How To Do Fish Pose (Matsyasana)

This beginner's level back-bending pose places an emphasis on working the upper body and opening up the throat, chest, and abdomen. This pose also offers a deep stretch that provides a wealth of useful benefits for the body and mind. Fish Pose targets many of the same muscles in the upper body as Shoulder-stand and greatly reduces pressure along the neck and spinal column. 

This pose is typically considered ideal for those with a beginner's level of skill. However, anyone seeking a tougher challenge in Fish Pose has a number of options for modification to match his or her particular skill-set. 

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The Benefits of Fish Pose

As a stretching posture, Fish Pose is a great way to work on the front of the body - mainly the chest, abs, hip flexors, and neck. What really makes the pose attractive for your physical well-being is that it helps to engage areas of the anatomy that don't always get the attention they deserve.

Considering the position of the body when you execute the pose, Fish Pose is a good counter-pose to the shoulder-stand because it has you move the chin, the back and the spine into opposite positions. Fish Pose has you curve the neck, extend the spine, and raise your chin up, while shoulder-stand has the neck extended, the spine flexed, and the chin tucked in. 

Another wonderful benefit of Fish Pose is that you can feel a burst of energy from practicing this posture. The energized rush you get from this pose will go a long way to fueling your drive to finish your practice strong and keep you fresh and alert well after you leave the studio.

woman practicing fish pose

How to Do Fish Pose

Follow these easy step-by-step directions to execute Fish Pose. Remember, don't overdo it and don't force yourself into any position that causes pain or discomfort. You could injure yourself and that's defeating the entire purpose of this and other yoga poses. 

  • Start by lying on your back, keeping the knees bent and feet touching the floor. 
  • Bring your pelvis up slightly from the floor, and bring your hands beneath your buttocks, palms to the floor. Rest your buttocks on the tops of your hands. 
  • You want to be careful that you keep your buttocks touching the backs of the hands throughout the pose. DO NOT allow the buttocks to lift up. 
  • Tuck the forearms and elbows in close to the sides of your torso, and press the forearms and elbows to the floor. 
  • Push your scapulas (shoulder blades) into your back. Lift the upper portion of your torso and head up from the floor. 
  • Allow your head to lower back down to the floor. The arch of your back and lift of your chest will dictate whether it's the back of your head or the crown that makes contact with the floor. Be sure to avoid placing too much stress on the neck by reducing the amount of weight on your head.
  • You have a choice of performing the pose with your legs straight on the floor or bent at the knees. If you decide to go with straight legs, press down at the heels. 
  • Hold the pose for 15 to 30 seconds, maintaining your breath as normal. 
  • When you're ready to release, lower your head and torso to the floor, bring the thighs up to your tummy and squeeze. 

Some Helpful Hints

If you're having challenges with Fish Pose, there are some adjustments and modifications you can use to make the posture easier and less strenuous on the body. Feel free to bring in props, such as a block or rolled up blanket, to reduce the stress in the neck or back when you are performing the back-bend of the pose.  

You can also do this pose with another person helping out. Working with a partner can help you get a feel for how the scapulas are supposed to move when you are in the posture. A partner can stand over you, placing the palms on the scapulas and pushing them against your back. Just make sure the partner isn't pulling you deeper in the bend, or only offering support for the scapulas at the back of your torso. 

You may also want to try some variations as to how your legs are positioned in the pose. You can perform it with your legs straight or placed in the Lotus position. One is typically easier than the other for many yogis. In order to make the pose more challenging, you can do it with legs straight and lifting from the floor at a 45 degree angle. Hold that for up to 30 seconds, pressing through your heels. When it's time, lower the legs back to the floor and keep your head and torso still on the floor.

woman practicing fish pose

A Word of Warning

As with any other yoga posture, you should use caution in attempting to perform Fish Pose. Those with certain medical conditions such as low blood pressure, high blood pressure, and migraines should avoid doing this pose. If you're suffering any kind of injury in the lower back or neck you probably want to wait to execute the pose until you're fully healed. 

Always consult with your physician before doing any yoga pose that might give you some concerns for your personal health and well-being. Never push yourself to work harder than you feel comfortable. 

Final Thoughts

Fish Pose is a posture that seems simple and somewhat easy to perform, but you can easily make it a lot tougher if you’re looking for a greater challenge. Be careful not to put too much pressure on the head or strain the neck. You want to engage other areas of the body such as the forearms, the heels, and thighs to give you enough lift. This way, the upper body is fully supported and the head and neck remain protected at all times.

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