Who knew that pigeons had open hips? Or maybe they have tight hips and some ancient yoga guru invented a stretch so that they could open them?
Whatever reason this hip-opening pose was named after them; our hips should be SO grateful for it!
It’s one of the most effective hip openers/back bends out there, and its numerous variations mean that anyone can be a Posetastic Pigeon!.
Posetastic Pigeon Variations
- Reclining pigeon (or Threading the Needle as you may know it)
- Traditional Pigeon with/without butt support (most common version)
- Flat out pigeon (my nickname for arms along the floor)
- One-legged King Pigeon (amazing but challenging backbend)
- Standing pigeon or Figure Four (great for improving balance too!)
Benefits of Posetastic Pigeon
Pigeon pose increases the outward rotation of the femur bone in the hip socket, as well as lengthening the psoas muscle, a muscle that gets shortened by the constant butt-to-chair action we do these days. Pigeon pose can be very challenging but regular practice will guarantee improvement and a depth of openness you didn’t know you could achieve!
Opening your hips can also release any negative emotions or energy from traumatic experiences or general anxiety that have been stored in your body. We tighten up under duress and the emotions we’re feeling can embed in our body. Prepare yourself for not only a physical release, but an emotional one too when moving into a hip opener. My whole yoga teacher training course got very grumpy after a couple of days learning hip openers! Thankfully this emotional purge is temporary, and it can only be good to release negativity from our body.
The physical benefits are numerous:
- Increases hip mobility
- The backbend version will open the chest and increase spine mobility and health
- Uses core strength to keep your hips level
- Calms your mind
- Stimulates the internal organs
- Stretches deep glutes
- Stretches groin and psoas muscle
- Relieves impinged piriformis and alleviate sciatic pain
- Helps with urinary disorders
- Improves posture and alignment
- Increases circulation to urinary, digestive, and reproductive systems
Warming up for Posetastic Pigeon
Before moving into the traditional pigeon pose (or Pigeon with Butt Support as I like to call it), it’s important that you first warm up the areas that will be challenged in this pose:
- To open the upper back, try Cat/Cow, Cobra or Fish pose supported with a block
- To open the lower back, try Forward Fold, Bound Angle with Forward Fold
- To open and warm the hips, try Bound Angle, Reclining Pigeon or Low lunge
- To warm and lubricate the knees, try Fire log or Cradle Leg pose
Once these areas are warm and prepared, you can be sure that you’re moving into Pigeon in the safest way possible.
Entering Posetastic Pigeon
To minimize injury or avoid aggravating an existing injury, ensure that you’re coming into the pose in the best way for YOUR body and that your alignment is correct for how your body feels TODAY.
Some variations to come into Pigeon Pose are:
From Downward Dog: This is the typical way to come into Pigeon pose but it may be a challenge if you’re new to this pose or have any past knee or hip injuries that limit your range of motion. A quick way to come into the pose is to move into 3-Legged Dog and then flow the right leg down and under the torso until the right knee rests behind the right wrist on the mat.
From Tabletop (on hands and knees): A gentler way to move into the pose if you’re unsure of your alignment.
From Low Lunge: This way may or may not work for you; it’ll depend on your body type and any physical restrictions you may have. It’s worth giving it a try though to see if it suits you!
Tips for a safe and effective Posetastic Pigeon
- Untuck the toes of your back foot and point it towards the back of the mat. Keep your back leg active by pressing the top of the foot into the mat.
- Square your hips towards the top of the mat as much as you’re able, so that you can get a stretch through both hips. Imagine drawing in the front hip crease, which will automatically bring the back hip forward.
- Keep the front knee rotating outwards and placed behind the same side wrist, thigh directed at an angle towards the long edge of the mat.
- The foot of the bent right leg can stay where it lands (usually pointing towards the left hip) or can be wiggled up towards the left wrist so that the shin is parallel to the top of the mat. This will increase the stretch in hips but will also put pressure on the knee so move with caution. If there is any pain in the knee, bring the right foot closer to or even under the left hip.
- Unless the shin is parallel to the top of the mat, DON’T FLEX the bent leg’s foot. Flexing the foot when the shin is in any other alignment than parallel can cause the foot to sickle (turn inwards), putting the ankle and knee at risk. Instead of flexing the foot, point it but flex your toes back (called ‘flointing’ as it’s a cross between flexing and pointing). Focus on drawing your little toe back and reach out through the ball of your big toe. Lift your outer ankle away from the floor by pressing the little toe side of your foot into the floor. Your ankle will stay straight, and you’ll activate muscles that will support your knee.
- Use a cushion or folded mat under the bent leg’s buttock if it doesn’t reach the ground. Even if you know that it’s reached the ground before, it’s a good idea to start with support from a prop and slowly ease deeper into the pose as the hips release. If the outer hip doesn’t have support, the body will skew to the left, making the hips uneven, distorting the sacrum and putting too much pressure on the front knee.
- Once you have your lower body in alignment, inhale as you lengthen your spine, come up on to your fingertips, draw your navel in and open your chest by drawing your shoulders back and down. As you exhale, slightly concave your back if you have no sacrum issues.
- You can stay here on fingertips or walk your hands forward, lower your upper body towards the floor and rest on your forearms (imagine the placement of arms in Sphinx pose). Ensure shoulders are away from your ears. If you have a lot of flexibility, you can inhale/exhale again and walk your hands further forward so that your arms are either straight, with your forehead on the mat, or bend your arms so that your forehead comes to rest on your hands. You can also rest your head on a block or stacked fisted hands instead.
- In the upright position, you can make this into a backbend by moving the hands back along the mat towards the thighs and lifting through the chest. Be careful not to dump into your lower back by lengthening through the spine first. This is preparation for moving into the FULL One-legged King Pigeon Pose. Ensure you are guided into this pose by an experienced teacher, that you use a strap to help you lift the back leg and that your body is warm and ready for it!
- To come out of the pose, push back through your hands, lift your hips and move your front leg back slowly and gently until you’re in Tabletop pose. Rest in Child Pose for a few breaths and then repeat on the other side.
We love our hip openers at YogaLight, and we have sooo many classes that include Pigeon Pose or another equally beneficial pose to help you release and renew yourself.
Check out our library of over 100 classes with our FREE 7-DAY Membership trial today and discover a level of physical and emotional openness that you didn’t know was possible!