Half lord of the fishes, known as ardha matsyendrasana in Sanskrit, is a twisting pose that alternatively stretches and contracts the muscles on either side of the back. The pose tones and lengthens the back muscles to reduce back pain and muscle spasming.
Tips, Photos and Videos for Beginners
Half lord of the fishes pose strengthens the upper and mid back muscles on the side of the body the practitioner turns towards, while it lengthens the equivalent muscles on the side of the body the practitioner turns away from. Practicing the twist on both sides, then, makes the muscles on both sides of the back strong and flexible, relieving back pain.
According to Swami Satyananda Saraswati, half lord of the fishes pose reduces the tendency of adjoining vertebrae to develop inflammatory problems and calcium deposits. The twist also massages the abdominal organs for better digestion and regulates the secretions of the adrenal gland, liver, and pancreas.
Pregnant women and those suffering from sciatica or a slipped disk should avoid half lord of the fishes pose. Those with a peptic ulcer, hernia, or hyperthyroidism should exercise caution in this pose – practice only with the guidance of a competent teacher.
It’s best to practice half lord of the fishes pose after a series of back and forward bends, since the back is more flexible after warming up with these poses. A flexible back will twist further, giving you more benefit from the pose.
Warm up the back with a flow of back bends – like bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana), wheel pose (chakrasana), or camel pose (ustrasana) – and forward bends – like seated forward bend (paschimottanasana), child’s pose (balasana), or forward bend (uttanasana)– before moving into half lord of the fishes pose.
How to do the Ardha Matsyendrasana Pose
- Begin sitting on the mat with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Shift your weight so that both your seat bones are planted firmly on the mat.
- Bend your right leg and, raising your knee, plant your right foot outside your left knee. Position your right foot so that your toes are pointing towards the top of the mat.
- Keeping your knee on the mat, bend your left leg to the right. Tuck your left heel close to your right seat bone. Position your left leg so that your knee is pointing towards the top of the mat.
- Plant your right palm behind your back, as close to your body as possible. Inhale and press through your right arm to elongate your spine. Roll your shoulder blades slightly back and down to open your chest.
- Bend your left arm and hook the outside of your left elbow outside your right knee, palm facing to the right.
- Exhale and twist your torso to the right. Lead your body into the twist with your gaze by looking over your right shoulder. Press through your left elbow and right knee, and into the inside of your right foot to deepen the twist.
- Keep the pose active. With every inhale, elongate the spine upwards. With every exhale, deepen the twist. Breath and hold the pose.
- Exhale and release your left arm down to your side. Inhale and gently counter twist your torso to the left. Exhale and come back to the center. Release your legs. Repeat the pose on the opposite side.
Modifications and Props
To bring your torso closer to your thigh by pushing off the wall. Sit a foot away from the wall in step one (above). Instead of planting your palm against the mat in step four, plant your palm against the wall behind you. Press off the wall as you twist.
To deepen, bind. In step seven (above), press your chest against your right thigh. Work your left upper arm down your right thigh, until the leg is inside your armpit. Reach your left arm behind you. Release your right arm from the mat. Grab ahold of your right hand or wrist with your left hand. Straighten your right arm.
Lord of the Fishes Pose (Paripurna Matsyendrasana). In step three (above), go into half lotus by lifting your left foot and tucking it into your right hip crease. In step seven, work your arm down the outside of your right thigh until your knee is in your armpit. Take hold of your right foot with your left hand. Breath and twist. Repeat on the other side.
Erector spinae. The erector spinae is a bundle of muscles and tendons in the lower and mid back that control extension and rotation. Because they are responsible for straightening the back, the strength of the erector spinae muscles are closely linked with posture. Half lord of the fishes pose engages the erector spinae muscles on the side of the body you are twisting towards.
Rhomboid muscles. The rhomboids in the upper back are responsible for retraction of the shoulder blades. Elongating the spine and rolling the shoulder blades back in half lord of the fishes pose engages the right and left rhomboid muscles.
Splenius capitis. The splenius capitis muscle is the broad muscle in the back of the neck that is the prime mover for head extension. Turning the head from side to side engages the splenius capitis. Leading with your gaze in half lord of the fishes pose lengthens this muscle.
Serratus anterior muscles. The serratus anterior muscles are located on the sides of the chest, just below the armpits. They rotate the scapulas, particularly when they are tilted forward. In half lord of the fishes pose, planting your palm behind you engages the serratus anterior on that side of your body during the twist.
Abdominal muscles. The abdominals are located in the lower belly, between the ribs and the pelvis. They control the tilt of the pelvis and the curve of the lower spine. Half lord of the fishes pose stretches the obliques in the sides of the abdomen.