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Unveiling Matsyendrasana: A Tale from Ancient Texts

" In the beginning, according to Indian mythology, the world was filled with a vast ocean and a few small islands. In this primordial sea, Matsya (a fish) was swimming near the shore of an island. He happened upon a conversation between Lord Siva and his consort Parvati.

Parvati was seeking instruction in the practice of yoga. Parvati inquired : "I want to attain union with you. You are so attractive, so beautiful to me. And yet when I feel myself close to you, something holds me back. Something keeps me from merging totally into you. My love is so strong for you and yet something within me is holding me back.

So Siva, began a great teaching dialogue with Parvati saying: " Your love is so strong, so genuine. That which you seek, union with me, is not an attainment. There is nothing to do, for I am your own True Self. I am not separate from you. The way to me is through knowing your own True Self. Out of your love for me, I will reveal the secret that is yoga, the experience of communion. Yoga is the process by which you lose all identity of yourself as a separate being and become united with your nature as both Shakti and Siva- expansive, creative energy, as well as stillness, eternal bliss. Both these qualities are within you."

Hearing this teaching Matsya the fish became more and more absorbed. And then more still, through the stillness and these comforting words he attained perfect posture (Asana). He became light, was raised up to the surface and arched his back in the Matsyasana Fish pose so that he could hear more clearly.

Through the inspiration, he began to feel his heart open. The process of the pose began to transform him. He began to extend himself out of the water. As he became more steel his breathing was stained and regulated; he became motionless in the water. He felt transcended life-force absorbing his mind and yet he was not breathing. He was experiencing perfect Pranayama in which the life-forced hidden within his breath became suspended.

An attraction to the inner experience held him, his steadiness increased. His mind turned within, as his senses detached from the outside world (a process called Pratyahara),

and he became totally absorbed experiencing unity within everything and everyone.

As the experience deepened within him, he began to imbibe the state of Samadhi, the state of absorption, and he lost all awareness of his fish nature. He experienced all objects as being composed of pure consciousness. Siva felt him merging into the same consciousness that was his essence, feeling his oneness, he touched the fish giving him his blessing, his initiation. The blessing of the lord instantly transformed Matsya from a fish into a human being. Shiva gave him a new name - Matsyendra - Lord of the fishes. Matsyendra came onto land, sat and listened to the discourse between Shiva and Parvati until the instruction was full and he felt complete.

As he listened to the teachings of yoga, he sat in a particular posture that twisted his spine and enable him to remain free of physical distractions while listening attentively. This posture is known as Matsyendrasana, the spinal twist.

From his story he learned that the essence of yoga is transformation. The great master Sri Aurobindo said:

The true and full object and utility of yoga can only be accomplished when the conscious yoga in man becomes, like the subconscious yoga in nature, outwarldly conterminous with life itself and we can once more, looking out both on the path and the achievement, say in a more perfect and luminous sense : "all life is yoga."

Through this transformation process, the fish Matsya became the first yoga teacher Matsyendra. This myth is corroborated in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a 14th century textbook on Hatha Yoga, which acknowledges that Matsyendra was the first to teach classical yoga practices." **

** The text was taken from the book "Structural Yoga Therapy" - Mukunda stiles.

MATSYENDRASANA also known as the Spinal Twist, symbolizes the internal transformation and awakening Matsyendra experienced inside the fish. It emphasizes the twisting of the spine, which is believed to detoxify the body and balance the energies within.

Matsyendrasana serves as a reminder of Matsyendra's journey from darkness to light, ignorance to wisdom, and bondage to liberation. It is a tribute to the transformative power of yoga and the enlightenment that comes from dedicated practice.

Through the lens of symbolism, the wisdom of Siva and Parvati can be perceived as the inner voice, and Matsyendra can be associated with someone who is searching for their true identity. Once one becomes aware and listens to the inner voice, they find themselves on the path to enlightenment.


Matsyendrasana variations
Matsyendrasana with chair

Supinal twist
Spinal twist on the floor


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