Divine Shiva, they say, revealed his mysteries to his other half, reborn as Kali and mother of shakti, far from civilization on the sea bed, the better to keep them secret. Their only witness a yogi, carried to the depths trapped in the belly of a fish, became Matsyendra, the Lord of the Fishes.
Matsyendra's yoga practice let him ditch the fish, and a millenium and a half later, he is still honoured by Buddhists, Hindus and Jains from the Himalayas to the Laccadive Sea. His disciple, Goraksha, revived his thought and practice 500 years later. Together, they are known as preeminent authors of hatha yoga. The position named after Matsyendra, the Matsyendrasana, has a similarly lofty heritage. Its first surviving mention is in the fifteenth century Hatha Yoga Pradipika, where it was said to increase appetite, destroy disease and rouse kundalini in the body. Most popularly practised now as the Ardha Matsyendrasana, the Half Lord of the Fishes, it is central in modern yoga practice, an energising spinal twist. 'The twist helps to detox the body... the internal organs and also the mind!', says Celine Eloy, teacher at Dragonfly Yoga Studio.
Whether you're suffering from back pain, winter blues or looking to boost your Veganuary detox, Ardha Matsyendrasana is for you. It can form part of a wider practice or a destination in itself and can be practised alone or in sync with a partner for (gentle!) extra stretching. As with all new positions you should only approach it after supervision by a qualified teacher, so you can reap the rewards without risking injury.
If you're familiar with the position and looking to build it into your home practice, and confident that it won't exacerbate an injury, here's how:
Warm up! A couple of Surya Namaskars (Sun Salutations) are a great way to do this
Dandasan (Staff Pose). Establish a steady breath and balance between your sitting bones
Exhale: bend your left knee and cross it over your right leg, with the left foot outside of the right thigh
Hold the position, ensuring your hips are grounded
Inhale: lift your right arm up to the sky, place your left hand behind you for support
Exhale: bring your right arm to the outside of your left thigh
Ten breaths: stretch you back on the inhale and deepen the twist as you exhale
Unwind and return to Dandasan
Repeat with your other side
Matsyendra would be proud of you! We think. The origins of yoga are of course lost to history and we now decode them from myth, but came at a time when holy men found new ways to reclaim the sacred, defying convention, shedding the scaly skin of social norms and rediscovering the divine Self within your self. 'Every exhalation is an opportunity to release things that are not serving you,' says Celine.