Twisting poses are a common addition to any yoga class because they provide a multitude of benefits for the entire body. Twists increase flexibility in the spine, calm the mind, relax the nervous system, improve digestion, and cleanse the internal organs. Half Lord of the Fishes Pose is a popular seated twist.
Its Sanskrit name, "Ardha Matsyendrasana" (ARD-uh MAHT-see-ehn-DRAHS-uh-nuh), comes from four words:
- "Ardha" — meaning "half"
- "Matsya" — meaning "fish"
- "Indra" — meaning "ruler"
- "Asana" — meaning "pose"
It is named after Matsyendra, a legendary yoga master from India (from around the tenth century CE). Practicing this twist will bring many benefits to your body, mind, and spirit — which may make you feel like a yoga master today!
Benefits of Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
Traditional yoga texts claim that this pose destroys deadly diseases and awakens the cosmic energy called "Kundalini." Modern teachers agree to its many benefits, which include:
- Stretched shoulders, hips, neck, and spine
- Relief from fatigue, backache, and sciatica
- Stimulated digestion and metabolism
- Stimulated kidneys and liver
- Relief form menstrual discomfort
This pose energizes the body, and calms the mind and nervous system. It is also therapeutic for asthma and infertility. As with all twists in yoga, Ardha Matsyendrasana relieves stress and restores balance to body, mind, and spirit.
I think that's a balance we look for, all through our lives: What is the right action? How do you find the right action? It comes from skillful means. It comes from our practice.
Avoid practicing this pose if you have a recent or chronic injury to your knees, hips, or spine. Those with back pain, back injuries, or degenerative disk disease should approach this pose with caution and should only attempt to practice it under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable instructor. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin seated on the floor with your legs extended in front of you, arms resting at your sides. This is Staff Pose (Dandasana).
- Bend both knees, placing the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Then, drop your left knee to the floor. Tuck your left foot under your right leg, resting it alongside your right buttock.
- On an inhalation, raise your left arm overhead. Exhaling, twist to the right, with your torso against the inside of your right thigh. Place your left elbow to the outside of your right knee. Keep your forearm raised, with your fingertips pointing toward the ceiling. To deepen the pose, lower the left forearm and hold onto the left knee. Reach behind your body with your right hand and rest it on the floor behind you.
- Spiral your torso around your spine from your tailbone to the crown of your head.
- With each inhalation, make your spine longer; and with each exhalation, twist a little deeper.
- Turn your head to gaze over your right shoulder.
- Press your inner right foot firmly into the floor. Keep the front of your torso long. Draw your tailbone down to the floor.
- Hold for up to one minute.
- To release, exhale and unwind your torso. Come back to center and extend both legs in front of you in Staff Pose again. Repeat the twist for the same length of time on the opposite side.
Modifications & Variations
Ardha Matsyendrasana will increase spinal flexibility, improve digestion, and calm your mind. This pose is suitable for most beginners, but only go as deeply into the twist as it feels safe. Try these simple changes to find a variation that works best for you:
- If you are uncomfortable sitting flat on the floor, prop yourself up on a folded, firm blanket or extra yoga mat.
- Those with less flexibility in the hips can keep the bottom leg extended.
- If it is difficult to place your opposite-side elbow to the outside of your raised leg, hug the thigh with your hands, instead. In time, your flexibility will increase and you will be able to wrap your entire arm around your thigh. Once that is comfortable, you will be able to place your elbow to the outside of the knee in the full version of the pose.
- For variety in the neck stretch, you can either turn your head in the direction of the twist, or in the opposite direction. Gaze softly at the horizon with either variation.
More flexible students can bind the arms. This variation is called "Baddha Ardha Matsyendrasana" (Bound Half Lord of the Fishes Pose):
- Perform steps 1-3 as listed in the Instructions, above.
- Bend your left elbow and thread your left arm underneath your right knee. Bring your left hand toward your left hip. Reach your right arm around behind your body. Clasp your hands together or hold your left wrist with your right hand. Keep lengthening your spine, softening your left shoulder, and turning into the twist.
- Release and come back to center. Repeat the bound twist on the opposite side.
Practicing Ardha Matsyendrasana is a great way to detoxify and soothe your entire body. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Let the back of your neck be soft. Balance your head gently over your spine. Never lead the twist with your head. Instead, let your head be the last part of your body to turn.
- Keep your belly soft throughout the twist.
- Keep your buttocks grounded throughout the pose.
- Never rush or force the pose. Move with your breath. Inhale to lengthen your spine, and exhale to gently rotate deeper.
- Twist to the right first. Doing so will place pressure on the ascending colon. Twisting to the left places pressure on the descending colon. This right-left order mimics the flow of digestion and helps improve detoxification. Reversing the sequence and pressing on the descending colon first may cause aggravation, constipation, bloating, and intestinal discomfort.
Wind to Unwind
Including twists in your yoga practice will help you to find ease, balance, and serenity in all areas of your life. Twisting and lengthening your spine can make you feel re-energized and revitalized. Squeezing out toxins from your abdominal organs will cleanse and refresh you, inside and out. Practicing Ardha Matsyendrasana on a regular basis will keep you feeling young, vital, and healthy!