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Ardha Matsyendrasana: Half Lord of the Fishes Pose


A great pose to improve the overall health of your spine, Ardha Matsyendrasana (ARE-dah MOT-see-en-DRAHS-anna), or Half Lord of the Fishes pose, is an approachable twist that will open your shoulders and chest. A good antidote for too much sitting and symptoms that come with overusing technology, Ardha Matsyendrasana has the ability to increase energy in the body while also stoking the digestive fire in your belly.

Philosophy + Origin

Matsyendra is often recognized as one of the original founders of Hatha yoga. Thrown into the ocean because he is rejected by his parents, the story of Matsyendra reminds us that it’s often the parts of our personal stories we don’t like or don’t want to accept that are the most beneficial, especially on the path to becoming a yogi or yogini. While practicing Ardha Matsyendrasana, instead of conceptualizing the twist to be a “purge” of what’s “unwanted, unnecessary,” think of the “detoxification” as a purification, an opportunity to take what was once viewed or understood as “bad” and transform it into something that is helpful to our personal journey.

ADJUSTMENTS/MODIFICATIONS:

  • Use a folded blanket under your sacrum to help elevate the pelvis in order to prevent rounding or discomfort in the lower back.
  • If you feel like you are leaning to one side or have difficulty grounding through both sit bones, extend the bottom leg out rather than bending it under your top leg.
  • Rather than bringing the upper outer arm outside the opposite thigh, hug the knee for a milder version of the twist.
  • For a more advanced version of this posture, bind the arms by clasping the hands behind your back.

CONTRAINDICATIONS AND CAUTIONS:

  • Disc herniation or issues, especially in the lumbar spine
  • Neck pain or injury
  • Shoulder pain or injury

TIPS:

As you become more familiar with the posture, you can work on safely getting deeper into the pose without needing to bind the hands, which is often only accessible to a small percentage of individuals. To deepen the twist, press your opposite elbow actively against the upper thigh of the top leg. As you do, bring your torso closer to the thigh so that you can bring the upper arm closer to the hip joint. With time, your shoulder will work its way outside of the knee. Be sure that you keep the torso long by drawing the shoulder blades together and down as you reach through the sternum.

STEP-BY-STEP:

  1. Begin seated on your mat with both legs extended out in front of you in Dandasana. Bring both knees towards your chest with your feet resting flat on the floor. Bring your left foot under your right leg so that the left foot is resting outside of the right hip. Allow the outer left leg to rest on the floor comfortably. Bring the right foot over the left leg so that the sole of the right foot stamps down just outside of the left hip.
  2. Making sure that the right knee is pointing straight up, begin to twist your torso towards your right leg on an exhalation. With the right hand directly behind your back on the floor, press firmly into the palm of the hand to help keep the spine long. Bring the outer left arm outside of the right leg, keeping your right thigh and torso as close together as possible. To stay safe as you twist, press firmly through the sole of the right foot and ground down through the tailbone. To keep the spine long, lean back so that you can firm the shoulder blades.
  3. Depending on your neck, you can turn your head to look either to the left or right. Turning to the right with extend the twist through the spine; turning the the left will provide a counter twist. Choose the option that is most comfortable for your body.
  4. Use the breath to refine this posture by lengthening the spine and lifting the sternum with each inhalation and twisting a bit deeper with each exhalation. The spine should be felt equally throughout the back, not just in the lower back.
  5. Hold for up to 60 seconds before using an exhale to release back to center. Take a few breaths with the legs extended out before you before starting the posture on the second side.

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PREPARATORY POSES:

  • Baddha Konasana
  • Janu Sirsasana
  • Supta Padangusthasana
  • Virasana

FOLLOW-UP POSES:

  • Paschimottanasana
  • Janu Sirsasana

SANSKRIT:

  • Ardha = Half
  • Matsya = Fish
  • Indra = Ruler
  • Asana = Pose

PHYSICAL BENEFITS:

  • Increase flexibility and range of motion in the spine
  • Open and expand chest and shoulders
  • Relieve tension in thoracic and mid-back
  • Stimulate internal organs, like liver and kidneys
  • Increases digestion
  • Decreases fatigue, backache, sciatica discomfort and menstrual pain
  • Therapeutic for asthma

ENERGETIC BENEFITS:

  • Increases energy in the body along the spine, Sushumna Nadi
  • Stimulates Agni, the digestive fire in the body
  • Promotes fertility
  • Awakens kundalini

MANTRA:

“Om Namah Shivaya Mantra”

Used to acknowledge the creative power of Lord Shiva (who Matsyendra is said to be an embodiment of), repeating this mantra helps to bring you into the flow of the universe so that you can accept and celebrate what is. To practice chant, “Om Namah Shivaya, Namah Shivaya, Nama Shiva,” which translates, “I bow to Lord Shiva, the peaceful one who is the embodiment of all that is caused by the universe.”

MUDRA: Gyan Mudra

Said to stimulate the brain in order to increase knowledge and concentration, Gyan mudra is a great way to awaken the body, mind, and subtle bodies. To practice, bring the tip of the index finger to the tip of the thumb.

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