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Fish pose—known as Matsyasana in Sanskrit—is a soothing backbend that provides a nice stretch for some hard-to-open areas of the body while stimulating the thyroid and parathyroid glands (which control metabolism and calcium levels in the body, respectively).
The Sanskrit words Matsyasana breaks down to ‘Matsya’ = fish & ‘Asana’ = posture. This restorative pose allows the body to float freely like a fish in water.
This exhaustive guide will explore how to correctly practice Fish Pose, its benefits, precautions, and variations to suit different body types and fitness levels.
An Overview of Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
Fish Pose is one of the 12 basic Hatha yoga asanas. It is commonly practiced in various styles of yoga, including Iyengar, Yin, and Vinyasa yoga.
The Fish Pose stretches the hip flexors, intercostals (muscles between the ribs), abdominals, and the muscles in front of the neck. This yoga asana (or pose) also strengthens the upper back muscles and the back of the neck.
The general overview of this pose is when practicing, you lie flat on the back and lift the chest by arching the spine. The crown of the head rests gently on the floor, and the legs are extended straight out simultaneously. The feet must remain active with toes flexed back.
Step-by-Step Guide to Perform Fish Pose
Follow these instructions to rehearse Fish Pose correctly:
Start by lying flat on your back with the legs together and extended on the floor (you can also keep the knees bent with feet on the floor if that’s more comfortable for your low back). Bring the arms to your sides, palms down.
- Inhale and lift the pelvis off the floor slightly. Slide your hands (palms downward) under your glutes. Rest them there.
- Press the forearms and elbows into the floor and lift your torso and head away from the floor on an inhale.
- Exhale and lower the crown of the head to the floor. Release any tension in the neck and allow the very top of the head to support you. The weight should be distributed between your forearms, head, and (slightly lifted) pelvis.
- Keep your legs fully engaged by reaching strongly through the heels (or keep the soles of the feet pressing down if the knees are bent).
- Breathe deeply and rest for 15-30 seconds.
- Come out of the pose by pressing down through the forearms to lift the crown of the head up off the floor. Lower the head, neck, and spine slowly, vertebra by vertebra, back down to the floor. Slide your hands out from underneath your glutes.
Focus on broadening the collarbones and chest while in the pose rather than bringing the chin to the throat and crunching the neck. Keep the throat soft.
Tips for Beginners
Here are some valuable tips when learning Fish Pose as a beginner:
- Avoid straining your neck. Lower your chest slightly or support your head on a folded blanket.
- For beginners (or to ease it down), keep your back supported on a rolled blanket. Ensure your throat stays soft.
- Keep your legs engaged throughout the asana, whether bending your knees or straightening them.
- Distribute weight between your back, arms, and core rather than head and neck.
- Go only as deep as it feels comfortable. Lightly stretch your muscles without pushing too far.
- Focus on taking soft, full breaths rather than deeper ones. Let exhalations release stress.
Benefits of Practicing Fish Pose:
Anytime you arch the back, you provide an excellent stretch to the front area of your body. Backbends like the Fish Pose in yoga are called heart-openers since they expand the chest. The throat is also quite vulnerable in the Fish Pose, which provides a freeing feeling.
Regularly practicing Fish Pose will provide the following physical, mental and emotional benefits:
- Strengthening the muscles of the front torso, upper back, shoulders, and neck.
- Improve flexibility in the spine, hips, chest, and rib cage.
- Stimulate the thyroid, parathyroid and pituitary glands.
- Aid digestion by massaging abdominal organs.
- Enhanced breathing capacity and lung function.
- Help relieve symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, and sinusitis.
- Improve posture by opening your chest and shoulders.
- Reduce lower back soreness and sciatica symptoms.
- Relieve menstrual discomfort and menopause symptoms.
Mental and Emotional Benefits:
- Calm the mind and relieve stress and anxiety.
- Release tension from the neck, throat, and shoulders.
- Improve blood circulation to the face and head for better skin and complexion.
- Boost mood and alleviate depression.
- Enhanced feelings of relaxation and inner peace.
- Promote emotional balance and positivity.
- Deepen. mindfulness and awareness.
Modifications for Fish Pose
While fish pose offers plenty of benefits, it’s wise to start slow and gentle, especially if you have neck issues.
5 Great Ways to Modify Fish Pose:
Try these safe modifications and variations while building strength and flexibility:
- Keep the legs bent
Keeping the knees bent and feet rooted on the floor in the Fish Pose alleviates compression in the low back. This gentle backbend is excellent for beginners.
- Use a headrest
If placing the weight of your head directly on the floor bothers your neck, rest the back of your head on a folded blanket or block. Adjust it to find just the right amount of support.
- Stack up
Place a bolster or one to two yoga blocks underneath your upper back, running horizontally. Drape your body over them to support the backbend rather than intensely arching on your own. Keep the head and neck comfortable.
- Cactus arms
If lifting your arms straight up overhead during the pose bothers your shoulders, keep the arms in a cactus shape instead, with the elbows bent at 90 degrees and hands facing the ceiling.
- One leg up
For a twist on a twist, try extending one leg up toward the sky and actively reaching through that heel to intensify the overall stretch.
Fish Pose Variation With Prop:
Fish Pose asana can be modified with various props to support different body types and comfort levels:
- Place a rolled blanket beneath your upper back for support.
- Keep your legs bent with feet flat on the floor to release back pressure.
For neck/shoulder tightness:
- Rest your head on a blanket rather than the floor.
- Keep your forearms grounded for support.
For lower back sensitivity:
- Place a bolster or block lengthwise along your spine.
- Bend your knees with your feet on the floor.
For advanced flexibility:
- Straighten your legs up at a 45° angle.
- Stretch your arms up at a 45° angle.
- Bring your palms together above your chest.
Beginner Fish Pose Sequence
Try this gentle sequence to warm up for Fish Pose as a beginner:
- Child’s Pose: Relax your upper body over your thighs and breathe deeply to open your back.
- Cat/Cow: Arch and round your spine slowly to warm up your core.
- Thread the Needle: Open your shoulders individually by threading your arm under your body.
- Bridge Pose: Lift your hips up to prepare your spine for a backbend.
- Supported Fish Pose: Rest your upper back on a rolled blanket with knees bent and head supported.
- Reclining Twist: Gently twist your back to release tension after the backbend.
- Savasana: Close your practice by relaxing completely in Corpse Pose.
Fish Pose Precautions
Avoid Fish Pose or modify accordingly if you have any of the following conditions:
- Neck injuries like a strained neck or cervical spondylosis.
- Lower back injury such as a herniated disc.
- High blood pressure.
- Migraine headaches.
- Pregnancy or menstruation.
Always warm up properly before practicing backbends and listen to your body. Ease out of the pose slowly. Consult a doctor before practicing yoga with any medical condition.
Deepen Your Fish Pose
For yoga practitioners looking to deepen their Fish Pose, try these tips:
- Engage your core and leg muscles to support your backbend.
- Focus on lifting through your chest rather than your head.
- Keep elongating your neck and avoid compression.
- Place your forearms wider so your chest can expand fully.
- On exhalations, release deeper into the pose rather than forcing.
- Hold the pose steadily for 5-8 breath cycles
Sequencing Around Fish Pose
Proper pose sequencing allows you to open your body in Fish Pose preparation gradually. Follow Fish Pose with counter poses to find balance. Here are some sequences to try:
- Cat/Cow – warm up the spine.
- Downward Facing Dog – stretch the back of the body.
- Cobra – gentle backbend.
- Bow – open the back and chest.
Cool Down Poses
- Reclining Twist – twist the back in the opposite direction.
- Legs Up the Wall – invert the lower body.
- Savasana – rest the body completely.
Mini Backbend Sequence
- Upward Facing Dog
- Reclining Twist
How to Come Out Safely
Don’t skip this important step! To come out of fish pose safely:
- Engage your core.
- Use your forearms to lift your head a few inches off the floor gently.
- Resist the temptation to turn your head. Keep your neck in line with your spine.
- Slowly lower your head to the floor one vertebra at a time without letting it fall heavily.
- Once your head is on the floor, lower your back down and remove your hands from underneath your hips.
- Hug the knees into your chest and rock side to side to release any tension in the low back if that feels good.
Be sure to respect your body’s limits and never force yourself into discomfort. A supported variation can be just as therapeutic when you are still building flexibility or have specific health conditions. With regular practice, Fish Pose will leave you feeling stretched, relaxed and receptive.