Pose of the Month – Pigeon Pose

Pigeon Pose is one of the most loved AND ‘hated’ hip-openers in yoga practice however everyone can benefit so read on to find out what it can do for you.

Benefits of Pigeon Pose

Pigeon Pose has many health benefits:

  • Physically – It opens your hips, lengthens your back, stretches your groin and glutes and relaxes the piriformis and psoas (the long muscle on the side of your vertebral column and pelvis). This all helps to alleviate sciatic pain, improve your posture, alignment and overall flexibility.
  • Internally – It stimulates the abdominal organs, aids in digestion and helps with urinary disorders.
  • Mentally and emotionally – This pose challenges our ability to sit with uncomfortable situations. Stress, tension and anxiety are stored in our hips so by opening in this area you may find yourself crying as negative feelings and built up emotions are released. Sit with it, breathe and let go both physically and mentally.
  • For the athlete – This pose is critical to overall health, speed and agility. Open hips relieve the stress transferred to the knees when hips are tight. Less knee strain means a greater range of motion for the pivot sports such as tennis or football, reducing risk to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). Clear hips also give the back a full range of motion. This helps athletes avoid lower back strains that often plague them. Flexible and aligned hips are essential for a the best performance of an athletes.

Time to practice!

So how do you get into this one? Let’s take it step-by-step.

  • Start either on all fours in Table Top or in Downward Facing Dog.
  • Keep your hips square to the floor, bring your right knee forward towards your right hand and place your knee onto the mat at two o’clock position.
  • Your aim is to bring your right foot towards your left wrist but this depends on the flexibility of your hips.
  • Slide your left leg back as far as you can with the top of the foot pressing down.
  • To keep pressure off your knee joint, rotate your right thigh externally and left thigh slightly internally.
  • Balance your weight evenly between both hips keeping them level and square.
  • Maintain steadiness and comfort in the pose for anywhere from five breaths to five minutes.
  • Carefully push yourself up with both hands and the back toes to come out of the pose.
  • Find Down Dog or rest in Childs Pose to release before you change sides.

Variations

Work through these variations at your own pace. There is no hurry to get to the floor or advance through. A yogi who can touch his foot to his head is not getting any more benefit from 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. Listen to your body and only go to the level that is comfortable for you today.

  • Start with palms of hands level with your front knee and open your chest while sinking your hips down to feel the stretch in your lower back.
  • Next try taking your hands back to your hips and lift onto fingertips to stretch into your back a little more.
  • If you are not feeling a deep stretch in your right glute, slide your right foot forward little by little towards your left hand. With practice as your hips open your foot will come parallel to the front edge of your mat!
  • Rest your forehead onto your forearms bringing yourself a little closer to the floor.
  • Rest your chest on the floor with your arms fully extended in front of you. To get full release in the hips here, breathe and release your belly.

 Pigeon 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 below, try a belt or strap around the foot or ankle to assist you.

One-Legged King Pigeon

Only when you have worked through all the above variations and are comfortable with them then you are ready to advance. Bend the back knee, bringing the heel towards your bum. While back bending, reach the arms up and over your head or out to sides and reach for your foot. Grab hold and roll the shoulders down and back. This will intensify the stretch through the groin and hip flexors.

Additonal Tips

  • Warm your body up first with some gentle hip openers and a Sun Salutation sequence, Triangle, Tree and Bound Angle. Slowly but surely, your hips will open for that perfect Pigeon Pose, whichever variation you prefer.
  • This is an intense pose so you may find you tense your muscles and 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, make adjustments with variations and props to make the pose yours.
  • Practice regularly as opening the hips will help to open the rest of the body but never force> Be patient and mindful of your current ability.
  • Avoid this pose if you have a sacroiliac, back, ankle or certain knee injuries. Pregant women should stay upright.