52 Poses :: Matsyasana, Fish Pose

In 2015 I’ll be highlighting a new posture each week. Find sequences, benefits, and archives here.


There are many variations on Matsyasana, Fish Pose. The most traditional, active variations are done following shoulder stand to help regulate the flow of blood and prana to the Thyroid gland (as well as a host of other benefits). However, many passive variations of the pose, performed on various props, are quite prevalent in yoga classes around the world.

Fish is a relatively friendly backbend, but does require mindfulness around the shoulders and lower back. A good understanding of the principles of backbends goes a long way in this posture. To perform Fish Pose with maximum benefit:

  • The curve of the backbend should stay even throughout the spine (do not bend excessively in the lower back)
  • The sternum lifts towards the sky and arms stay externally rotated to keep the head of the humerus towards the back plane of the body.
  • Passive versions of this pose support the chest (and sometimes head as well) with blankets, blocks or bolsters, as shown above.
  • Active versions of the pose use the arms for support initially, and eventually support comes from the strength of the muscles in the back body alone, as shown below.
  • For experienced practitioners, lifting the legs to a 45 degree angle adds fire to the posture; but, should never be done at the cost of the low back. It takes practice to engage the core to this degree without collapsing the spine.
  • Another active variation includes placing legs in lotus, this should only be attempted after much hip opening and practice as the deep rotation of the hip can be irritating to the lower back in backbends.

To enter the active variation of Matsyasana, I recommend first sitting up to look at your toes, as if you are laying on the beach. Then, puff your chest up and tilt your head back, your head may or may not come to the floor. (If your head doesn’t touch the floor, continue to use your forearms for support). This will keep your upper arms well away from the floor and create adequate space for your backbend.

In Restorative versions of the pose, aim to support directly under the sternum with your prop. You want to allow your shoulders to drape off of your prop so that your arm bones can drop back towards the floor. Support under your head as needed with blankets or blocks and to modulate the intensity of the stretch in your chest.

The benefits of this pose (both active and passive unless indicated):

  • Aids in balancing the Thyroid gland (especially combined with shoulder stand)
  • Opens the shoulders and chest
  • Promotes healthy and unobstructed breathing. Great for asthma, allergies and congestion (but may be exacerbating if you are super congested)
  • Strengthens the muscles along the spine (active version) and in the legs (advanced variation)




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