Fish Pose (Matsyasana)

Fish Pose, Matsyasana, (maht-see-AH-suh-nuh)

matysa (fish) + asana (pose)

Also Known as: Back Bending Asana

Pose Type: Stretching, Backbend, Inversion, Menstruation, Stress Relief, Supine

Difficulty: Intermediate

a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing fish pose

Give your shoulders some loving in Fish Pose. Legend has it that if you perform this pose in water, you will be able to float like a fish.

Fish Pose Fundamentals

Open your throat and heart chakra in this reclined backbend and dynamic shoulder opener.

The myth behind this pose tells the story of creator Brahma falling asleep and cosmic order becoming threatened by a demon. Rain began to pour down, much as it does when we lose awareness and things begin to fall apart. Vishnu the preserver took the form of a magical fish (Matsya), given that the world was drowning in a sea of sorrow and to save creation and its creatures.

Fish Pose is all about embodying your truth and most beautiful expressed self. It is great if you are feeling drained or fatigued and in need of an energy boost.

A counter pose to shoulder stand, come into this pose any time you are needing to cure a headache, alleviate neck and shoulder tension, or simply to relax and unwind.

Imagine yourself floating on water and rising above your stress and worries in the poise and powerful Fish Pose.

Fish Pose Benefits

  • Opens the shoulders and stretches the neck.
  • Beneficial for reducing slouching and hunch back (kyphosis) spine by stretching the back of the neck creating better spinal mobility.
  • Stretches the front body: throat, chest, core, hips, and psoas.
  • Strengthens the upper back muscles and deltoids.
  • Opens up the lungs, promoting deep breathing and helps to relieve respiratory ailments.
  • Naturally energizes the body, reduces fatigue and counteracts anxiety.
a gif of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing fish pose

How To Do Fish Pose: Step-By-Step

How To Get There:

1. Start on your back with your feet planted on the ground out in front of you hips distance apart. Your hands can rest gently on your side.

2. Move your feet in closer and lift your hips, sliding your hands underneath your glutes and lower back with your palms turned down and your thumbs lightly touching together.

3. Push your elbows, forearms, and hands onto the floor and lift your chest up working your elbows back to help support grounding into your foundation.

5. Firm down into the ground then slowly extend your legs out nice and long with a slight inner rotation of the thighs.

6. Look towards your toes and see if it’s possible to push into your elbows and elevate your chest and heart coming into a gentle back bend.

7. Draw your shoulder blades together to support your spine. Press your palms firmly into your mat to help lift your heart up towards the sky as you take your gaze straight up. This can be as far as you can go simply opening up the heart.

8. If you’re comfortable letting your head hang back, release your neck letting your head hang with the top of your head pointing and rooting down towards the floor beneath you. Open your throat to the sky.

9. Stay for 3-5 breaths, breathing deep but gently with your chest and ribcage. 

10. Come out of the pose by pressing your elbows down to lift your head and gently place your spine down on the mat. Repeat if you would like or follow up with a counter pose.

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing fish Pose

Tips And Tricks:

  • Practice this pose sitting down with your back upright to embody Fish Pose if laying down feels too unstable. Come into staff pose and bring your hand to the floor behind you, bring your shoulder blades towards each other, and arch your back so that you are opening up across the chest  
  • Do not bear all your weight on your head rather allow your head to be light by engaging your core and broadening through the chest.
  • Make sure to kiss the shoulder blades together to really broaden through the chest. Create space between the ears and shoulders.
  • Relax your thighs and hips rather than tensing them to create ease in this pose.

Fish Pose Variation:

Supported Fish Pose With A Blanket Or Bolster

To support you in this back bending position perform the pose with your back on two thickly rolled blankets or bolster, lengthwise on your mat and lie back on it between the shoulders. Rest your lower back ribs on the edge of your bolster. Make sure your neck is supported fully with your chin even with or slightly lower than your forehead. Soles of the feet can come to kiss together for a release in the hips.

Fish Pose With A Block

To avoid straining your neck and reduce the intensity of the backbend, place a thickly folded blanket or block under the back of your head and keep your throat soft.

Fish Pose With Legs Lifted

a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing fish pose with her legs and arms lifted

For more sensation and a more advanced modification, suspend your legs and arms. Keep the majority of the weight in your body in your hips rather than your head.

Precautions & Contraindications:

Common Misalignments

Be careful to not over-extend your neck by applying too much pressure to your cervical neck. Practice keeping a buoyancy and lightness in the neck, head, and throat. Engage your core and broaden the neck.

Neck or Back Injury

If recovering from a neck or back injury modify this pose using a block or folded blanket for support, or avoid this pose. If you suffer from migraines or high or low blood pressure, proceed with caution.

Related Poses

Ustrasana (Camel Pose)

Gomukasana (Cow Face Pose)

Preparatory Poses:

Setu Bandah Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

Dandasana (Staff Pose)

Counter Poses:

Bitilasana (Cat Pose)

Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)

yogajala break 1000 × 40 px 1

For more in-depth asana resources, check out our free Yoga Pose Library. Here you’ll find complete guides to each and every yoga asana to deepen your yoga knowledge.

Each pose page features high-quality photos, anatomy insights, tips and tricks, pose instructions and queues, asana variations, and preparatory and counter poses.

Photo of author
Anna is a freelance lifestyle writer and yoga teacher currently living in sunny San Diego, California. She uses the tools of storytelling and yoga to convey a message of hope and inspiration. Her mission is to make the tools of yoga accessible to as many people as possible especially those in underrepresented communities.

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