How to Do Fish Pose (Matsyasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Fish Pose - Matsyasana
© Barry Stone

Targets: Upper body stretch

Level: Beginner

Fish Pose (Matsyasana) is most often done as a counter pose to the Shoulder Stand. It stretches your body (the upper body in particular) in the opposite way. Shoulder stand places a lot of pressure on the upper body, so it feels good and is balancing stretch everything out. If you are doing an inversions sequence, you might follow Shoulder Stand with Ear Pressure Pose and Fish Pose.

Benefits

Fish pose stretches the front of your body, including the chest, abs, hip flexors, neck, and back.

Fish is a good counter pose because in Shoulder Stand the chin is strongly tucked, the neck is extended, and the spine is in a position of flexion. In Fish pose, the chin is raised, the neck is curved back, and the spine is in extension.

From a chakra perspective, Fish has a lot of potential because it stimulates two important areas that are hard to reach. First is the vishudda (throat) chakra. There aren't that many yoga poses where the throat is opened as it is in fish. In the chakra system, the vishudda is concerned with communication and self-expression. It's often summarized as "speaking your truth," so if this area is blocked it means you keep things bottled inside that would be better let out. Fish also brings attention to the sahasrara (crown) chakra on the top of your head. Again, there aren't many yoga poses that put pressure on the crown, which has to do with wisdom and knowledge.

Even if you're not fully on board with the idea of the chakras, you can still benefit from a pose that engages parts of the body that are often neglected, even within yoga's asanas. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

Begin by coming to lie on your back.

  1. Come up to your elbows with your forearms flat on the mat and your upper arms perpendicular to the floor.
  2. Slide your body towards the back of the mat while keeping your forearms in place and puffing up your chest by rolling your shoulder back and tucking your shoulder blades firmly onto your back. 
  3. Press your palms into the mat. You can tuck your hands under your butt if that feels like a more stable position for them.
  4. Lower the crown (very top) of your head back until it comes to the floor, opening your throat.
  5. Keep your legs engaged and your toes active throughout. 
  6. To come out, press strongly into your forearms and raise your head off the floor. Then release your upper body to the mat.

Common Mistakes

Too Much Pressure on Head

Your head should be supported by the back, neck, and shoulder muscles and have only a light pressure against the mat. If you are placing a lot of pressure on it, use a rolled blanket as a support under your upper back or shoulders.

Straining the Neck

Your neck and back should be in a continuous arch. If your neck is bent like a hinge you are placing a strain on it. To correct this, think of elongating from the top of your head and creating an arch.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

Position a blanket or block under your head if the crown does not comfortably come to the floor. You can also let the head hang if that feels better.

You can also use a rolled blanket under your back as a support.

Up for a Challenge?

If you feel comfortable and stable in fish, you can try the following variations. They can be done at the same time or separately.

  • Bring your arms up towards the ceiling with the palms touching. If you try this variation, make sure that the top of your head stays on the floor and your chest doesn't collapse.
  • Lift your legs to a 45-degree angle.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid this pose if you have a neck or back injury or if you have a headache. If you feel any pressure or discomfort on your neck or throat, lower your chest a bit or use a blanket to support your head.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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