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!
The Sanskrit name for this pose, "Matsyasana" (maht-see-AHS-uh-nuh), comes from two words:
- "Matsya" — meaning "fish"
- "Asana" — meaning "pose"
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.
The expansiveness of yoga grows when we allow the heart and the head to work together, if we go into our own heart and feel the intuitive process.
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.
- Begin by lying on your back with your legs extended and your arms resting alongside your body, palms down.
- Press your forearms and elbows into the floor and lift your chest to create an arch in your upper back. Lift your shoulderblades and upper torso off the floor. Tilt your head back and bring the crown of your head to the floor.
- Keep pressing through your hands and forearms. There should be very little weight pressing through your head.
- Keep your thighs active and energized. Press outward through your heels.
- Hold for five breaths. To release the pose, press firmly through your forearms to slightly lift your head off the floor. Then exhale as you lower your torso and head to the floor. Draw your knees into your chest for Knees-to-Chest Pose (Apanasana) for a few breaths, and then extend your legs and rest.
Modifications & Variations
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:
- If you feel any strain in your neck, lower your chest slightly. You can also place a folded, firm blanket beneath your head to support the back of your neck.
- 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.
- More experienced students can practice Fish Pose with the legs in Lotus Pose (Padmasana). Begin by lying flat, then bring the legs into Lotus and complete the pose.
- 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.
For a greater challenge, perform Extended Fish Pose:
- Perform steps 1-2 as in the Instructions, above.
- On an exhalation, lift your legs off the floor at a 45-degree angle. Reach through your heels.
- Lift your arms and raise them to a 45-degree angle, as well. For even more of a challenge, lift them directly up toward the ceiling. Then press your palms together in prayer position (Anjali Mudra).
Practicing Fish Pose can be a great way to regain balance at the end of a long practice. Keep the following information in mind when performing this pose:
- Keep your neck extended and comfortable throughout the pose. Be careful not to bring your head back so far that you strain your neck.
- Keep your legs strongly engaged and active. Press your thighs down firmly on the floor. This will help you lift your chest higher in the pose.
- Do not press firmly through your head. Instead, lift yourself into the pose by using the strength of your back muscles and by pressing down through your thighs.
- 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.
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!