Often when planning content creation I scroll through comments on my website, Patreon and YouTube channel for ideas. One request I had recently on YouTube was for a tutorial on how to do fish pose [matsyasana]. With a step-by-step breakdown and the common mistakes and fixes. Disclaimer: links in this post may be affiliate links.
As my purpose for content is in service to the yoga community I’ve created I was happy to oblige. Fish pose isn’t a pose I do often, but it’s one I enjoy a lot. Plus it’s a great way to work the the muscles along the spine, for a stronger back.
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Who shouldn’t do fish pose
As with all movement practices, there is going to be a small group of people that need to be mindful in this pose. Contraindications for fish pose include those who have the following:
- Lower Back issues
- Neck injuries
Fish pose is a self-supporting backbend. That means you are using the musculature of your back body to support your torso in this pose. It’s an active pose. As always, be mindful of your movement and only move within your comfortable range.
How to do fish pose
This is a great yoga asana to stretch the abdomen, chest, shoulders and neck while working the muscles along the spine. Begin laying on the floor with the knees bent and arms down to the sides, palms facing down. Draw the shoulders towards the spine, allowing the sternum to rise. Continue the upward movement of the chest letting the head tip back and navel lift.
Connected to the floor are the feet, pelvis, hands, forearms, and crown of the head. When looking at how to do fish pose it’s important to remember to only go where it’s comfortable. The legs can remain bent, if that feels good then consider extending the legs to the front of the yoga mat.
Advanced vacations of this pose include having the hands tucked underneath the pelvis. You may discover this provides more lift of the torso, and a deeper expression of the pose. Now, you might be thinking that this looks like a tough yoga asana and asking “how to do fish pose with modifications?”. No worries, I got you covered.
Fish pose modifications
The first modification is to use a bolster. This is my personal favorite because it’s soft and supportive. Take the bolster and lay it behind you. Sit with the pelvis at the very edge of the bolster and lie back. You can begin with the knees bent and extend the legs if it feels comfortable.
If this is still too much for your back then a further modification would be to use a block underneath the head end of the bolster. This provides less of an arch for the lower back.
You can do the same modification with blocks rather than a bolster. Using two blocks under the upper back and head. This gives you the option of changing the height of the block under the head to support the neck better. Or removing the block under the head to explore the pose supported.
Movements to prepare for fish pose include extensions of the spine like cobra and locust. If you are working up towards self-supported fish pose these are essential exercises.
Another exercise to prepare for matsyasana is bridge pose. This works the whole back body and done correctly allows for some extension through the upper and lower back, working the spinal extensors.
Fish Pose, Matsyasana, is a fun pose. One that provides length in the front, and party in the back. Just a note of caution – don’t do it with your hair in a ponytail! Strictly hair down for this yoga pose!
- Do you have strong back muscles?
- Have you tried fish pose?
- Why is there no couch potato pose?
I watched your video to learn how to properly teach this pose in my energetic series of classes. This week is the throat energetic center and fish is my “peak” pose. Do you have any advice beyond the extensive advice you shared here for teaching this pose to senior participants? I share this class on line, so I’m very mixed about whether I should offer this pose.
For seniors I’d review on a case by case basis, as some seniors are more active (I have an 83 year old client that is still very active!), but I’d offer this supported.
Honestly it depends on the seniors. So often we blanket “seniors” and lump them together. I have a “senior” client at 84 who I would totally do this pose with. Yet I have a 49 year old I totally wouldn’t. You have to think of the participants you’re dealing with, their health, their fitness.