Fish pose is a back bending yoga pose that’s usually done near the end of a class. This is because it’s an incredibly deep bend that requires the spine to be correctly warmed up. It’s also been known to be done in the middle of a class but only when the class is catered specifically to the pose and therefore everyone is correctly warmed up for it.
Fish pose is also a great counter stretch for poses like shoulder stand, plow pose, and ear pressure pose. All these poses are done from laying down, which works perfectly with fish pose as it’s best to come into it from a laying position. Fish pose counteracts the other poses like plow pose because it neutralizes the spine.
The basics of fish pose
The pose is known as ‘Matsyasana’in Sanskrit. The Matsya means fish and Asana means pose, therefore it directly translates to fish pose. It’s a heart-opening pose, which means it mostly targets the spine and broadens the collar bones. It also stretches the shoulders and neck area, but the pose mostly stretches the spine.
It’s one of the deeper backbends that can be found in yoga, and most people have to practice a lot of camel pose (a more beginner-friendly backbend) to prepare for it. It’s an intermediate to advanced pose because not many people have a flexible enough spine to hold the pose. The traditional fish pose was a lot harder than the modern vinyasa fish pose known today, which also made it an advanced pose.
The benefits of practicing fish pose
Fish pose has similar benefits to most backbends in the sense that it strengthens the spine and the neck, whilst stretching the entire front body. There aren’t many day-to-day shapes that people come into that stretch the abdomen, chest, ribs, and throat. Backbends are crucial to stretch out these areas that don’t normally get any attention.
Nowadays, people are always sitting and often slouching, which makes the spine weak. Backbends like fish pose keep the spine healthy and strong so that it doesn’t degrade, especially with all the sitting that people have to do. Fish pose is primarily a heart-opening pose so when it’s practiced it deepens the persons’ empathy and compassion towards things. It directly connects to the heart chakra, allowing people who practice it to be more loving.
How to do fish pose
Step by step instructions to doing fish pose
- Begin by laying on your back with the arms lying next to the body and the palms are face down. Legs are slightly more than hip-width distance apart.
- Raise your shoulders, only slightly, to bring your arms up the mat a bit.
- From there, ground down into the forearms and hand and push into them to lift the upper back, shoulders, and lower back. The head and the glutes stay on the ground.
- Squeeze into the glutes and free up your neck to make sure not too much weight is in the head. Keep the thighs and heels active too.
- Make sure you’re squeezing your arms into your side body for more support.
- Depending on your spinal flexibility hold for around 5-10 breaths, remembering to breathe deeply. Release the pose if there is any pain or if it gets uncomfortable. You can release on an exhale by slowly sliding your arms down the mat and releasing your back down.
Common mistakes made when doing fish pose
One of the biggest mistakes people do in fish pose is relying too much on their heads. They put all their weight into the head area, which causes cranking in the neck. This isn’t good for the neck and doesn’t strengthen the spine or neck. It often results in unnecessary pain, when all that needs to be done is more pushing into the arms and engaging the legs more.
Another thing people do is that they try to get the top of their head onto the mat and make their bend match where their head is. A pose can never be forced, and the head should only be placed on the mat after the bend that suits the specific body is done. The bend doesn’t have to be deep to receive the benefits of the pose. It’s more important to stay connected to the breath than to have a deep backbend.
When first trying out fish pose, remember to push out through the arms and not the head. The head is not on the floor to support the body but rather to support the head itself. Engaging the glutes and the inner thighs in all backbends is always helpful because it puts less pressure on the spine to hold itself in the position.
Begin with a small bend and then work your way into a larger bend if your spine is flexible enough. There’s no need to try and bend super deeply, always start small and slowly make your way into any new pose. The body will slowly get used to it over time and be able to do it more naturally.
If you already struggle with back pain or have had a back injury, then this pose, and any other backbend should be avoided. This goes the same for those who experience neck or shoulder pain. A doctor or physician should always be consulted before going into any deep pose or yoga practice.
To make fish pose easier, a blanket can be placed under the area where the head will go. This makes the bend a lot easier and not so deep. It also allows a person to work on their spinal flexibility until they can do the full pose. Another variation of fish pose is lotus fish pose. This pose is the advanced version of the pose where the person goes into lotus before placing their arms and bending into fish pose. This makes it a hip-opening and heart-opening pose.