Fish Pose is a back-bending yoga posture that opens the chest, throat, and abdomen. It is usually used as the counter-pose to Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana) because it neutralizes pressure on the neck and spine, but it is also a deep stretch with many benefits in its own right! It stretches your body (the upper body in particular) in the opposite way. In shoulderstand, the chin is strongly tucked, the neck is extended and the spine is in a position of flexion. In fish pose, the chin is raised, the neck is curved back and the spine is in extension. Shoulderstand places a lot of pressure on the upper body, so it feels good and is balancing stretch everything out.
The Sanskrit name for this pose, "Matsyasana" (maht-see-AHS-uh-nuh), comes from two words: "Matsya" — meaning "fish" and "Asana" — meaning "pose". From a chakra perspective, fish has a lot of potential because it stimulates two important areas that are hard to reach. First is the vishudda (throat) chakra. There aren’t that many yoga poses where the throat is opened as it is in fish. In the chakra system, the vishudda is concerned with communication and self expression. It’s often summarized as "speaking your truth", so if this area is blocked it means you keeps things bottled inside that would be better let out. Fish also brings attention to the sahasrara (crown) chakra on the top of your head. Again, there aren’t many yoga poses that put pressure on the crown, which has to do with wisdom and knowledge.
Even if you’re not fully on board with the idea of the chakras, you can still benefit from a pose that engages parts of the body that are often neglected, even within yoga’s asanas. The traditional variation of the pose is performed with the legs in Lotus (Padmasana), which is appropriate for more experienced students. However, there are many variations more suitable for students of various levels. Keep reading to learn more about the pose and to discover the Fish that’s right for you!
Benefits of Fish Pose
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 backbends 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 at the heart and throat, respectively. Many people shield and obstruct these chakras with poor posture, slouching, and lowered chins. Practicing backbends and opening the front side of the body will help these chakras expand, which can increase self-confidence, well-being, and emotional growth. Backbends 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.
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.
How to Do Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
- Begin by coming to lie on your back.
- Come up to your elbows with your forearms flat on the mat and your upper arms perpendicular to the floor.
- Slide your body towards the back of the mat while keeping your forearms in place and puffing up your chest by rolling your shoulder back and tucking your shoulder blades firmly onto your back.
- Press your palms into the mat. You can tuck your hands under your butt if that feels like a more stable position for them.
- Lower the crown (very top) of your head back until it comes to the floor, opening your throat.
- Keep your legs engaged and your toes active throughout.
- Hold for five breaths. To come out, press strongly into your forearms and raise your head off the floor. Then release your upper body to the mat.
Practicing Fish Pose can be a great way to regain balance at the end of a long practice. Remember, it doesn’t matter how deep your backbend is! Focus instead on evenly distributing the curve of your spine and breathing smoothly throughout the pose.
Fish Pose for Beginners
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:
- Position a blanket or block under your head if the crown does not comfortably come to the floor. You can also let the head hang if that feels better.
- 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.
Fish Pose for Advanced
If you feel comfortable and stable in fish, you can try the following variations. They can be done at the same time or separately.
- Bring your arms up towards the ceiling with the palms touching. If you try this variation, make sure that the top of your head stays on the floor and your chest doesn’t collapse.
- More experienced students can practice Fish in Lotus Pose (Padma-Matsyasana). Begin by lying flat, then lift your legs to a 45 degree angle into Lotus and complete the pose.
- 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.
Discover Something Fishy
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!