Asana of the Week: Ardha Matsyendrasana

"Once, Lord Siva went to a lonely island and explained to his consort Parvati the mysteries of Yoga.  A fish near the shore heard everything with concentration and remained motionless while listening.  Siva, realizing that the fish had learnt Yoga, sprinkled water upon it, and immediately the fish gained divine form and became Matsyendra... and thereafter spread the knowledge of yoga (BKS Iyengar, Light on Yoga)."  

Ardha Matsyendrasana, Half Lord of the Fishes pose, is dedicated to Matsyendra, teacher of Yoga and Lord of the Fishes.  This seated twist is a favorite of mine because the position of the legs stabilizes the pelvis in opposition to the rotation of the spine, encouraging more mobility in the mid and upper back.  The secure leg position also lengthens the gluteal muscles of the top leg, making for some nice opening sensations along the outer hip and buttocks as the spinal twist deepens with the breath.

The pressure of the top thigh against the abdomen massages the abdominal organs, encouraging healthy digestion.  The muscles of the back and sides are lengthened on one side as they are contracted on the other.  When practiced on both sides, as all asymmetrical asanas should be, this pose brings symmetry to the spine.

The breath can be tricky in Ardha Matsyendrasana.  Directing the breath into the chest, which is free to expand if the shoulders are kept from collapsing, is the most efficient breath in this pose.  Deep ujjayi pranayama, firming and lifting the lower abdomen, ensures that the spine stays long, the low back is supported, and makes space for a deeper twist by lifting the abdomen away from the thigh. 

There are a variety of bound arm positions one may incorporate in Ardha Matsyendrasana.  However, "it is frequently a more intense twist when the arms are placed in a simple, non-bound position."  If binding the pose, be sure to rotate the spine first.  I like to spend a few breaths in the non-bound position pictured at the top before moving into a bound variation (right) to ensure that the spine is not stressed by the leverage of the arms.  "Overuse of the arms can direct too much force into vulnerable parts of the spine -- particularly T11-T12,"  where the mid back and lower back meet and the curve of the spine is reversed.  Use very gentle pressure with the arms creating a "deepening, stabilizing (not mobilizing) action (Kaminoff, Yoga Anatomy)."

Ardha Matsyendrasana Sequence

  1. Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
  2. Janu sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose)
  3. Marichyasana A (Sage Twist A)
  4. Marichyasana C (Sage Twist C)
  5. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)
  6. Agnistambhasana (Firelog Pose)
  7. Parivrtta Agnistambhasana (Revolved Firelog Pose)
  8. Vinyasa
  9. Repeat steps 1-7, twisting in the opposite direction.


  1. This pose features in almost all my classes! I most often use the variation with the bottom leg stretched out in front of you, because it's easier for people with tight hips - and also by engaging the bottom thigh and foot you get a nice addition to your twist.

    I usually encourage students to breathe into the belly in twists to discourage them from taking short, shallow breaths in the chest since that area can feel quite compressed.


  2. Hi La Gitane - The variation with the bottom leg extended is a more accessible pose for most. It's how I first practiced ardha matsyendrasana, and I like to offer it as an option in my classes, as well.

    As for the breath, I know it's taught different ways. Some prefer belly breathing to encourage relaxation, some prefer a "chest breath." I find that, without the support of the bandhas which keep the low belly stationary and the spine upright, my low back feels cranked in the twists. I prefer to expand the rib cage to make space for the breath, but it has certainly taken some time to develop the control to be able to do this. In my experience, belly breathing can be a good option if one is not twisting too deeply.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. It's great how there are so many ways of doing one tiny asana! Yoga is just full of infinite possibilities.