Matsyasana Stretch, Heal the Abdominal with Fish Pose

Author: Randeep Singh / go to all Techniques of Yoga articles

Matsyasana means fish ( Matsya),

pose (asana)

when translated to English.

The pose, when executed with Padmasana

puts the body into the form of a fish;

the knees bent as in Padmasana from the

two flanks of the tail fin of the fish,

and the arrangement of the elbows,

as bent and forearms rested under the head,

forms the gaping mouth. This asana is also named so because if one does Matsyasana pose in water ( the Padmasana variation) the body can actually float since the lungs as expanded can hold extra air. Matsyasana is another asana which has been derived from the shape of a natural object, fish in this case. The form of fish is very significant in Hindu mythology as an avatar ( incarnation) of Lord Vishnu who saved the world from drowning by keeping it afloat on its horn. Matsya is also associated with sage Matsyendra ( another of a yoga asana takes its name from him – Matsyendrasana) who eavesdropped on Lord Shiva revealing the secrets of Yoga to his consort Parvati. 

At the physical level, Matsyasana benefits are very good as it provides the required reverse stretch to the neck gone stiff due to it being persistently held forward while working on a computer for long hours. The cervical region can also go stiff due to being rendered immobile for long hours on account of a tight shirt collar. Tightly fitting trousers can obstruct the circulation of the blood in the lower back region apart from restricting the movement of the sacral and lumbar spine. This stiffens the muscle of the lower back and the abdominal region in the front. The abdomen rendered immobile in this manner restricts the free movement of the diaphragm along with causing congestion in the organs of the lower abdomen and the pelvic region. Matsyasana reverses these possibilities by proving a reverse stretch to the neck region, and upward stretch ( against gravity) to the muscles, and related organs of the abdomen adding to their overall health and efficiency. 

Preparatory Poses for Matsyasana ( Fish pose)

  • Shalabhasana
  • Bhujangasana
  • Dhanurasana
  • Setubandhasana
  • Suptvajrasana

Matsyasana Steps​​

  1. Lie down supine, keep the legs together and stretch them to their full length, place both the hands, palms facing down, under your lower back and stretch them up to the back of the thighs, the elbows are kept close so that the forearms and the thumbs are touching each other
  2. The shoulders must receive back pull in this position which will put the back in a slight curve in preparation for the next ensuing movement, the legs are kept pushed into the floor,  inhaling lift the torso up by pressing the elbows into the floor, draw the shoulder blades ( Scapula) towards each other, keeping the weight of the upper body on the elbows, and look at the toes
  3. Exhaling drop the head backward, keeping the torso lifted, with the crown fo the head facing the floor, drop the  crown of the head on the mat, expanding the chest out, the weight of the torso is still on the elbows as the crown of the head slightly touches the mat below it
  4. Keep the mouth closed throughout the movement as this will intensify the stretch in the neck and the chest, practice yogic breathing, feet, neck and the face are kept relaxed, distribute the weight of the body equally on the hips and the elbows.  expand the chest to the maximum possible by lifting it up, breathe as deeply as possible in this position as the expanded chest will easily allow for the same
  5. To come out of the fish pose, inhaling lift the head slightly up to look at the toes, exhaling lower the back on the floor as in the starting position, push the chin in the chest to relieve any tension, push the  curve of the lower back into the mat to relax that area, slowly roll the head from side to side and then bring it in the center, relax in Savasana
Matsyasana basic pose

The Matsyasana images provided in this article are the actual Photographs taken during our yoga classes, and yoga sessions at our yoga retreat.

Breathing Pattern, Sequence & Duration – Matsyasana

Matsyasana information would be incomplete without discussing the breathing pattern to be followed with it. Inhale while lifting the torso up, and exhale while dropping the neck backward.  Again inhale while lifting the head back up, and exhale while dropping the back on the mat. The beg8inners can hold the final posture for a minimum of 15 seconds and then release. 

Matsyasana is normally done after the shoulder stand ( Sarvangasana) as it helps release the tension, due to the position of the neck in Sarvangasana, in the neck in case any. Fish pose is generally held to half the duration ( 15 secs) to which the preceding asana, Sarvangasana, or the Plow pose are held separately or taken together if these asanas are done as a sequence ( 30 Secs). The fish pose is practiced as a counterpose to Shoulderstand, and Plow Pose as it provides the reverse stretch, backward, to the muscles of the neck, and shoulders countering any cramps or congestions induced by the intense forward bend in the neck due to these asanas. 

The fish pose can be held to a maximum of 5 mins with practice, generally, 1 to 3 minutes are good enough for extracting its health-improving benefits.  

Follow up Poses – Matsyasana, the Fish pose 

  • Ustrasana
  • Setu bandha Sarvangasana
  • Gomukhasana

After you have released Matsyasana, interlock the fingers of the hands under the back of the head, forearms touching the ears, lift the head up while inhaling and tuck the chin into the chest. Lower the heat back on the mat while exhaling and relax. Repeat this twice before relaxing in Savasana. 

Alignment Essentials and Modifications – Fish pose

  • Hold the upper back with its own tension in order to keep the lower back free of any stress
  • In order to maintain the required tension in the upper back keep the attention on it constantly keep the chest lifted to its maximum possible height
  • The awareness must shift between the elbows, crown of the head, and the upper back 
  • Raise, and lower the body very slowly adequately supported by the arms in order to prevent any injury to the spine
  • In case the back doesn’t arch to the extent that the crown of the  head can reach the floor, one can place a folded blanket underneath the head as a very light support
  • The hips are firmly placed on the ground throughout the practice, and the legs are stretched  toward the feet
  • The breathing must be smooth and rhythmical, focus on the abdominal, and intercostal breathing

Contraindications – When to avoid

Avoid doing Matsyasana under the  mentioned conditions, situations

  • Vertigo
  • Avoid it during the migraine attack
  • It is counter-indicated while the women are experiencing pre-menstrual discomfort
  • Neck or lower back problems
  • Heart Disease
  • Peptic Ulcers
  • Hernia
  •  Late Pregnancy
  • First few  days of menstruation
  • First few d
  • Insomnia
  • Low Blood pressure

Advantages- Matsyasana Benefits 

Matsyasana provides immense benefits to its practitioners, more so to the women as it massages and effectively works on the area of the body where the female reproductive system is located. Some of the health benefits of the Fish pose are listed here.

  • It imparts calmness, and rest to the mind
  • It stimulates or excites the mood as well
  • It rejuvenates the body & mind by removing fatigue
  • As it releases tension from the upper and lower back it reduces stress
  • It strengthens the heart and improves blood circulation throughout the body
  • It is good for the respiratory apparatus but must be taught in phases to the patients of respiratory disorders in order to avoid dizziness, as it opens out the chest it improves the lung capacity  which helps relieve asthma, it creates space in the upper region fo the lungs, clavicular region, drawing in more air to this region with each inhalation
  • It can heal spinal issues
  • It is good for treating neck pain, cervical spondylosis, and cervical spondylitis as it strengthens the muscles, and tones the nerves of the upper back, neck, and the shoulders, this enhances the supply of the blood to these regions
  • It tones the kidneys, and it is considered as one of the best asana to be included in yoga for healthy Kidneys
  • In case Matsyasana is done with legs arranged in a lotus pose, it heals the urogenital issues as the pressure in the pelvic region is enhanced
  • It can heal piles if done in lotus pose
  • As it increases the pressure in the abdomen, especially  around the pancreas, it is very effective for treating diabetes, any yoga for curing diabetes course would be incomplete without  the fish pose
  • It provides a push to the peristalsis process within the intestine which relieves one of constipation
  • As Matsyasana, fish pose stretches the abdominal region against its normal descend towards the pull of gravity it helps treat the most chronic of the abdominal disorders like a weak liver, and acidity issues
  • It massages the thymus gland, as the chest is expanded to its maximum capacity,  which imparts a boost to the immune system
  • The fish pose helps stretch the neck region backward, this stimulates the thyroid/ parathyroid glands located in the lower neck, a well exercises thyroid region is good for increasing the energy levels of the body, healthy metabolism, and an effective tissue repair mechanism along with being good for the overall health of the body
  • It keeps the arms toned, and is an effective technique to be a part of yoga for sculpted arms
  • It is good for removing any postural defects due to its positive impact on the alignment of the chest ( ribcage) with respect to the spine, prevents rounded shoulders
  • It removes, prevents  double chin as it stretches the skin of the face, and the neck back and upwards
  • It can help lose weight if Kapalbhati is practiced in the final posture of Matsyasana
  • It  is good for strengthening the vocal cords as it provides adequate pressure to the voice box, larynx, practicing sheetali pranayama in the final posture can accentuate the voice sweetening effect of the fish pose, and treat sore throat and  tonsilitis
  • Since this asana strengthens the naval region it helps overcome depression
  • The blood supply is increased to the brain  in a head low position which provides nourishment to the pituitary, and pineal glands
  • It also relieves high blood pressure, tired eyes, and heaviness in the head
  • It is beneficial for women who experience cramps in the abdomen,  and legs, or heavy flow of blood during menstruation
  • It stretches the hip flexors situated deeper into the pelvic musculature
Padma Matsyasana pose

Padma Matsyasana Pose

Matsyasana when done in Padmasana is known as Padma Matsyasana. In order to get into this yoga pose follow the instructions mentioned here.

  • Sit on the mat with the legs fully stretched in front
  • Place the palms beside the hips, lift the hips up and slide them backward through the arms, place the hips back on the mat by tilting the pelvis forward
  • Now bend the right knee and place the right foot in the grove of the left groin, sole facing upwards, similarly bend the left knee, and place the left foot in the grove of the right groin  by crossing the left shin over the right shin for securing the legs into Padmasana
  • Noe recline backward while inhaling and rest the weight of the torso over the elbows, slowly lower the back on the mat to lie in a supine position with the leg lock of padmasana intact, make sure the knees are resting on the mat
  • Now fold the arms under the head with the elbows pointing away from the body, and the head resting on the crossing point of the forearms, the palms placed under the shoulders, facing down, extend the elbows further away from the head to intensify the stretch in the abdominal region
  • Maintain this pose while holding the breath, release it by raising the torso up while exhaling, and sitting back into Padmasana

The coordination of movement with breathing will be like this: Inhale 3 seconds while reclining backward and lying in a supine position, hold the breath for 6 seconds, and return to the starting position while exhaling for 3 seconds. In case the pose needs to be held for a minute or more one must follow normal, rhythmic, slow breathing.

In another of the variation of Padma Matsyasana stay on the folded elbows while reclining backward, drop the head back with its crown resting on the mat, grab the big toes on the respective sides with the respective hands and let the elbows stay on the mat, slide the crown of the head more towards the body in order to achieve the maximum curvature in the back of the spine. The weight of the body is only supported by the head, the hips, and the legs. Relax the whole body and breath slow and deep. Reverse the steps as mentioned above to come out of the variation of Matsyasana, or the fish pose.

This simple variation of fish pose provides deep exercise to the sex organs.  Matsyasana always forms the part of yoga for ovaries health in females. The arrangement of the legs in Padmasana cuts the blood supply to the legs and directs it to the abdominal region. The pelvis and lower abdominal region receive an increased supply of blood than before. The pressure so created within the abdominal region pushes the venous blood out and thus creates space for the incoming fresh blood. If practiced with abdominal breathing, the combined pressure provided by the arrangement of the limbs and the breathing deeply exercise the vital glands of the endocrine system adding to the overall health of the body.

In yoga, the strength of the muscle is measured by its power of contraction and relaxation and not by its bulk.  Women can benefit immensely by performing pelvic floor muscle contractions in Matsyasana as the pelvic muscles are better exercised this way which can help prevent the occurrence of vaginal prolapse and stress incontinence of urine. Even the painless childbirth depends on the contraction, or relaxation power of the pelvic muscles than their hardness, or size.