Embodying the Elements of Earth and Water

Many people have similar transformative experiences in nature after bringing yoga into their lives. One reason for this profound feeling of connection is that we are all made up of the same elements: earth, wind, fire, water, and space. If we pay close enough attention during our yoga practice, we feel these elements in our own body. We feel the moisture in our mouth and eyes; the earthy weight of our skeleton; the wind of our breath moving in, out, and through us; the warm fire of our digestive organs. And finally, when we get quiet enough, we feel the vastness of space within and around us.

Just as nature needs the right balance of water and earth to flourish, so we need for the elements in our bodies to work together harmoniously. Yoga can help us recognize when we have lost our elemental equilibrium. When we're too fluid, we lose our sense of stability. When we're too earthbound, our creativity suffers. In fact, these two elements—water and earth—are also the dominant elements of Fish Pose. The Sanskrit name for Fish Pose refers to Matsya, who was an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu. The story goes that, long ago, the earth had become corrupt and was going to be overtaken by a flood. Vishnu, who was charged with preserving the universe, turned himself into a fish called Matsya. 


He carried the great Hindu sages to safety in a boat, which ensured the preservation of all of their wisdom and of mankind itself. Just as Matsya rebalanced earth and ocean, so practicing Fish Pose can be a way of reestablishing your focus and giving you resiliency when you feel gravity-laden. You'll feel this when you burrow into the earth through the strong activity of your legs, which, in turn, buoys your chest like a wave and deepens your breath. Fish Pose also strengthens your back and your abdominals, and yogis believe that the deep neck curve benefits the thyroid.

Like all backward-bending poses, Matsyasana lifts your heart and lightens your mood. Matsyasana is better than a coffee break—it will wake you up, ground you, and leave you feeling refreshed. In fact, you could even do it under your desk in the middle of the afternoon! If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk or in a car, you've probably noticed that your spine typically rounds forward and your chest sinks. You can begin to reverse that physical pattern by creating new movement imprints that are similar to those of Matsyasana. 


  • Strengthens the lower back
  • Opens the heart chakra 
  • Stretches the abdomen and the intercostal muscles in the ribs
  • Stimulates the thyroid glands