The pigeon pose is a deceptively difficult yoga asana, known by some as the king of the hip openers. It is one that I have done on occasion, and only now, since researching a little more, have realised I was getting it entirely wrong and missing the whole point.
I am a self confessed yoga-dabbler. Performing perfectly has not been on my to-do list, I simply wanted to stretch out my body, believing that I would gradually improve and before long, look like the flexible yogis in the photos I was using for instruction.
But being a woman who suffers from extreme curiosity, it was only a matter of time before I realised that my attempts at yoga practice were not going to be of much benefit and worse, could actually be doing more harm than good.
Yoga is a different. You can’t perform it half-heartedly and expect to reap the rewards that are claimed so frequently. Life changing? Holistic? It depends on how seriously you take it.
And yet, it isn’t really so serious. I guess it is better to say, it depends on how aware you are of what you are actually doing. Aerobics, resistance training and many of the other forms of exercise seem to be easier if you disengage your mind, switch off the inner commentary that is screaming that you need a break, and just go through the motions. But not yoga.
It doesn’t really look like a workout from the outside, but anyone who has tried it will know the sheer strength and stamina required to hold even the simplest looking poses. In fact, yoga is far more than a workout. It is multifaceted, and the more conscious you are of the other arms of the discipline, the deeper you will go down the rabbit hole.
The pigeon pose can be intense for many reasons. Of course physically it can be a challenge to open up the hip area, but it is more than that. The pigeon pose shifts energy that is centred in the lower two chakras.
The root and the sacral are both home to many intense feelings and emotions. This is where deep rooted fears connected to safety and belonging are held. The very deepest of worries, surrounding survival can also be found in this energy centre. Intimacy and trust issues from relationships with our parents, family and lovers are also contained in these chakras.
For this reason, people can often feel anxious when they are in pigeon pose. It is not unusual for tears to flow as these deep emotions are released and prana (a universal energy which flows in currents in and around the body) is set free. Pigeon pose can therefore release built up stress, trauma, fear, and anxiety.
Yoga can affect people on many levels; physical, internal and emotional are just three. Pigeon pose is notorious for bringing up painful feelings and this is why people often love to hate it.
Why Is It Called The Pigeon Pose?
In Sanskrit, kapota means “pigeon,” and asana means “pose.” So kapotasana, can be translated literally to ‘a posture mimicking a pigeon’. Although, there are other theories:
Although people tend to think of kapotasana as merely a bird-shaped asana, it is actually named after a great master, Kapota, whose yogic accomplishments are documented in scriptures such as the Mahabharata and the Kalika Purana. ~ Yoga International
As well as being emotionally intense, this pose can be a challenge to perform accurately, yet the benefits of doing so are great. It opens the hip flexors and strengthens the pelvis.
It can be difficult to master thanks to our often sedentary lifestyle. Sitting behind a desk all day can cause the hip area to seize up. Additionally, activities such as walking, running and cycling, while building strength in the hips, do little for flexibility and can actually cause the hips to become tighter.
The hip flexors and quadraceps are tight in much of the adult population in the Western World, coupling this with typical weak abdominal muscles provides an equation for a challenging pigeon. The trick is to take it slowly, really thinking about what the asana is trying to do for the body.
Understanding that this pose is aiming to mobilise the pelvis and open the hips will hopefully show you that over-compensating for lack of mobility by raising the upper torso is counter productive. Mindfulness is necessary to really notice what is happening in the physical body, to enable the deeper benefits to occur.
Pigeon pose is great for your physical wellbeing, allowing your hips to become agile, through rotation, flexion, and extension. Your hips are a complex cluster of strong muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which are at the very centre of your mobilty. This pose specifically works on your hip rotators (buttocks) and hip flexors (long muscles down the front of your thighs and pelvis).
It can additionally provide physical relief from sciatic and back pain, help with urinary problems, stimulate the internal organs and improve your posture and alignment. It stretches the glutes and lengthens the back muscles, while releasing negative energy.
While some yoga specialists claim that this pose can be beneficial to those who have had hip replacements, it would be wise to seek advice if you have had recent hip or knee surgery, or if you suffer from severe sciatic, hip, knee or lower back pain before trying the pigeon pose.
How To Perform The Pigeon Pose
There is a real risk that the following will seem nonsensical unless you can see or visualise the asana in action. So please, take a moment to watch this fantastic demonstration by Hope Zvara of the pigeon pose before reading the description below.
Hope explains thoroughly how to perform the asana, including how to avoid typical mintakes that are made.
- To start, it would be advisable to warm up thoroughly. Performing a series of sun salutations is one great suggestion, as it mobilises the body and warms the muscles in preparation.
- Then come to table pose, on all fours and let yourself be grounded. Make sure that your knees are directly beneath your hips, with your hands slightly in front of your shoulders.
- Slide your right knee forward so that it touches the back of your right wrist. If you are comfortable to do so, angle your right shin under your abdomen and bring your right foot to the front of your left knee.
- Gently slide your left leg back, straightening the knee and resting the front of the left thigh on the floor. Lower the outside of your right buttock to the floor. The right heel can be positioned in front of the left hip or under your groin.
- Aim to keep your right knee in line with the hip socket. Your left leg should also extend straight out of the hip, although rotated slightly inward.
- Stretch your torso up and outwards, exhale and rest yourself down on the right thigh for a few breaths, stretching your arms forward.
- Next, slide your hands back toward the front shin and push yourself up with your fingers, lifting your torso away from the thigh. Be mindful of lengthening the lower back, while pressing your tailbone down and forward.
- Be sure to keep your pelvis upright. You may need to be supported by your hands and blocks. This must be repeated on the other side.
It is possible to take the pigeon pose further and this can be done through a number of variations.
- From stage 7 above, you can go deeper by bending the left knee, reaching the foot toward the ceiling. Reach back with one or both hands to clasp the ankle or foot, drawing it towards the body.
- Ensure that the pelvis and shoulders are level and facing forward, with the thigh and shin aligned. Visualise your chest opening, with the toes and the crown of the head reaching upward. Repeat on the other side.
- A further variation is to grasp the foot from the outside edge and rotate the elbow up and out as you draw the foot upwards toward the head.
- The other hand can be stretched out in front and brought overhead to also grasp the foot. This is the full expression of the pigeon pose and requires real balance, and flexibility in the shoulders, upper spine, thigh and pelvis. Repeat on the other side.
Whichever variation you choose must be finished with a gentle forward bend stretch the back and release any tension. Childs pose could be a good choice here.
The important thing is to have patience with yourself as you practice. Persistant practice will pay dividends in many ways.
What are your thoughts? Are you a dedicated yogi? Or considering beginning yoga? We would love to hear from you.