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In May and June, we looked at Chaturanga Dandasana and Prone Shoulder Opener respectively. One was all about correcting muscle imbalances to prevent back pain and lesson neck and shoulder tension; the other was a deep stretch aimed at unwinding knots and increasing range of motion (ROM). In the third and final installment of “Length + Strength for a Happy Neck and Shoulders,” we’ll dive even deeper into rotator cuff mobility with Supported Fish Pose (Matsyasana).
Fish Pose has many benefits. It strengthens and stretches different parts of the body. It is a good example of the yogic principle of effort and ease in asana practice. This pose stretches the hip flexors, abdominals, chest and the intercostal muscles, which act as webbing between the ribs. It also builds strength in the upper back muscles and the back of the neck, which improves spinal flexibility and posture.
In a yoga sequence, it’s most often the counter-pose to Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana) because it neutralizes pressure on the neck and spine. In everyday life, it’s your seventh inning stretch. If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, riding public transportation or driving in DMV traffic, chances are you spend a good portion of your day rounding forward with a curved spine and concave chest. Fish pose (and May’s pose of the month Chaturanga) can help you reverse that common physical pattern—aka the sit-and-slouch—by taking the spine in the opposite direction thereby creating strength and length through effort and ease.
In this variation, you’ll use a block or rolled blanket underneath your shoulder blades for support. This kickstand allows you to relax into the posture and let the chest and front body open as gravity pulls your shoulders and head toward the ground. It should feel really awesome and revitalizing so I’m officially giving you permission to shut your office door and do this instead of making your afternoon Starbucks run. Who needs coffee when you have yoga?!
Supported Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose) on your mat. Place a rolled-up blanket or block where your shoulder blades will be when you lie back, and a folded blanket where your head will be.
Flex your feet to keep your legs engaged as you slowly roll down to the mat. Align the rolled blanket or block with the bottom tips of your shoulder blades. Place your head on the blanket at the top of your mat. Keep your arms by your side or extend them overhead, each hand holding the opposite elbow with your forearms resting on the ground.
Try to relax your chest and ribs so the work of opening your back, chest and shoulders comes from the support of the rolled blanket or block.
Stay here for 90 seconds to three minutes. Then bend your knees softly, roll onto your right side, and slowly rise to a seat.
With the support of props you can hold Fish Pose for up to five minutes if you’re really enjoying it. Just be sure to take a gentle forward bend for a few breaths afterwards to reset the spine.