Pose of the Month: Matsyasana

Yoga Pose of the MonthWalking into an yoga class can sometimes feel like you’ve stepped into another world. The language of asana is often different than the language of everyday life with phrases like “opening our hearts,” “staying with our breath,” and “being in the moment.” In the context of a yoga asana practice, our ability to truly feel these words of guidance sometimes gets lost in the rhetoric of the experience. We are not always able to “feel” what we are told to feel in a specific asana, which can be frustrating and discouraging. But when the feelings that we seek are “opening our hearts” and “awareness of the breath,” Matsyasana or Fish Pose is an indispensable resource.

Matsya was an incarnation of the Lord Vishnu who is the source and the maintainer of the universe and it’s manifestation in the microcosm of our Selves. During a great flood, Lord Vishnu took the form of a fish, Matsya, to warn of the impending danger and carry the family of the sage Manu and seven great rishis to safety. Through its expression in asana, the fish expands the space of the heart and brings a deeper awareness to our breath, the great sustainers of our human life. In this asana we may feel vulnerable as we open our hearts completely, or we may feel strengthened as we focus on the sensation and sound of our breath that is the source of all our experiences.

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Matsyasana is meant without question to reveal the expansive quality of the heart, thus uncovering our core of calm that underlies all events in our lives, and by expanding the space of the throat as well, we are drawn into the experience of our moment to moment companion of the breath. As the heart lifts above the space of the head in Fish pose, we are reminded to direct our actions more from the wisdom of the heart and less from the scrutiny of the mind.

Use Matsyasana when we are flooded with the rising waters of our everyday lives, to restore the calm eye of the heart in the middle of the storm of our mind, which will always lead us to higher ground.

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Among the many benefits of Matsyasana is the effect on our spine. A common postural misalignment is thoracic kyphosis, exhibited by a rounded upper back, which can lead to rounded shoulders and a forward head. Physical activities such as driving, working at a desk for 6-9 hours a day, a typical gym workout, as well as emotional and energetic responses to low self esteem, lack of confidence, and feeling negative about ourselves can cause us to exhibit this misalignment.

When our spine becomes misaligned into kyphosis, we develop tightness of the muscles of the chest, shoulders and neck (Latissimus Dorsi, Pectoralis Major and Pectoralis Minor). We also end up with weakness of the muscles that support our upper back, neck and shoulders (Middle and Lower Trapezius and Rhomboids).

These muscular and joint imbalances can lead to compression of the vertebrae of the neck or compression of the nerves that go from the neck and into the arm. Headaches and pain throughout the neck and into the shoulder blades will often result. Compression of the nerves can be the cause of pain down the arm and into the hand (i.e. thoracic outlet syndrome) Matsyasana works to correct the postural misalignments of thoracic kyphosis and to relieve the resulting joint and muscular imbalances.

To provide support in fish pose, you can use two blocks; one placed horizontally under the lower edge of your scapula and one under your head. Make sure the blocks are at a level that allows for a smooth curve of the cervical spine versus having the head in hyperextension, coming at a sharp angle towards the second block. You can also use a bolster or blankets under your thoracic spine either vertically down your spine or horizontally below your shoulder blades. Once in supported fish you can lay your arms out to the side in a “T” position to focus on the Pectoralis Major or bring them overhead towards the floor to focus on the Pectoralis Major and Latissimus Dorsi. If you are practicing Matsyasana without support, you want to make sure not to have too much pressure on your head and not to have your head hyperextended.

Marlysa Sullivan

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