Pigeon Pose is one of the most loved AND 'hated' hip-openers in asana practice. In this space, your front leg is bent at a 45 to 90 degree angle (depending on your flexibility and the shape of your skeleton), and the back leg is extended behind you while the pelvis is square and centered.
The upper body can be upright, folded over the front leg, or bending backwards. The pose can also be bound, with the hands reaching up and overhead for the toes of the bent back leg as in One-Legged King Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana).
If you're curious, the name comes from: Eka = one, Pada = foot, Raja = king, Kapota = pigeon, and Asana = pose.
Props can also be used; a block placed under the hips if they are unable to reach the floor, or a strap to assist in reaching the back foot for the bound version.
Benefits of Pigeon Pose
Pigeon Pose has many health benefits. Physically, it stretches the hip flexors, opens gluteus minimus and maximus, and relaxes the piriformis and psoas muscles. Internally, it stimulates the abdominal organs and aids in digestion.
Mentally, this pose challenges our ability to sit with uncomfortable situations. On an emotional level, it can induce sobbing spells (yes, it can make you cry) by bringing up repressed anger and fear and forcing us to breath while we sit with those emotions.
Warnings and Reminders
It is not advised that you jump into this pose at the beginning of class. Ideally, the body should be warmed up by practicing a few preparatory asanas to get the body ready for a deeper stretch.
I recommend doing this pose after, or at the end, of asana class which includes a standing sequence like Sun Salutation A or B, and some hip openers. You can also try Triangle pose (Trikonasana), Tree pose (Vrksasana), and Bound Angle pose (Baddha Konasana).
If you have knee, ankle, or sacroiliac injury, however, practice caution or just don’t do it. Pregnant women should not fold the body over, but remain upright.
Pigeon Pose Variations
There are many variations of this pose. A yogi who can touch his foot to his head is not getting any more benefit than the one who uses a block to support the hips in this posture.
If you are feeling a deep stretch and can relax in the pose without strain, then you are doing it right. Remember that your body is different today than it was yesterday. Honor your body and only go to the level that is comfortable for you today.
An asana is a steady and comfortable posture. If you have been told in the past that “if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you,” please disregard this for the moment. Slow, steady progress is best when opening the hips and heart.
Time to Practice!
So how do you get into this one? Let’s take it step-by-step.
Begin in either Downward Facing Dog or table top. Extend the right leg back behind you, hip space closed. Bring the right knee to the right wrist and the right foot to the left wrist. The shin can be perpendicular to the front edge of your mat (90 degrees), or in towards the groin (45 degrees).
This depends on the flexibility of the hips and the shape of your skeleton. Begin to settle in, adjusting the leg to avoid excess pressure on the knee joint and bring the pelvis to center.
Root down through your front leg and balance your weight evenly between your right and left hips. Avoid having one hip higher than the other, or one hip in front of the other. Adjust the back leg so it is long and extended on the mat, top of the foot pressing down.
Begin with the hands pressed in front of the front leg, or by your sides. Now take your variation:
Fold forward from the waist, bringing your chest towards the knee and shin, coming down to the forearms. Eventually the arms will extend long in front of you and the forehead will rest on the mat.
Bend the back knee, bringing the heel towards the seat. Reach the arms up and over head while backbending, reaching for the foot. Grab hold and roll the shoulders down and back. This will intensify the stretch through the groin and hip flexors.
Kapotasana with Props
If your pelvis is far from the floor, this will keep you from being able to relax into the space. Place a block or folded blanket under the pelvis for support. You can also use a block or blanket to rest your forearms if the body is folded over. If you are attempting to reach for your toes in the bound variation, try a towel or strap around the foot or ankle to assist you.
Maintain steadiness and comfort in the pose for 5-10 breaths. Carefully push the body up or release any props, and push yourself up with both hands and the back toes to come out of the pose. Find Down Dog or tabletop and change sides.
This space can be intense, so it’s easy to tense the muscles, jaw, and have negative thoughts. Try to relax into the pose. Stay calm, and breath deeply. With every in-breath, find length and create space, and with every out-breath go a little bit deeper.
If you are a beginner, the front knee might be bent quite deeply. With practice, the front heel may be able to extend further away from you, with the shin parallel to the front of the mat. Keep moving in this direction and make adjustments with variations and props to make the pose yours.
Try to practice every day — opening the hips will help to open the rest of the body. Never force the pose, being mindful and practicing ahimsa as you develop patience with your current ability.