Matsyasana (Fish Pose)


Matsyasana and supta vajrasana are two excellent backward bending asanas. They are perfectly suited as counterposes for forward bending asanas such as paschimottanasana’, ardha padma paschimottanasana, janu sirshasana2, etc., as well as inverted asanas such as sarvangasana. They also give characteristic benefits in their own right.

We are introducing them together because they give similar benefits. Generally, there is no need to practise both in an asana program. Choose the one that you like best.


In Sanskrit the word matsya means ‘fish’. Therefore, this asana can be translated as ‘the fish pose’. At first this may seem a strange name for an asana that seems to bear no resemblance whatsoever to any kind of fish. However, if you use a little imagination you can see that the folded legs in padmasana resemble the tail of a fish; the rest of the body represents the body of the fish, and the head corresponds to the head of the fish. This is not difficult to imagine. But there is a better reason why this asana is called the fish pose: it is an excellent position for floating in water for prolonged periods of time.

The folded legs change the position of the centre of gravity (the centre of weight in the body); it moves nearer the head. This means that the head can be held higher above the water, allowing ease in respiration. Furthermore, since the legs are locked in a firm position, the body becomes more compact and rigid and therefore able to float in water with much less effort.

Technique – classical pose

In order to do the classical pose one must be able to sit in padmasana4. If you cannot sit in padmasana, then you can do either of the variations that we will shortly describe. The aim of course should be to eventually master the classical pose, but until this stage you can at least reap the benefits by practising the simpler variation.

Stage 1: starting position

Sit in padmasana.

If you cannot sit in padmasana please don’t try to force your legs.

Relax the whole body.

Stage 2: leaning backwards

Lean slightly backwards.

Place the hands on the floor slightly behind and to the side of the buttocks.

Support the weight of the body on the straight arms.

Bend one of the arms, allowing the forearm and elbow to rest on the ground; to do this you will have to twist your body to one side.

Then slowly bend the other arm so that both elbows rest on the ground.

At this stage the trunk and head should be supported above the ground behind the buttocks.

Then take the final pose.

Stage 3: final position – alternative A

Bend your head backwards so that you can see the floor behind your head.

Stretch the front of the neck as much as is comfortable.

Slowly slide your arms forwards away from your head and lower the top of the head towards the ground.

Gently allow the top of the head to support the body weight.

Adjust the position of the head so that the maximum arch of the back is attained.

Then relax the arms, allowing the head (and the buttocks and legs) to support the weight of the body.

If possible try to grasp the big toes with the hands; if this is too difficult place the hands on the thighs or on the floor.

This is the final pose.

Breathe slowly and deeply.

Close your eyes.

Be aware of breathing.

Stay in the final pose for as long as is comfortable.

Then return to the starting position by executing stages 2 and 3 in reverse; that is, using the arms to raise the body back to the upright position.

Stage 3: final position – alternative B

This stage can be done after stage 2 as an alternative.

Slowly slide the arms forwards from the end of stage 2 allowing the back of the head and the spine to rest on the floor.

Your face should be directed towards the ceiling. Place the hands under the head with the palms open and facing upwards, the fingers interlocked.

The back of the head should rest in the open palms.

Without straining try to push your bent elbows towards the ground; with practice you should be able to rest the elbows on the ground.

Relax the whole body.

This is the final pose.

Breathe slowly and deeply.

Then release the position of the arms and hands.

Return to the starting position using the arms in turn to raise the body in the reverse order to that described in stage 2.

Note: it is important that the body is lowered into the final pose and also raised from the final pose to the starting position by using the arms as described in stage 2.

Don’t throw your body backwards for it is very easy to injure the spine.

The movement should be done with control and care.

Final position

You can choose any of the alternative final poses or if you wish you can do both. Each has a distinctive influence on the body.

Alternative A gives the best flexion of the spine and neck. Alternative B has a notable influence on the abdomen and chest, giving them a powerful stretch that massages the internal organs and nerves.

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