So no one really likes to address their hips, but in yoga and even everyday life, hips need attention. The Pigeon Pose (sanskrit Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) is a perfect pose to help in opening and stretching the hips. As I have mentioned before, one of the reasons I love yoga and I love to practice yoga is it offers so many variations that build and strengthen the body, preparing you for the next level of your practice.
If a big part of your day, whether it is at work or home, consists of sitting in a chair, then a pigeon pose is right for you. Sitting all day or night, does not allow your hips to stretch…even running or jogging is no help to the hips where stretching and gaining flexibility is concerned. Your hips can become very tight, and this pose is an intense hip opener. You have to let the pose work, and do its job for you. Do not resist…resistance only creates stress, and in yoga we want to release stress, not create it.
Below are a few pigeon pose variations I like to offer in class, as well as practice them myself:
- Cradle the Baby while in Staff
- Cradle the Baby Supine
- One Legged Pigeon
- Standing Half Lotus
- Swan (a little different than a Pigeon, but similar)
When practicing at first, your hips may actually feel uncomfortable. This is likely due to the tightness of the hip muscles, and the pigeon is an intense hip opener. All the more reason to practice; remember, yoga is practice. I remember practicing this pose for the first time, and how I wanted to scream out during the class. But if you can, pull yourself together and focus your breathe right into the tense hip area. While you sit in this pose for about 10-12 breathes, you will feel a big difference in your hip region.
The way I prefer to get into this pose is from a lunge or downward facing dog.
So from Downward Facing Dog, I lift my right leg into the air. Bend the knee and bring it towards the chest. Gently place the foot between the hands, like a lunge. Complete the stretch here before going to the next phase. Next, I slowly bend the left knee until it has lowered to the matt. Feel the stretch. When finished stretching, I place some of the weight to the left leg and both hands. Begin to walk the right foot towards the left hand and let the knee lay down on the mat. I know I can adjust the poses anytime during my practice. In pigeon, the idea (or goal) is to get the foreleg parallel to the front edge of your matt. If you are a new beginner to yoga, you might find this difficult. No problem if you do! I am still working towards this myself. Just simply adjust the front leg by sliding its heel back towards the sitting bones until you reach a more suitable stretch for your body. You do not want to pull it all the way back though. You want a little challenge, right?
A common mistake some people might make when practicing the pigeon pose is they will sit back onto the right hip, exposing the left hip. This is not an accurate hip opener; this just puts weight and aggrivated pressure on your outside hip. Not a good idea. To make sure I am centered (or squared) in the pigeon, I know where my hip bones are. If they are aligned evenly with the top edge of my matt, then I am correct. If my hip bones face to the corners of the matt, or even the long side of the matt, my positioning is incorrect. I simply rotate those hips to center over the matt, keeping the hips side by side. This may mean I have to adjust the front leg, but stability over flexibility.
I also want to flex my right foot to protect the knee. Then, I extend my left leg back keeping the toes aligned with the ankle while working to roll the inner thigh towards the sky.
Once I am in the pigeon pose, and the alignment is correct, I can begin deepen the pose through my breathe. Begin to pull the sitting bones through to look at the matt below. Open the heart and chest, lifting the spine. When I am ready to move into a variation, I go for it, no holding back. I let go of resistance and I breath into the space behind the heart. Most times, I choose to move into a forward fold as my belly slowly falls over the front leg. I hold the pose for 8-12 breathes.
More Variations: One Legged Pigeon, Splits
Photo Source: Woman’s Day