You may ask why bother with a softer or more gentler form of a posture if you are feeling comfortable with the traditional version (one without blocks or blankets). I invite you to look more deeply at the intention in our postures. When we deepen our intention of the posture (rather than just deepening the posture) we gain a level of prajna (insight) into our practice and into the embodiment of the postures in our lives. When we are given the opportunity to soften a bit in a posture, but still gain the benefits of the posture, we are giving ourselves permission to slow down, to feel more intuitively the subtle changes brought about by our sadhana (practice) each day.
Some days, I am right with some of you…get me into this posture, get out, get the class done, give myself a pat on the back and get back to the grind of my day. There is nothing wrong with ‘doing’ yoga for the purpose of physical fitness. But when we step off of our mat, have we changed anything beyond the physical? Has our practice helped our body or just morphed into different shapes for an hour? Stepping back and seeing our practice (or any exercise) unfold as an opportunity for growth on and off our mat is a rarity – unless we can embrace it as a priority.
Fish (Matsyasana) is a beautiful exploration of heart opening love and throat opening ease. It is a wonderful counterpose to shoulderstand and a place to find the support of the earth in backbends. The traditional version of this posture can be challenging, however, for some students and can be contraindicated for other students especially those with neck issues. It may also feel great at the time we are practicing it, but later find a tweeky neck or some discomfort.
Lets explore together a more playful and healing version of Matsyasana which I call ‘Flying Fish’. It can be taught as a restorative posture with bolsters or a blanket under the shoulder blades. When wanting something deeper, adding in a thicker blanket or a block, can bring about a glorious opening for breath and expression. I regularly teach this version in Yin. I appreciate Flying Fish for its offering for spaciousness yet support without my own effort.
The traditional Matsyasana versus Flying Fish:
> Traditional Matsyasana: Supine on back, elbows bent underneath back so forearms and hands are on the ground under or next to pelvis. The upper arms are off of the ground to help draw the shoulderblades toward each other yet away from the shoulder heads. The head is tilted back toward the floor so the neck is off the ground, the back of the upper head is on the ground and the nose and chin are pointed up to stretch the throat.
- There is a lot of effort getting into the pose and effort remains staying in the pose safely as to not crunch up the shoulders or neck, maintain steady breath, and avoid collapsing the chest.
- The head is on the ground but if there is tightness in the chest or inflexibility in the neck, this can put undue pressure on the neck to maintain the posture.
- The arms and back are kept active as to maintain stability in the posture. This is great for an active posture, but may miss some of the ease and expansion available in the less intense version of this below.
> Flying Fish: Supine on back with a block perpendicular to spine (or some prefer parallel to spine) under the shoulderblades. Head is resting on a blanket of adequate height. The head is tilted back toward the floor so the neck is off the ground, the back of the upper head is on the floor with the blanket and the nose and chin are pointed up to stretch the throat. The arms are resting by the hips, on the belly or spread out like wings to the side.
- In this position the head is supported at the height that is best situated to open the throat yet not strain the neck.
- The primary focus of the posture becomes the chest opening, throat/front neck opening and breath expansion with ease.
- A blanket or soft bolster can be used under the shoulder blades if the block is too firm or is too large for feeling comfortable.
With both these postures, some students can get dizzy or lightheaded. It is important to give a gentler backbend/chest opening or use a tilted bolster instead so that the head does not go back too far.
Another great way to explore Flying Fish is when you have been sitting a desk or driving a lot, or simply want to feel more spaciousness in your body. There is a feeling of lightheartedness and softness in this posture as you fly through freedom in your practice.