Using Yoga Props & Matsyasana (Fish Pose)

If you’ve been here a while, you know that I love yoga props. Maybe you get the sense that props are helpful but you’re not sure how to use them or maybe you consider their use “cheating”. Well I’m here to tell you that yoga props do not make your practice less than, just like not using them doesn’t make your yoga practice better than. In fact, ideally there should be no such thing as comparison or competition in yoga. There is however, a focus on awareness. Learn to be aware of what you might benefit from and explore those observations. 

Yoga props are  tools that support you in your body, and in your yoga practice by offering a loving way to meet your body and your practice honestly and openly. Some days, dentistry beats you up and you won’t be able to access a yoga pose or range of motion that you normally can.  Or maybe you do have the range of motion but you’d like to take a more restorative approach to your yoga practice by giving your body and mind some additional support. Props are great for that!

Today, my offering is a pose that will give your upper back some love. Matsyasana or Fish pose is a reclining back-bend. There are many variations of this pose and in the traditional version of Matsyasana, you don’t use props and the neck is placed in extreme extension as you bend the neck back and place the top of the head on the floor. I do not practice this nor do I teach this expression of this pose. In my opinion, it is difficult for most people to do safely, especially dental professionals with their neck imbalances.

But variations of this pose are great for providing a much needed release for dentistry-weary necks and shoulders. Supported Fish Pose expands the chest providing the counter pose to how we normally go through our day – you know, hunched. It can also relieve neck and shoulder tension.

In general the pose is most comfortable when your chin is even with or slightly lower than your forehead. If your head is tilting back, this pose may feel like a good stretch initially but can get uncomfortable fairly quickly. You can remedy this by placing a folded blanket under your head and neck to elevate them. Explore the different variations of this pose to see which is most comfortable in your body. 

Fish Pose (Matsyasana)

Try it with a Yoga Blanket:

If you don’t have yoga props yet, find a blanket or beach towel and work with this variation. Fold it in half, and then roll the folded side over one or two times – depending on what feels good under your body. You may have to fold your blanket a few different ways to figure out what works for you.

Lie on the blanket placing the blanket roll along the lower edges of your shoulder blades. Your head can rest on the unfolded part of the blanket or on the floor, which ever feels better for your neck. Let your feet fall open as you relax. Notice your chest opening as you focus on your breath while in this pose. This also might feel good for your shoulders. Enjoy for as long as you’d like. When you’re done, simply roll over to one side and push yourself up to a seated position.


Try it with Yoga Blocks:

Place one block on its highest height under your head, so that the head is supported without having to hyperextend your neck. Place a second block on the medium height in between or supporting your shoulder blades. Make sure the block under your shoulder blades isn’t touching your ribs below your shoulder blades. This block supports your upper back so that the chest gently expands. Relax your arms towards the floor and externally rotate your shoulders by having your palms face up. In this position, you can also let your feet fall open, as if you were taking Savasana (final resting pose).


Try it with Yoga Blocks and Bolster (and maybe a Blanket):

Place one block on its medium height and a second block on the lowest height. Stack the bolster over the blocks so that it is on an angle. Sit in front of your bolster so that the edge of the bolster is touching the top of your hips. Then lean back onto your props so that your back shoulders and head are supported by the bolster.

Now settle your torso down onto your bolster, letting your arms rest at about a 45-degree angle and turning your palms upward. In this position, you can also let your feet fall open, as if you were taking Savasana (final resting pose). Relax and breathe deeply for at least a minute. You can stay in this pose as long as it’s comfortable, even as long as 10-15 minutes. Most of us spend so much time in the opposite position—bent over a patient or keyboard—that there’s probably little chance of overdoing this version of Fish Pose.

In general the pose is most comfortable when your chin is even with or slightly lower than your forehead. If your head is tilting back, this pose may feel like a good stretch initially but can get uncomfortable fairly quickly. You can remedy this by placing a folded blanket under your head and neck to elevate them. Explore the different variations of this pose to see which is most comfortable in your body. 


Recommended Props:

Let me see your Fish Pose by tagging me on Instagram @yogafordentist or posting in our private Facebook Group – Yoga for Dentists!


“There is a buoyancy that lifts our heart and mood when we practice backbends like Fish Pose.”

Josie Dovidio, DDS
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Published by Yoga for Dentists

Dr. Josie Dovidio is a long-time dentist and certified yoga teacher who took a sabbatical from clinical dentistry to address health issues related to prolonged stress. She now helps dental professionals "undo" what dentistry does to the body, mind and soul through her Yoga for Dentists community on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube Channel and Podcast.

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