Updated: Aug 14, 2018
Matsyendranath, born in Bengal between the 10th - 14th century C.E., was a medieval Indian sage, revered by both Hindus and Buddhists. He is considered one of the first Hatha yogis, having number of disciples including Goraksha, who was a leader in establishing Hatha yoga as a cultural element. Matsyendranath and Goraksha are traditionally accepted as founders of Hatha yoga (some scientists question this) and authors of some of its earliest texts.
Matsyendrasana (half lord of the fishes pose) is one of the few poses described in the "Hatha Yoga Pradipika."
There are many myths about how Matsyendranath became a realised adept, all of them illustrating the transformational possibilities of yoga. Some say that as a baby, Matsyendranath was thrown into the ocean because he was born under inauspicious stars. He was then swallowed by a fish where he lived for 12 years. He began to practice yoga sadhana inside the fish's belly after overhearing Lord Shiva teaching the secrets of yoga to Parvati at the bottom of the ocean. After 12 years, he finally emerged as an enlightened siddha. This is how he got his name, lord of the fishes. Another myth states that Matsyendranath was born as a fish and turned into a siddha by Shiva to spread the wisdom of yoga.
Matsyendranath is credited with composing some of the earliest texts on Hatha yoga in Sanskrit such as the "Matsyendrasanhita" (a collection of mantras and hymns) and the "Kaulajnananirnaya" (discussion of the knowledge pertaining to the Kaula tradition).
Goraksha was credited with creating the first-ever written text on Hatha yoga, called "Goraksha Samhita." It is also sometimes known as the "Goraksha Paddhati." He is believed to have lived between the 10th - 14th century sometime. Some historical findings even say that being Shiva's one form he appeared on earth several times.
The name, Goraksha, comes from the Sanskrit go, meaning "cow," and raksha, meaning "protector." In India Shiva is called the "lord of cattle" therefore there are assumptions that his name might refer to his association with Shiva and his teachings.
On the other hand traditionally, "goraksha" was used for yogis who had mastered the challenging Hatha yoga practice of turning the tongue to the back of the throat and “swallowing” it.
Goraksha is said to come from the lowest cast and was born in a dung heap. He became known as a miracle worker who devoted his life to teaching and the service of his guru, Matsyendra.
He is also called Gorakshanath as the founder of the Nath tradition. Goraksh Nath literally means a person who has mastered his indriyas (senses) and has complete control over the five vikritis or negative characteristics in human nature - that is kaam (sexuality), krodh (temper), mad (ego), lobh (greed) and moh (worldly attachment).
Goraksha is also said to have founded the Split-Ears - a group of ascetics who were initiated by splitting their ears in order to wear huge earrings.
Both of these asanas have many variations and numerous benefits. The story of the sages encourages us to walk our path with confidence as no matter where we are born, what our background is, with humility, curiosity and passion we can reach to our highest self.