Undoubtedly, Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) is a fan favourite in many yoga classes. Rightly so — the deep hip-opening sensations that the pose offers feels amazing for those who have been sitting at a desk all day and those who carry tightness and tension in the hips (which is most of us!).
The full expression of the pose includes a deep backbend where the back toes touch the head, and can be quite intense. The variation described below is much more accessible to most levels of experience, and provides an equally wonderful stretch for the hips without the intensity of the extreme backbend.
Benefits Of Pigeon Pose
Pigeon Pose is a great way to access and open up through the hip area. On a physical level, having openness in the hips can help to improve posture, physical alignment and overall flexibility and agility. Tightness and tension in the hips can also lead to pain throughout the body, including the knees and low back, so creating space for the hips to release is important for overall physical health and well-being.
On an emotional level, the hips are a notoriously tight area of the body that are said to hold on to negative emotions. One of my teachers always used to say, “We need to get the issues out of our tissues”. Thus, remaining in deep release poses such as Pigeon for extended periods of time (as in Yin yoga) is a valuable healing practice, both physically and emotionally.
How to Do Pigeon Pose
- Begin in Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). On an exhale, bend your right knee into your chest and gently lower your bent right knee down to meet the outside of your right wrist.
- Move your right shin parallel to the short edge of your mat (the right foot will move toward the left wrist) until you find an edge that feels appropriate for your body.
- Lower your left leg down onto the mat and extend it straight back behind you. Keep the top of your left foot relaxed down on the mat.
- Take your fingertips to the ground beside your hips and square your hips forward to the front of the room. Note the tendency for the right hip to drop here; instead, focus on maintaining an even distribution of weight across both hips.
- Inhale here, lengthening the spine and reaching the crown of your head up toward the ceiling.
- Feel free to remain with your fingertips at your sides; for a deeper sensation, experiment with walking your fingertips in front of the right shin, coming down onto your palms, forearms, or folding forward and resting your forehead on the tops of your hands.
- Stay in the pose anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes depending on your comfort level. The longer the pose is held, the more the muscles around the joints will relax and begin to stretch and lengthen.
- To come out of the pose, plant the palms down on the mat in front of you and slowly make your way back to Downward-Facing Dog (it doesn’t have to look pretty!). Bend your knees, one at a time, and gently walk out the legs. Whenever you feel ready, repeat the pose on the other side.
- For those with tighter hips: remain upright, with your hands resting on blocks or beside your hips. Keep the top of your front foot down on the mat, and bring the heel of the foot closer to your groin. You can also take a foam block just underneath the hip on the bent knee side to help support your weight if you are uncomfortably far from the ground.
- For those who want to move deeper: work on keeping the front foot flexed and bringing the outside (pinky toe) edge of the front foot down on the mat. For an added challenge, bring your front shin parallel to the short edge of your mat, and fold your torso forward over the front leg, coming onto palms, forearms, or bringing the forehead all the way down onto the mat, arms extended.
- Although there may be an intense sensation in the hips, there should be no pain or discomfort in the front knee. Those with knee issues should avoid Pigeon Pose and take a different hip-opener instead, such as Thread the Needle.
- Pay attention to any clenching of the jaw, furrowing of the brow, or constriction of the breath. Rather than resisting the discomfort in the hips, practice cultivating patience and sending softness and ease to the area instead. Even your most inflexible parts need love too!