Opens the shoulders and chest; softens the often-tight middle back; stretches the neck and thyroid; offers a balance of opening without grasping, and of relaxing without collapsing .
1) Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose), with your legs extended in front of you and your spine long.
2) Slowly roll onto your back. Press your palms down and lift up onto the top of your head.
3) Walk your fingers toward your feet until your arms are straight—your elbows should be off the floor. Again press down firmly with your palms, and tuck your shoulder blades into your back; this will lift and open your chest and support your neck.
4) Keep your legs and feet strongly engaged. If it feels like there’s too much pressure on your head or spine, see the modifications on page 29.
5) Place your attention on the sensation of your breath right at the edge of your nostrils. Don’t think about or visualize the breath, but actually tune in to the feeling of the wind energy passing in and out of your body. Let your mind settle into this practice of close attention.
If Matsyasana feels stressful on your neck …
TRY a propped version of the pose in which you place two blocks on their longer, narrow edges where your head and shoulder blades will rest. From Staff Pose, slowly lower onto the blocks. (Make sure the block under your shoulder blades isn’t touching your ribs below your shoulder blades.) In this position, you can let your feet fall open, as if you were taking Savasana (Corpse Pose). From here, externally rotate your arms so your palms face up. Let your shoulders drape off the block. Having both blocks at the same height will reduce strain or overstretching of the neck. Relax your face, throat, and jaw.
If your low back feels congested or your groins and hips are getting overstretched …
TRY the propped version above, but with a different leg position. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor, mat-width apart. Let your toes turn in slightly and your knees fall together. This position is called Constructive Rest and will widen the sacrum. You can also experiment with different block heights under your head, lowering the block to receive more of a neck stretch and chest opener.
If you feel too much of a stretch between your shoulder blades …
TRY using a blanket. Fold it in half lengthwise, and then roll the folded side over one or two times. Lie on the blanket just as you did with the block, placing the blanket roll along the lower edges of your shoulder blades. Your head can rest on the unfolded part of the blanket. This will give you a nice chest and shoulder opener—one that’s less intense than the other versions. Let your feet fall open as you relax.
Written by Cindy Lee
This article was first published in the print edition of Yoga Journal Singapore,
which is now Yogahood Online.