Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) is one of my favorite hip openers, in fact one of my favorite yoga postures! I can’t believe I haven’t written about it before. I had to search the archives to double-check… It can be quite intense but can also provide an amazing release. Always leaves me with a bit of that yoga buzz, thus the “mmmmmmmm” and smile that follow the practice of Pigeon.
For a number of reasons, we tend to hold a lot of tension in our hips. First of all, many of us spend a good part of the day sitting at desks. This keeps your hips from getting the regular flexion and extension that they require to remain agile. Secondly, if you are particularly athletic you may have developed quite a bit of strength in the hips yet not a lot of flexibility (particularly true of cyclists, runners and martial artists). A third factor that contributes to tightness is stress. We frequently carry this stress in the hips inthe form of muscular tension, as well as tightness in the tendons and ligaments.
Why Practice Pigeon Pose?
Pigeon pose stretches out the hip flexors as well as the hip rotators. It requires a fair amount of external rotation in the front leg and internal rotation in the back leg. If you practice regularly you will notice a marked increase in suppleness of the hip and you may find that your body moves with greater ease.
In the upright position, Pigeon Pose is also a nice backbend and opens the chest and shoulders. Sleeping Pigeon (where fold forward over the front knee) allows you to deepen the stretch and also soothes and calms your mind as you turn your focus inwards. Another nice benefit of Pigeon — it helps to stretch out the ankles and feet.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana is very good at isolating the various muscles in the hips, one of the reasons that it can be so challenging. It is beneficial to focus on your breath, taking deep breaths in and visualizing the breath moving into the areas where you feel the most sensation.
One common way to transition into Pigeon Pose is from Downward Facing Dog.
From Downward Facing Dog, lift and stretch your right leg towards the ceiling. Swing the right leg forward placing the right knee behind the right wrist.
Gently stretch the left leg out behind until and allow your hips to rest on the mat.
Your torso is in an upright position. Tilt your tailbone slightly down towards the floor to create length in the lower back.
Hands are about shoulder width apart and are helping to support your weight by pressing the fingertips into the floor in front of you. Inhale and stretch your chest and head towards the sky thereby initializing a gentle backbend.
Take a few deep breaths here.
Move into Baby Pigeon
On an exhale, begin walking your hands forward away from your body. Continue to lengthen the upper body as you fold forward, breathing deeply to release muscle tension.
Rest hands, forearms, or forehead on the floor. Use a bolster or block underneath your chest for support particularly if you plan to hold the pose for a longer period of time (which can feel amazing afterwards…)
To minimize pressure on the front knee, keep the foot of the front leg flexed. You may also bring your ankle closer to the hip with the shin at more of an angle. If you experience pain in your knee, skip this pose altogether.
Keep the hips centered and facing forwards even if both hips aren’t on the ground. You can place a rolled blanket or block underneath the hip of the bent leg to level out the hips if they are off the ground.
To deepen the pose, widen the front knee and gently stretch the back leg a little more towards the back.
Recently on Twitter, we had a bit of a discussion about Pigeon Pose. As I mentioned at the start of this post, I love this pose and have practiced it many times. However, I learned some interesting details that made quite a bit of difference in the way I experience this pose – a testimonial to the power of approaching yoga practice with a Beginner’s Mind. Thanks for the ideas!
@YogaSweetie: Tip for backbends like pigeon: press the top of the back foot down firmly…made the pose feel transformed.
@birdofparadox: I like toes turned under, gripping the mat: Nature’s Rudder!!
@whollyyoga: …also root front toes to open the hips.
I found that when I focused on the back foot (I tried both pressing into the foot and with toes turned under) I gained a new sense of stability in the posture and a deeper backbend. I also tried rooting the front toes as @whollyyoga suggested and it certainly does open the hips more as the focused action naturally pivots the pelvis towards the front knee.
One-Legged Pigeon pose is a great posture to incorporate into your daily routine. Is it a part of your regular practice?