Is it the binding of Isaac? No. But there is a quality…
Is it a binding of any kind? Perhaps.
Is place of perceived vulnerability? Yes.
On your mat, in Matsyasana (Fish Pose), you are in an unusual place—heart raised, crown of the head down, throat exposed, legs long and strong. It is a pose of supplication, of reverence. If you add your hands in prayer at the heart, you take the prayer higher.
It’s stunning if you think about it—in our click-instant world—to put everything down, lie back and lift your heart to the sky!
We move through these poses without thinking about their power, but the shapes resonate for each of us differently and it is this “embodied breathing” that makes us strong practitioners as well as present, sentient beings . With the crown of the head down in Matsyasana, your thoughts release and you can give up… Your neck is arched backward—this is a profound action because we live the opposite way. We talk, talk, text, text (heads bent, always bent now) feed, feed, go, go… but here, in Matsyasana, we speak soundlessly through our bodies.
A pose of devotional silence then—throat and voice on hold. Is this the bind? The intelligence of binding in that movement is restricted to make more space for deeper movement and engagement. Think: Seated Spinal Twist. As you draw your belly inward toward your spine you create more space for the twist, more length in your spine, thus more backward gazing: Where did I come from? Where have I been today?
Matsyasana is like Matsyendrasana in this way. It’s a pose that asking for and from you. Not to think, but to be, to see: Warriors are heady… Balance is largely mental… But backbends and twists change that all up, and that’s why they are usually done at the end of the practice, often before inversions. Raise that heart up, let go(!) and love.
Matsyasana, in particular, is special because it’s typically offered after Shoulderstand to counter the potential rounding action of the cervical spine. It’s a spiritual intermission of spiritual intensity. Shoulderstand reintegrates the body in an upside down form. Shoulderstand is spiritual work; it’s hard to stand on your shoulders physically and mentally because it’s really hard to sync body and mind…
Once you come down, unshouldering your burden, you slowly swim backward into Fish. This is not hard—it’s a release, but you have to see it that way. Matsyasana is deep dive up into love. Again, deeper movement, deeper engagement. Perhaps you can strengthen the abdominals and lift your legs, or cross the legs into Lotus… Perhaps. But no matter the variation—sing your silent song to whoever/whatever is divine for you.
“If you’ve just taken shoulder stand, you can take Fish Pose…” is what we usually hear in class—like a passing suggestion, and perhaps this is the point: to wriggle into your own fish form if you desire it. The inversion is done, the mind is free—we can now lift our hearts without interference from the mental engine. We can be here—glistening, shining, swimming—and yes, wonderfully vulnerable, bound together in a school of prayer.
Kathleen Kraft is a poet and yoga teacher. She was born and raised in New York City and made the move across the Hudson several years ago to Jersey City. She has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, and her chapbook Fairview Road is forthcoming in December from Finishing Line Press. This is the third in her series exploring her favorite poses. To read the first, click here; the second, click here