I’m going to share a pose with you that I absolutely can’t live without. If I could only gift you with one pose for Christmas, this would be it! It’s like a mini vacation that you can take any time you have a few minutes and a couple of props. This truly is the gift that keeps on giving and you can share it with as many people as you like! I’ve personally whipped this out a few times over the holidays and thanked the yoga Gods for it!
Supta (resting) Matsyasana (fish pose) is a restorative version of the classic yoga pose inspired by Matsya, the fish who was the first avatar of Lord Vishnu. A version of the story recalls that one day, Matsya was swimming through the primordial ocean when he overheard Lord Shiva teaching yoga to his wife, Parvati on an island.
Intrigued, Matsya arched upward out of the water to listen in and his body took the shape of Matsyasana, enabling him to float on the water while he absorbed the teachings of yoga. His interest was so steadfast and sincere, Lord Shiva granted him the form of a human so that he might continue his studies on land and teach them to mankind.
This is how Matsya transformed into a great sage named Matsyendra, who then sat on the island in a twisted position during Lord Shiva’s epic yoga lesson. This new pose helped Matsyendra to turn away from distractions, uniting his front (conscious mind) and back (unconscious mind) to allow for total immersion in yoga. His new pose later came to be known as Ardha Matsyendrasana, which translates to Half Lord of the Fishes Pose.
Matsyendra completed his studies successfully and became the world’s first yoga teacher. It all began with Matsyasana, a heart-opening yoga pose that calms the nerves while energizing the circulatory system, a great way to prep for the teachings of yoga.
While the full expression of Matsyasana has been known to literally allow a person to float on ocean water just as it did for Matsya the fish, it’s also quite advanced and hardly accessible to the average person. Since our goal here is not to float on water, we can modify the pose to suit our own needs and abilities. A much easier way to modify the pose is with a change in foot position and the addition of yoga props.
In full Matsyasana, the legs are in Padmasana, Lotus Pose, which can be straining on the knees. This is the famous pretzel leg position that many people cringe at. Modify by placing the soles of the feet together in the Bhadrasana, Gracious Pose (aka, Baddha Konasana, Bound Angle Pose) foot position as pictured below. Gracious Pose is one of the few positions that can be held safely for extended periods of time.
In our modified version of Matsyasana, we will also recruit the support of a bolster under the upper back, and a block or folded blanket under the head. This removes all the effort from the pose and reduces the risk of neck injury. Anyone can achieve a wonderful level of restoration in Supta Matsyasana with help from the right props, making this otherwise advanced pose an indispensable go-to for beginners through to advanced practitioners, particularly when stressed or exhausted.
You may also be interested to know that both Matsyasana and Bhadrasana have much older documentation than most yoga poses, first recorded as far back as the 1600s. They have both been widely regarded as highly valuable poses for no less than four or five hundred years, whereas contemporary yoga poses like Downward Facing Dog and Triangle weren’t introduced until the 20th century.
Bhadrasana is listed as one of the top four most important yoga poses in the 15th century CE yoga text, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which credits Matsyendra and other sages for passing down the yoga vidyas (yogic knowledge).1 It was used as a meditation pose and held for extended periods of time. Both Bhadrasana and Matsyasana are among the few poses later named in an encyclopedic 17th century yoga text called the Gheranda Samhita, which listed them among the 32 yoga poses which are “useful to mortals.”
Together, these two tried-and-true poses combine forces for a modified version of Supta Matsyasana – just in time for a mid-holiday recharge! Try it tonight and let go of this year’s stresses while your heart is opened to new possibilities for 2017 and beyond.
YOU WILL NEED:
- Place a block or folded blanket behind a bolster.
- Lay your upper back over the bolster, resting your head on the block or pillow. Your bum stays on the floor. If a bolster is too big, use a rolled blanket or a yoga block instead. If the block digs into your back, cushion it with a folded blanket.
- Open your arms out to the sides with your palms facing up. Your underarms should be hooked around the back edge of the bolster.
- Bring the soles of the feet together, opening your knees to the sides. If you are unable to relax your knees down without straining the lower back or hips, place a block under each knee for support.
- Rest here, breathing fully and slowly for as long as you feel comfortable in this position, anywhere from 1-10 minutes. The pose should feel very calming. If there is any discomfort at all, try adjusting the props until you can totally relax.
- To come out, bring the knees together and place your feet on the floor. Interlace your fingers behind the neck and head, then curl up a little. From here, you might try rolling off the side of the bolster or sitting all the way up.
- Neutralize your spine in Apanasana (aka Pavanmuktasana), laying on your back as you hug the knees into your chest.
Enjoy as often as needed and have a very happy holiday season, with love from Bella and me!
1. “Matsyendra, Goraksha, and others knew Hatha Vidya, and by their favor Yogi Swatmarama also learnt it from them.” 1.4, Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Swatmarama, ↩