Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, or One-Legged King Pigeon pose, is a beautiful and (very) deep backbending posture. This challenging pose requires a great deal of anatomical intelligence, flexibility and core strength to safely reach its fullest expression.
This is certainly not a posture that can be attained through just one practice, so creating a sequence around this pose does not necessarily guarantee it will immediately be achievable. And that is okay. Practice anyway. Continue to practice and, overtime, you will find this asana becoming more and more attainable.
The following is a breakdown of the most important physical elements of the posture to consider and suggestions for preparatory poses. Warm up the whole body and then isolate the following body parts to build a heart-opening sequence toward One-Legged King Pigeon Pose.
Stretch The Shoulders
An overhead grip in any backbend requires highly flexible shoulders. To prepare for this challenging arm positioning, your sequence should include plenty of shoulder releases.
Gomukhasana arms (Cow Face Pose arms), Garudasana arms (Eagle Pose arms), and Paschima Namaskarasana (Reverse Prayer) are great arm positions to utilize throughout your practice to open your shoulders preparing for Eka Pada Rajakapotasana.
Open The Heart
As One-Legged King Pigeon is a deep backbend, you will need to properly warm-up and prepare the chest and spine for this posture. The best way to do this? Lots of heart openers!
Begin with gentle back stretches and openers to warm up the spine. You can work with poses such as Cat/Cow and side body stretches such as Parighasana, or Gate Pose, to prepare the spine for what lies ahead.
As you build up heat in your practice, you can start to add deeper backbends such as Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose), Ustrasana (Camel Pose), Natarjasana (Dancer’s Pose) and Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose).
Release The Hips
Not only is One-Legged King Pigeon pose a deep backbend, it is also a deep hip opener (and anyone that’s ever held Pigeon Prep pose in a Yin class knows this all too well!). To prepare the body for a deep external rotation of the hip joint, practice lots of juicy hip opening postures.
Vrksasana (Tree Pose), Agnistambhasana (Firelog or Knee-To-Ankle Pose), Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) and Pigeon Prep pose are all excellent choices for releasing the hips to prepare your body for your peak posture.
In Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, it is super important to keep the hips squared forward toward the top of the mat in order to keep the spine in optimal alignment during your backbend. Place this concept into your muscle memory by practicing a number of squared-hip postures in your preparatory sequence.
Work with poses such as Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose), Anjaneyasana (Lunge Pose) and Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana with a focus on squaring the hips toward the floor by creating an internal rotation of the thighbones.
Turn On The Core
The integral system of your core is necessary to protect your vulnerable lower back when you start to open your heart center. Firing up your core to prepare for deeper backbends is essential to maintain safe alignment in your backbending practice so that you do not simply “hinge” from the highly mobile lower lumbar spine, but instead, work to open the less mobile upper thoracic spine.
Work with gentle core positions to activate and awaken your core rather than fatigue it. Utilize poses such as Adho Mukha Dandasana (Plank Pose), Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose) and Core Plank (Knee-To-Nose Pose) to gently awaken this powerhouse of your body so that you can utilize these muscles of the belly and back to protect your spine as you bend backwards.
Work Toward The Peak
Once you’ve warmed up and prepared all the necessary body parts, you will finally be ready to move into your fullest expression of Eka Pada Rajakapotasana. Move slowly and with control as you flow toward this peak posture.
Be conscious of your breath and make sure to keep it slow, full and consistent as you work toward this deep backbend. Utilize props as necessary (i.e. sit onto a block or use a strap to shorten the distance between your hands and your foot) to help you move comfortably into the full variation of One-Legged King Pigeon.
And as always, as with any other yoga posture, practice caution and don't force your body into positions that bring severe discomfort and pain to your body.