Our poses teach us to align our muscles and bones so we can improve our everyday posture. The history behind each pose contains a lesson to remind us how to align with our highest good in everyday life.
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose, or Ardha Matsyendrasana, is a moderate to intense twist that invites length into the spine, is a grounding stretch for the outer hips, and creates expansion through the chest and shoulders. Incorporate this pose to ease into or out of a vigorous physical practice and as a complement to your breath work.
Lord of the Fishes: The Man and the Mythology
Shri Matsyendranath, aka Lord of the Fishes is recognized as the co-founder of Hatha yoga. Legend says that he was abandoned at birth, plunged into the abyssal ocean, and swallowed up by a mammoth fish.
Forgotten and alone in the belly of this beast, he hears the mumbled echoes of Shiva and Shakti living the yoga tradition in their home at the bottom of the ocean.
During his hermitage, he dedicates all of his childhood to listening to their voices and developing his yoga practice through their sacred guidance, which eventually frees him from the fish belly tomb. He emerges as a yoga guru with a dharma to pass on these teachings.
The twisting asana we practice today, Half Lord of the Fishes, gives reverence to this yoga master and reminds us to get right to the core or “belly” of our own beasts to confront them and emerge liberated.
Half Lord of the Fishes: The Pose
Before you begin this pose, make sure that you have warmed up the hamstrings, quadriceps, and stretched out your hips. Sun Salutations, Warrior I and II, and Seated Tree Pose are all great preparations to ensure you reap all the twisty goodness from this pose.
Once you're warmed up, follow this step-by-step guide.
- Start in Dandasana (Staff Pose) and establish equal weight beneath your sitting bones and a steady, fluid breath.
- Inhale. Bend your right knee similar to Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Pose).
- Exhale. Bend your left knee and cross it over your right leg, placing the left foot outside of the right thigh.
- Be mindful that neither hip lifts off of the ground throughout this pose.
- Inhale. Create length in the spine by extending your right arm up towards the sky, placing the left hand behind you for extra support.
- Exhale. Begin to twist by pressing your right arm outside of the left thigh. This will allow greater flexibility in your spinal rotation without comprising hip and lumbar spine stability.
- Remain in the twisting phase for 5 to 10 breaths, deepening the twist only as you exhale. Use your inhale to create length and avoid collapsing in the upper and lower back.
- Unwind from the twist and return to Dandasana for 5 breaths before you repeat side two.
Variations and Modifications
- If you suffer from knee, hip, or spinal injury, keep the bottom leg straight and modify the twist by rotating inward to avoid placing excess strain on the hips, lumbar, and cervical spine.
- To deepen the pose, try the full bound variation for some extra shoulder stretch.
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose is a great example of a dynamic posture. It will develop and evolve quite dramatically within the span of a few breaths.
In this pose, a little goes a long way, so do not force yourself to go too deep. Your practice need not be extreme to elicit healing, and ultimately, like Shri Matsyendranath, seek patience and allow yourself to find freedom in your own time. Trust the yoga!