Ardha Matsyendrasana: Lengthen Your Spine

This entry was posted on Jul 30, 2015 by Charlotte Bell.

Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes) is one of yoga’s ancient poses. Named for the sage, Matsyendra, it is one of the relatively few yoga asanas written about in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It is said to have been Matsyendra’s favorite yoga asana.

In the article “Heroes, Saints, and Sages” at yogajournal.com, Colleen Morton Busch writes about the pose’s namesake:

“Matsyendra appears to have been an actual historical person, not just a figure of myth. Born in Bengal around the 10th century c.e., he is venerated by Buddhists in Nepal as an incarnation of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara. As with most Indian myths, there are many versions of the story of Matsyendra’s metamorphosis into a realized adept—and all of them illustrate the radical transformation that yoga makes possible.”

Chief among Ardha Matsyendrasana’s stated benefits is its ability to strengthen and soften the muscles on either side of your spine. It also can stimulate digestion, stimulate spinal nerves and help keep your thoracic spine supple. The ability to rotate your spine in a healthy way in any seated twist depends on your ability to maintain your spine’s natural curves at the same time. The hand that touches the floor behind you is key in helping you maintain length and congruity in your spine. If your arms are short and your torso is long, it can be impossible to reach the floor without hunching over—the opposite of lengthening your spine.

That’s when a Yoga Block can be a really useful tool. A block can make up the distance between your hand and the floor, allowing you to elongate your spine. Even if your arms are not especially short—say your fingers touch the floor, but you can’t really press your hand strongly into the floor—pressing your hand into a block can give you support to lengthen more effectively.

How to Practice Ardha Matsyendrasana

Sit on a nonskid Yoga Mat. Fold your right leg underneath you so that your right foot sits next to your left outer thigh. Bend your left knee and step your left foot over the right leg, placing the sole of your left foot on the floor with your left knee upright. If your sit bones are grounding unevenly, or if your right knee feels uncomfortable, straighten your right leg out, continuing to step the left leg over. You can also try elevating your pelvis on a folded Yoga Blanket.

Rotate your spine toward your left leg, scooting your left sit bone back a bit as you turn. Hook your right elbow around your left knee and press your right hand into your yoga block to help you lengthen your spine. Take 5 to 10 deep breaths. Untwist your torso and sit in Dandasana for a few breaths. Check in: Compare the two sides of your body. Are there differences? Repeat on side two.

Hugger Mugger has a great selection of Yoga Blocks to choose from: cork, 3-inch or 4-inch foam, marbled foam, recycled foam or wood. Our Big Block is extra large for extra stability and comfort.

If you’d like to see more uses for Yoga Blocks, as well as how to use Hugger Mugger’s other premium props, please visit the Yoga Props Guide.

About Charlotte Bell
Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. Her third book is titled Hip-Healthy Asana: The Yoga Practitioner’s Guide to Protecting the Hips and Avoiding SI Joint Pain (Shambhala Publications). She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.