What is Ardha Matsyendrasana Pose?
‘Ardha Matsyendrasana’ is known as the ‘Hatha Yogi Matsyendranatha’s pose-preparatory version’. Matsya means fish and Indra means Lord. Yogi Matsyendranatha was the most prominent Hatha Yogi and the founder of the ‘Nath’ sect. It is believed that this asana was Yogi Matsyendranath's favorite asana. It is also known as the ‘Half Lord of Fishes Pose’ in English.
The asana is an intense, seated half spinal twist that works greatly on strengthening the spine, stimulating digestion, improving posture and awareness. It regulates the flow of life force or prana in a particular direction such that it awakens dormant energy in the solar plexus, known as the Manipura Chakra. Normally, our pranic vibrations are slow. But by performing this asana, it activates and energizes the prana in the naval center. The naval center is directly connected to the digestive system. Proper digestion and elimination is the key to good health. The navel center, the gut, is responsible for our overall health. When it is underactive or overactive, body functions can be sluggish, imbalanced and diseases develop in different areas. When this is practiced, we are developing and strengthening the manipura chakra systematically, removing toxins, imbalances and blackages.
The half lord of the fishes pose stimulates the digestive fire. Physiologically, it stimulates and massages the pancreas, liver, spleen, kidneys, stomach, and ascending and descending colons. It is also very useful for diabetes and constipation. Ardha Matsyendrasana is one of the best asanas for the back. It tones the nerve roots, adjusts and realigns the vertebral column. The back muscles are pulled and stretched in a way that releases all tension and stress it is holding. It is, therefore, recommended in cases of lumbago, rheumatism and slipped disc.
Position type: Seated
Spinal position: Twist
Ideal for: Flexibility
Targets: Back and abdomen
Pose level: Intermediate
What are the key benefits of Ardha Matsyendrasana?
The benefits of ardha matsyendrasana are primarily focused on the back and abdomen. Ardha Matsyendrasana benefits include stretching the muscles of the back and abdomen, while also strengthening the spine. It opens up the chest and shoulders. It has a very profound impact on all the digestive organs and increases the digestive fire. It also activates the life force or prana that is dormant in the naval center. This asanas has the ability to provide relief from back pain as well as ailments of the digestive system.
How can you prepare for the asana
Here are a few ardha matsyendrasana preparatory poses that you can practice.
Lower back flexibility
Lower back flexibility is important for this asana. Backbends like camel pose, cobra pose, locust pose and forward bends like seated forward fold and standing forward fold are extremely helpful. Over a period of time, once flexibility is better, the stretch will be deeper. You can also practice simpler spinal twists in the beginning.
Shoulder flexibility and mobility
How to practice Ardha Matsyendrasana
Getting into the posture
- Sit in Dandasana with your feet together and spine straight.
- Now bend the left leg and place the left foot flat beside the right hip.
- Take the right leg over the left knee and place the left hand on the right knee and the right hand behind you.
- Now slowly twist the waist, shoulders and neck to the right and look over the right shoulder.
- Ensure your spine is straight.
- Now look over the right shoulder while taking slow deep breaths.
Getting out of the posture
- As you breathe out, first slowly release the right hand (the hand that is behind you), release and turn the waist, chest and neck.
- Sit up straight and relaxed.
- Now repeat this on the other side.
Key Alignments in Ardha Matsyendrasana
- Ensure the chest is open and not curving. For this, the spine should remain straight. Do not let the shoulders hunch.
- To get the full effect of the spinal twist, the back should be straight.
- Ideally, the shoulders and the raised knee should be in one line. In the beginning, you might find this difficult. But with practice the twist will get deeper so it becomes easier to achieve.
What are the contraindications of Ardha Matsyendrasana?
Pregnant women should avoid the asana. Anyone suffering from hyper or hypothyroidism, slipped disc and spinal injuries should also avoid the asana. In the case of any back pain extreme care should be taken. These are the few ardha matsyendrasana contraindications that one must follow.
Counter poses of Ardha Matsyendrasana
It is good to twist a little to the opposite side after completing the asana on both sides. Since it is an extreme spinal twist, even if the asana is completed on both sides, gently twist so the spine gets a counter movement.
You can also perform the seated forward bend, Paschimottanasana. This will give the spine a counter movement as well.
Ardha Matsyendrasana variations
Here are Ardha Matsyendrasana variations that you can practice.
- As a beginner, you can keep one leg extended straight, bend the other leg and twist with the fingers pointing up or elbows bent (Meru Vakrasana)
- Bend the legs, but the other foot doesn’t cross the knee and twist
Make a bind under the thighs and interlock the palms.
Advice of beginners
Avoid curving the spine. You will not get all the benefits if the spine curves. Don’t focus completely on twisting the lower back. The twist should be evenly spread between the upper and lower back. Be careful when twisting. There should not be excess strain on the back. Twist as much as possible. Always engage your core muscles to hold the asana.
- Always keep the spine straight. If possible, lengthen the spine as well.
- With every exhalation try to twist a little more. As you progress you’ll start to notice how the twist is becoming deeper for you.
- Let the most of the twist come from the thoracic spine and not from the lumbar or cervical spine.
What is the history of Ardha Matsyendrasana?
Sage Matsyendranath practiced this asana everyday, and thus it was named after him. Matsyendranath is one of the founders of Hatha Yoga and the Nath Tradition. Matsyendranath was a student of Lord Shiva (the first yogi). He is also known as Adi-natha, the origin of the Nath’s. Hatha Yoga Pradipika explains how he is the second Siddha, the enlightened soul, who attained physical and spiritual enlightenment after Lord Shiva.
Many historical yogic texts say that Matsyendranath was born at a bad or inauspicious time. This was believed to be a bad omen. To relieve the bad luck this had cast on him and his parents, he was thrown into the sea. It is believed he was swallowed by a fish and lived inside it for many years. He happened to be swimming near the riverbank where Lord Shiva was explaining the secrets of yoga to his wife, Parvathi. Matsyendranath gained yogic which he started practicing. He did his sadhana inside the fish for many years. One day, Lord Shiva noticed the size of this fish and he heard the entire story from Matsyendra. He then chose him to impart yoga knowledge to the world, and to do this, he transformed the giant fish into a man. This man is Sage Matsyendranath.
Matsyendrasana as per Hatha Yoga texts
The popular text, Hatha Yoga Pradipika (chapter 1:26) describes this asana in great detail. It is said that Yogi Matsyendrasana himself has detailed out the asana, its benefits and how it should be practiced. Hatha Yoga Pradipika 1:27 throws light on how this practice increases the digestive fire, known as Jatara Pradeeptham, to such an incredible capacity that it has the potential to remove diseases. It also awakens the dormant serpent power, known as Kundalini. This brings balance and equilibrium to the mind and body. The life force, prana, is directed toward the naval center (the solar plexus and Manipura Chakra). This is what forces the awakening of Kundalini, eliminates imbalances and harmonizes bodily functions.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika further explains how there is a certain fluid produced in the higher brain centers. This fluid gets consumed by the digestive fire and results in imbalances that lead to old age, disease and death. It refers to the neurohormones of the pituitary and pineal glands which activate the other endocrine glands. In yoga, it is believed that this fluid is stored in bindu visarga and is often associated with semen or ova. This asana is one of the practices that helps prevent the fluid from falling into the digestive or Manipura fire. When this happens, vitality increases and one can achieve longevity.
- Since this is an intermediate, deep spinal twist, always learn and practice the asana live with a teacher to know the right variations and progress in an injury-free manner.
- Also be gentle. The twist can be intense on the spine so avoid any jerks or sudden movements.