and emotional growth. Back-bends like Fish Pose can stir up many feelings in practitioners, so it is important to stay calmly aware of your feelings when practicing this pose. Remaining closed-off can create physical stiffness, which can lead to injury.
  • The expansiveness of yoga grows when we allow the heart and the head to work together, if we go into our own heart and feel the intuitive process.
  • Helps relieve tension in the neck and shoulders
  • Provides relief from respiratory disorders by encouraging deep breathing
  • Tones the parathyroid, pituitary and pineal glands

The Fish Yoga Pose (Matsya-asana) Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Lie flat on the back in the shava-asana. 
  2. Keeping the buttocks on the floor, inhale and raise the head, shoulders, back and upper arms off the floor arching the back and raising the chest up. Tilt the head back and place the top of the head flat on the floor. 
  3. Raise the elbows off the floor bring your hands up just below the chest and join them at the palms with the fingers pointing straight up (form the anjali-mudra or salutation hand gesture). Hold for the duration of the inhale breath or breath gently through the nostrils to remain in the posture longer. 
  4. Return to the shava-asana. 
Duration/Repetitions: Since this is not a difficult posture, it is recommended that you breath while holding it for between two and four minutes. If you are uncomfortable breathing, hold the posture for the duration of the inhaled breath. Repeat two or three times.

Cautions and Contraindications of the Fish Pose (Matsyasana)

Cautions: Do not practice this pose if you are currently experiencing high or low blood pressure, insomnia, or a migraine. Also, avoid this pose if you have a low back or neck injury. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.

Contraindications: Avoid this posture if you have high or low blood pressure. Migraine and insomnia patients should also refrain from doing the Fish Pose. Those who have had serious lower-back or neck injuries are strongly recommended not to practice this pose.

Modifications & Variations of The Fish Yoga Pose (Matsya-asana)

There is one major variation in the matsya-asana and it is a bit more challenging than the one described above (illustrated above). It calls for beginning the posture in padma-asana or the full lotus seated posture and then lying flat on the back while the legs are still locked. From there on the posture is done the same way as described above.

The Fish Pose (Matsya-asana)

Fish Pose can be a great way to open the front of your body and gain spinal flexibility. There are many variations of this pose, so try these simple changes to find a modification that works for you:
  • If you feel any strain in your neck, lower your chest slightly. You can also place a folded, firm blanket beneath your head to support the back of your neck.
  • For a deeper chest and shoulder opening, begin by lying flat. Lift your pelvis and hips, and then bring your hands beneath your buttocks, palms down. Tuck your forearms and elbows alongside your torso, then rest your buttocks on the backs of your hands. Finally, lift your chest and come to the crown of your head.
  • More experienced students can practice Fish Pose with the legs in Lotus Pose (Padmasana). Begin by lying flat, then bring the legs into Lotus and complete the pose.
  • For a restorative variation of the pose, place a yoga block underneath the middle of your back. Drape your torso over it and let your arms, throat, and legs relax.

For a greater challenge, perform Extended The Fish Yoga Pose (Matsya-asana)

Perform steps 1-2 as in the Instructions, above.
  1. On an exhalation, lift your legs off the floor at a 45-degree angle. Reach through your heels.
  2. Lift your arms and raise them to a 45-degree angle, as well. For even more of a challenge, lift them directly up toward the ceiling. Then press your palms together in prayer position.

Discover Something Fishy with The Fish Yoga Pose (Matsya-asana)?

Regularly practicing Fish Pose can stretch out your whole body and improve your posture. Opening your heart and throat centers can be physically and emotionally satisfying! Remember to listen to your body and never push the pose too far. If your breath becomes strained, scale back the intensity of the pose. Let your breath and your thoughts remain soft and flowing, just like a fish gently drifting through the water. You may discover a greater ability to "float" through life's difficulties, even off the mat!

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