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Protecting the Vulnerable

Do you know the story of Matsya, for whom fish pose is named?

Painting of Matsya, dated 1816, from The British Museum collections

This story has been on my mind a lot lately as I’ve been watching world events unfold over the past month.

It begins with the Universe in a state of cosmic dissolution. Brahma had gone to sleep and the Vedas - the source of all wisdom - had been stolen by a sea demon.

It truly seemed that there was no hope for humanity.

However, Vishnu had a plan. He was going to take the form of a fish and steal back the Vedas from the demon.

Things went slightly awry and he manifested as Matsya, a small fish in the middle of the vast sea.

He immediately realized there was nothing he could do as a tiny fish so he swam to shore, convinced of the essential goodness of humans and sure he would find someone to help.

Photo by Michael Yero on Unsplash

When Matsya reached the shore, he met Manu and he explained his predicament.

"I'm small and scared of all of the big creatures in the sea. Will you protect me?"

Manu replied, "Of course! Come into my bowl and I'll keep you safe."

In Manu's care, Matsya grew and grew and grew. Finally, he was so big that he was nearly as big as Manu's house.

Meanwhile, it had not stopped raining for months. The waters were rising so high that the entire earth was flooding and Manu was very worried about what was to become of the earth.

Matsya told Manu to release him back into the sea and he explained his plan.

He told Manu that he was going off to battle the sea demon who stole the Vedas. While he was gone, Manu should build a boat and collect all the seeds and animals he could.

At last, Matsya returned the victor and he revealed his true form as Vishnu.

Together, Vishnu and Manu, along with all of the earth's food and animals, rode out the storms in Manu's boat and helped restore order to the cosmos.

The thing I love most about this story is Manu's willingness to care for and protect Matsya.

I think this is where we can glean some important information about how to practice the pose of the fish.

In the posture Matsyasana, some of the most vulnerable parts of our body - our throat, chest, and belly - are wide open and unprotected.

How do we support ourselves when we are in a vulnerable place?

How can we feel supported by our own strength?

By the ground?

By our props?

How do we hold steady in our commitment to being open-hearted even when times are challenging?

Asking ourselves these questions while we are practicing Matsyasana and remembering this story can provide the answers we need when we are wondering how best to move through the world.

Just as we have the capacity to support ourselves when we feel exposed, we can and should protect and support others when they are feeling vulnerable.

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