Published in Sweat Equity Magazine, Special Edition 2016
Yoga postures are typically named after objects or life forms found in nature (think Vrksasana [Tree] and Bhujangasana [Cobra]); sacred animals (“go” is Sanskrit for “cow,” which is holy in Hindu religions); and legendary saints, heroes, or warriors who were celebrated for their unique skill or supernatural power (think Virabhadrasana 1, 2, and 3 [the Warrior poses]).
Matsyendrasana falls into the lattermost category and is named after a historical man who lived in 10th-century C.E. As is often the case with Indian mythology, there are many versions of Matsyendra’s rise to enlightenment. The following is one:
When Matsyendra was born, a Vedic astrologer told his parents that their son would be very unlucky. So they threw Matsyendra into the ocean. Soon after, a giant fish came along and swallowed the boy (“matsya” is the Sanskrit word for “fish”). The boy remained in the fish’s belly until hearing the voice of Lord Shiva, who was lecturing his beloved on the mysteries of life and nature. Spellbound, Matsyendra stopped to listen in and remained there with rapt attention until Shiva was done.
The teachings are said to have been so powerful that they took hold of Matsyendra and permeated his entire being. Twelve years after practicing and refining the ancient techniques of yoga, Matsyendra emerged from the fish’s belly an enlightened master, prepared to share his knowledge.
Matsyendra’s metamorphosis from a cursed infant into a realized adept represents the transformative potential of our practice. In doing this posture, we honour the lineage of our practice and one of the founding fathers of yoga.
Not only do spinal twists feel great, but they also do great things for our body. Spinal Twists:
Stretch the back muscles
Improve posture by lengthening the spine
Stretch the intercostal muscles, which support deep breathing
Massage the organs, aiding digestion
Do You See the Fish?
The upright torso in this spinal twist represents Matsyendra’s human side, while the legs folded beneath are symbolic of a fish tail.
Twists are one of the most often requested yoga postures by students, and it's no wonder: they feel great!