Pigeon Pose – How To

Pigeon pose (ekapada rajakapotanasana) is an extremely common pose used towards the end of class in vinyasa practices or as a profound hip stretching pose in restorative/yin-style practices.  It is a great counter to many actions in normal, everyday life.  It offers actions and ranges of movement and extension to muscle groups that are over-worked or stressed.

  • Start in downward facing dog. Step your right foot forward and across towards your left wrist and lower your right lower leg and thigh to the floor.
  • Align your right thigh straight up the length of your mat, parallel to the right edge.
  • Do not be greatly concerned about the angle of your lower right leg relative to the front edge of your mat. Some teachers – not Apollo Power Yoga teachers – instruct students to position their lower right leg parallel to the front edge of their mat.  This is possible – for about 0.5 % of the population.  For everyone else, attempting this will cause tremendous problems at your right knee.
  • In his book Journey into Power, Baron Baptiste says to align your front knee to a 90° angle but qualifies that by saying “or less, depending on the flexibility of your hips, or if it bothers the knee”. This is the correct approach, I believe.
  • Mr B.K.S. Iyengar suggests the set-up should have your right heel tucked in towards your groin. He goes the opposite way from what is suggested by those who say your lower leg should be parallel to the front edge of the mat.  This, too, is fine.
  • The key is that there be no strain at your right knee.
  • Not everyone can get their right thigh flat to the floor. This is due to tightness in the student’s hamstrings, hips and low back.  If this applies to you, place a block beneath the back of your upper right thigh or buttock to support and take the weight of your body as you settle into the pose.
  • Flex your right foot towards your right shin (dorsiflex). This stabilises your right ankle, stabilises your right knee and stimulates energy through your right leg, inner right thigh, your right hip and core.
  • Rotate your right thigh outwards in a clockwise direction, towards the right side of the room. This motion is a critical aspect of pigeon pose.  The rotation of your right thigh is initiated at your right hip and buttock.  The flexion, bend, at your right hip crease creates stretch in those same muscles.  Engaging and lengthening muscles (eccentric loading) is tremendously beneficial.
  • For some students who are new to practice or tighter in their hips, the tendency is to roll to the outside edge of your right hip. This reduces the critical action of external rotation and dilutes the pose.  Once your right thigh is set in place gently rotate the front of your left hip forward and downward.  Seek to create a neutral balance at your pelvis with both sides of your hips level.
  • Fully extend your left leg straight back behind you. Rest on the front of your left thigh.  If you find yourself rolling towards the outside edge of your left thigh you will reduce the degree of external rotation in your right thigh and collapse out of the critical actions in the pose.
  • I sometimes point my left toes straight back and rest on the top of my left foot (plantar flex) and sometimes I prefer to tuck my left toes and dorsiflex my left foot. An issue here is that of comfort at my left kneecap.  If you find your left kneecap feels awkward or painful you may choose to put a folded towel or small cushion under your left knee or you may dorsiflex your left foot.

Once the base of the pose is set there are a number of options as to how to apply yourself to the pose.

Option 1:

  • The first option is the most common and the most yin in its energy. In this variation, lower your torso forward over your right leg towards the front of your mat.  Rest on your forearms or extend your arms further forward and lower onto your chest.
  • If you support yourself on your forearms there is a danger you will hunch and tense your shoulders. If resting on your forearms, open your elbows outwards, much wider than your shoulders.  You will find your whole upper body relaxes downwards and the hunch of your shoulders disappears.
  • Relax your forehead onto the back of your forearms, onto a block or bring your hands together, make soft fists with your hands, rest one fist on top of the other and rest your forehead on your upper fist.

Option 2:

  • This variation is that which gives the pose its name, pigeon. Lift your torso up away from the floor.  Draw your shoulders back, press your thoracic spine forward into your chest.  Stretch your neck upwards and slightly tip your chin upwards.  Generate a strong deep back bend in your low back, similar to that in upward facing dog pose.  Create a powerful stretch through the front side of your body from the front of your left thigh into the front of your pelvis, abdomen and both lengthwise and in breadth in your chest.
  • This variation is very useful to tone abdominal tissue. If you find there is a slackness and sagginess to your abdominal region, this is a great variation to stimulate tone and shape your belly.  Many who have lost abdominal toning and have built excess abdominal fat gravitate towards option 1.  I suggest that, in addition to diligent practice of the core strengthening poses we offer at Apollo Power Yoga in our vinyasa and Pilates practices, the actions of option 2 are a good way to sculpt, shape and bring vitality to the soft tissue of your abdomen.

Option 3:

  • This option builds upon option 2. Rotate your right shoulder backwards and reach your right arm towards the back of the room.  Bend your left knee and raise your left foot up towards the ceiling.  Bind your right hand to your left foot.
  • Once you have the bind, turn your chest forward again towards the front of the room. Do not remain in a sideways turned position.  That feels easier and that is a clue.  If turning sideways relieves stretch in the pose, rotate your chest back towards the front of the room to re-establish the strong stretching sensation of the pose.
  • Press your left shin backward in the room into the bind of your right hand.
  • Pull your right hand on your left shin or ankle and draw your lower left leg forward.
  • In so doing you will notice the opposing energies of kicking your left foot backwards and pulling your left foot forwards with your hand creates uplift to your torso.
  • Relax your pelvis down towards the earth.
  • Draw your spine up towards the sky.
  • If you are balanced at your base, reach your left arm up towards the ceiling. Tip your chin up slightly and rest your gaze/dristhi at your left thumbnail.

Option 4:

  • This option is similar to the previous one but involves a bind with your opposite hand.
  • From the base you created in option 2 rotate your left shoulder backwards and reach your left arm towards the back of the room.
  • Bend your left leg at the knee and raise your left foot up towards the ceiling.
  • Bind your left hand to your left ankle or shin bone just above the ankle.
  • Rotate your chest back towards the front of the room.
  • In this variation you will notice it is easier to get a bind of your hand to your foot – your left limbs are closer to one another than are your left leg and right arm. If you sense available space, slip the top of your left foot or the front of your left ankle to the crook of your left elbow.  This shortens the bind and intensifies the pose.
  • To create the elbow bind you will need to turn a little more to the left side with your shoulders and chest.
  • Once your elbow is bound to your left foot, lift your right hand from the floor and either cross it over the front of your chest and bind it to your left hand or reach your right arm up and over behind your head to bind your left hand.
  • If you took the easier first choice and reached your right arm across your chest, once your hands are bound, swing your right elbow forward and upward, slip your head beneath your right elbow and bring your torso and head as upright as you can.
  • Once this bind is in position, draw your right shoulder backward and, as in the previous option, turn your chest forward as best you can.

Option 5:

  • This is the serious stuff! From the base created in Option 2 reach your right arm up and over your right shoulder.
  • Bend your left knee and bind your right hand to your left foot.
  • Sink your hips downwards and draw your torso upwards. There will be a powerful back bend in your low back.
  • Once you have that bind, reach your left arm up and over your left shoulder.
  • Bind your left hand to your left foot as well! Voom!!

Option 6:

  • This final option we call double pigeon. From the position given in option 1, swing your left leg around in front of your and cross your left ankle to the outside of your right thigh.
  • As with your right leg, align your left thigh straight forward, parallel to the left edge of your mat.
  • Different to your lower leg, align your left lower leg as close as parallel to the front edge of your mat as you can.
  • Many students will find their left foot drops downward and your left knee angles upward relative to the floor. If that is the case for you, as it is for me, place a block at the floor outside your right thigh and rest the outer edge of your left foot on the block.  This has the effect of levelling your left lower leg.
  • Use your hands to draw your gluteal muscles backward. Gently tilt your pelvis forward.
  • Rotate your two thigh bones outwards away from one another.
  • As you settle into the pose you may, if you feel access to do so, lean your torso forward and reach the palms of your hands to the floor in front of your shins. 
  • Sign up for a class to practice pigeon pose with us today.