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If you want to make your spine more flexible, one of the safest and most effective yoga poses you will want to master is matsyangasana, or mermaid pose.

I first learned mermaid pose from Aadil Palkhivala about two years ago.

Quite literally, Aadil owes his life to the legendary yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar.

The story has it that Aadil’s mother was unable to conceive for seven years until she began practicing with Iyengar. She continued her yoga throughout her pregnancy. After he was born, Aadil began observing Iyengar at the age of three. At age seven, he commenced his formal study. And at age 22, he became the youngest person ever to achieve the Advanced Yoga Teacher’s Certificate in the highly demanding Iyengar system.

If you have practiced yoga before, you may not have heard of matsyangasana.

That’s because matsyangasana is not a traditional yoga pose but one that Aadil developed for his Purna Yoga system.

Here’s why it’s so powerful:

Every vertebrae in your spine is supposed to rotate 2 degrees.

With lack of movement, poor posture and excessive sitting, your back can become extremely locked up.

Aadil explained to me and all the rest of us in his packed workshop that he likes to perform the mermaid pose for as long as two hours because it unlocks the spine in a gentle, allowing manner.

Other benefits may include:

  • Improved digestion and detoxification.
  • Easier breathing, as you release tension around your diaphragm.
  • Deeper backbends.
  • Decreased internal tension and anxiety.
  • Healing of spinal conditions including scoliosis, kyphosis and a locked sacroiliac joint.
  • Improved posture.
  • Decreased back pain.
  • Greater longevity and youthful appearance.

Here’s how you perform matsyangasana:

  1. Sit tall on a yoga mat on the floor with your legs extended outwards in front of you.
  2. Bend your right knee and bring your right lower leg beside your buttocks.
  3. Tuck your right foot under so that the top of your right foot is resting on the floor.
  4. Then bend your left knee. Cup your left foot on top of your right knee.
  5. Now rotate your spine to your left.
  6. Walk your hands as close towards the center of your mat as possible.
  7. To make it easier, you may want to put a yoga strap down the center of your mat. Grab hold of the yoga strap and pull yourself closer to the midline.
  8. Bend your elbows and place your palms flat on the floor.
  9. Be sure to relax your chin towards your chest. Your cervical vertebrae are part of your spine and they will also feel the twist, so relax your neck as much as possible.
  10. Breathe deeply. This is a pose you can safely hold for a long time before repeating on the other side.

Remember that in order to twist, you have to lengthen your spine as much as possible.

You lengthen and then you rotate.

As your spine opens up a little more, walk your hands closer towards the midline.

After you have performed matsyangasana on both sides, I recommend you follow up with a bilateral counterpose, such as down dog, wide leg forward fold, cobra or bridge.

Yogis measure a person’s age not by their chronological age but by the flexibility of your spine.

That’s because the nerves that run through your spine innervate your glands and organs.

Twisting improves the health of these nerve connections so that you stay feeling and looking young and healthy.

I have noticed that many dedicated yogis look much younger than their chronological age, which may be partly due to the twists they perform on a regular basis to benefit their nervous system.

Matsyangasana or mermaid pose is a powerful and safe but easily accessible twist regardless of your age or fitness level.

This is one of my favorite preparation poses for full wheel, or urdhva danurasana, one of the most important poses for building strength, flexibility and balance of the spine. I like to practice full wheel regularly to counteract the amount of time I spend schlumping over my laptop writing books and knitting.

Add matsyangasana to your personal yoga routine, following up with your favorite backbends, whether they be full wheel, cobra, locust or bow pose.

You’ll find yourself standing taller and feeling deeply refreshed as a result.