Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Matsyendrasana: The story of Matsyendra

Matsyendra, namesake of Half Lord of the Fishes pose (Matsyendrasana), was a medieval north-Indian sage, tantric adept, and author of the Matsyendra Samhita (a collection of mantras and hymns). Among many stories you may be able to find about him, the following were of most interest to me.

In the article "Heroes, Saints, and Sages" at, Colleen Morton Busch writes:
"Matsyendra appears to have been an actual historical person, not just a figure of myth. Born in Bengal around the 10th century c.e., he is venerated by Buddhists in Nepal as an incarnation of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara. As with most Indian myths, there are many versions of the story of Matsyendra's metamorphosis into a realized adept—and all of them illustrate the radical transformation that yoga makes possible.

"In one popular version, the infant Matsyendra is thrown into the ocean because his birth has occurred under inauspicious planets. Swallowed by a giant fish, he overhears Shiva teaching the mysteries of yoga to his consort Parvati in their secret lair at the bottom of the ocean. Matsyendra is spellbound. After spending 12 years in the fish's belly, all the while exploring yoga's esoteric practices, he emerges as an enlightened master."

She also mentions that Matsyendrasana is one of the few asanas described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

David Gordon White writes cryptically in The alchemical body: Sidha traditions in medieval India:
"In a curious way, Matsyendra is doubly connected, by this name [although he does not seem to explain how], to the lower half of the yogic body, the place of the sleeping kundalini. However, just as the kundalini sleeps at a turning point in the play of divine manifestation and resorption, so too, the symbol system constructed around Matsyendra's name is an ambivalent one. An extensive body of medieval sources connect Matsyndra to his doctrine of the fish belly [again . . . what?] through a mythic gloss of this name. Matsyendranatha means "He Whose Lord is the Lord of Fishes". . ., and his connection with fish is explained through a myth in which the Goddess . . . has asked Siva to teach her the most secret of all esoteric knowledge, things he has never told her before. This Siva agrees to do, but he has barely launched into what will turn out to be the essence of the Hindu tantric teachings than does the Goddess fall asleep. Siva's words do not, however, go unheeded. Matsyendra, who has been swallowed by a fish (whence his name in these sources), draws up to the shoreline and overhears everything."

So what do we take from all of this? For me, the twisting action of Matsyendrasana does provide an opening for kundalini energy to be activated and offers the spine as a vortex of energy or bindu of the mandala which is our own body.

Does anyone else know more? I would love to hear.


  1. Lord of the fishes pose is a wonderful twist. If you want to modify the pose, Leeann Carey has a great free yoga video that shows how to do exactly that:

  2. “Ardha Matsyendrasana is named after the great yogi Matsyendranath, who is reputed to have performed meditational practices in the full form of this asana. This is one of the most difficult asanas in yoga, requiring a “rubber body”. As a matter of interest, there is a well known and fascinating story attached to yogi Matsyendranath in Hindu mythology. It is said that long ago Lord Shiva was teaching his wife Parvati the fundamental practices of yoga besides a river. The aim was that yoga would be brought out of its secrecy and disseminated throughout the world. In the river was a large fish and it listened to the lessons with rapt attention. Parvati noticed the fish and told Lord Shiva. Immediately Shiva transformed the fish into the form of man-no other than yogi Matsyendranath. Because of the knowledge that he had acquired by his attentive hearing of Shiva’s discourses Matsyendranath was from then onwards regarded as the human originator of yoga. It is said that all the yogic teachings that are now in existence have come from Matsyendranath, through his various disciples such as Gorakhnath. We leave the reader to accept or interpret this story in any way that he wishes. Incidentally, the Sanskrit word Matsya means “fish”, which explains how Matsyendranath and the asana got their names.”
    “Yoga and Kriya” by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Yoga Publication Trust, Mungir, Bihar, India