POSE OF THE MONTH: Pigeon Pose
How can we cue this challenging pose to make it more accessible for our students—and ourselves?
Tight hips? Join the club! Most of our day-to-day activities require us to flex and extend at the hip (think: running, cycling, sitting at a desk, standing for long periods of time), which keeps us in the same plane of motion throughout the day. By evening, our hips are begging for a little internal and external rotation. Of course, poses that answer the call can be pretty intense. Pigeon Pose is right up there with the best of them. Let’s see how we can make this pose more accessible for our students—and ourselves.
Main Elements of Pigeon:
Hip flexion (in front leg)
Hip external rotation (in front leg)
Hip extension (in back leg)
Most Challenging Elements:
Finding comfort in the depth of the stretch
Relaxing enough to allow the stretch
Breathing deeply and evenly
Stability in the pelvis
Begin with the YogaFit standard Warm-Up (standing or supine) and a few rounds of Sun Salutations to warm the body.
Hip Flexion, Extension, and External Rotation
Throughout Mountain 2, focus cueing on the action in the hips. Warrior 2, and all its friends (Reverse Warrior, Side Angle Stretch, and Triangle) have great external rotation of the hip in the front leg, so be sure to draw attention to this. Low Lunge with the back knee and foot on the ground is an excellent way to explore the depth of the flexion and extension needed for Pigeon. When cueing Standing Forward Fold, be sure to emphasize the length and relaxation in the spine so that students can remember how to re-create that same sense of length and relaxation later. As you work through these more demanding poses, draw students’ attention to the breath. Encouraging them to continue a deep, even breath will help them relax into Pigeon.
Ease Into the Stretch
There are several ways to approach Pigeon Pose. One of the most accessible ways is from All Fours.
Begin on All Fours, with knees under your hips and your wrists under shoulders. Draw the right knee forward and outward, toward the right wrist. Release the right leg to the mat, with the right ankle landing in front of the left thigh and the outer shin resting on the floor. This creates an upside-down Figure Four shape. From here, gently slide the supporting leg back into the pose. The back leg will look like it’s in the Splits, with the knee and top of the foot resting on the floor. Students can stay upright in the pose with hands on the floor, or begin to exhale their torso toward the floor, placing forearms on the floor or lying all the way down. After 5 to 10 breaths, have students walk their hands back toward the front leg and gently return to All Fours. As a counterpose, some students may then wish to work through Spinal Balance, stretching out each leg and moving through the hips. Others may enjoy a gentle Downward-Facing Dog, pedaling through the feet. Repeat on the other side.
Pay Attention to the Breath
Encourage your students to monitor breathing; each breath should be long and even. If, at any time, breathing feels jagged or frantic, remind students they are diving too deeply and invite them to release the stretch a little bit or come out of the pose entirely.
Pose Enhancements (aka Props)
For many students the depth of the hip rotation in Pigeon Pose is simply too uncomfortable to bear. Here are a few ways to soften the intensity—using props, of course.
Discomfort: The front hip lifts away from the floor, causing the inability to relax fully
Solution: Place a blanket, block, or bolster under the hip so it can release with ease
Discomfort: Discomfort in the right (front) knee
Solution: Bring the front heel closer to the groin
Discomfort: Discomfort/tension when releasing torso down toward the floor
Solution: Place forearms on blocks or cradle the head in arms on a bolster
Alternatives to Pigeon
Sometimes Pigeon Pose is simply not available, especially for those who have had knee or hip injuries, surgeries or replacements. There are great options for anyone who chooses not to do Pigeon Pose, including Seated Figure Four and Supine Figure Four. Both of these poses create very similar stretches in a gentle, and customized way.
Pigeon Pose can be a fantastic way to release stress and tension from the hips, and these tips will help you guide your students into, and out of, the pose in a safe and enjoyable way.