When I lived in France, I had an internship for school credit at a modern art gallery in downtown Toulouse. I was updating their English-language website one day when the gallery director suddenly gasped and pulled me aside.
"Tu vois cette femme-là?!" (Do you see that lady there?!)
I looked over and noticed a middle-aged woman with a green paper fish attached to the back of her sweater. It was April Fool's day, which takes a slightly different shape in France. Specifically, a fish shape.
In France, the standard-issue prank on April 1 is attaching a paper fish to people's backs. Typical French elegance, n'est-ce pas? In fact, you don't even say "April Fools!" -- you say "poisson d'avril" (April Fish.)
Julie, the gallery director, hastened to explain the tradition to me, lest I get the impression that French people are just crazy or that it was an isolated incident. Julie looked at me and issued a grave warning that I needed to literally watch my back for the rest of the day in case any impish Frenchmen wanted to prank me.
Fish seem to have a special place in a lot of cultures. They're so different from us, and I think humans often suffer from a bit of fish envy, whether we realize it or not. Fish are so efficient in their environment - whereas when people want to swim, it's hard work. There's also a calming and even hypnotizing quality to the movement of fish tails and fins through the water - no wonder koi ponds are popular in gardens and we often see fish tanks in waiting rooms.
Hindu mythology is no exception. According to legend, Vishnu once manifested physically as a fish named Matsya. And this special fish did some pretty impressive things, like towing an ark to save animals and humans (or grains, depending on who you ask) from a flood. Pretty fitting that he gets his own asana.
Matsyasana often shows up in yoga classes as a counter-pose to shoulderstand. Personally, I really like to prepare for a class by taking supported fish pose with a yoga block under my shoulder blades. This way, I don't have to do the work in my arms and I can begin passively opening the chest and heart. After sitting at a desk and driving all day, it's so nice to undo some of that rounding-forward.
Get a little fishy today. What's your favorite variation of matsyasana?