Just saying the name Pigeon pose can evoke a myriad of emotions for most yogis; they either love or hate this asana. Those with open hips that easily externally rotate will happily get into pigeon without hesitation or fuss. However, yogis who favor internal over external rotation of their hips, those who may run, cycle, or sit (all of which tend to tighten the muscles of the hips), may find pigeon pose uncomfortable or avoid the pose completely.
Fortunately, there are numerous variations of pigeon pose and a modification for everyone. Whether you want to make this asana more accessible, or go deeper and relax more into the pose. Here are my 5 favorite variations of pigeon pose to get you started.
Standing Pigeon: You can build strength and balance with this Pigeon variation. Stand on one leg and bring the opposite leg over crossed in front of you holding on to the foot and heel(similar to a figure four). Try to stand tall without hyper-extending your hip. Repeat other side.
Seated Pigeon: Try this seated Double Pigeon Pose sometimes called Fire Log Pose to keep both hips solidly rooted to the ground. This grounding helps prevent the asymmetrical shifts in the lower back. From a cross-legged position, shins stacked on top of one another, place your right ankle on top of the left (keeping both feet flexed to prevent knee injury). Don’t worry if your right knee has some gapping between the left leg, you can place a block or a towel to fill in the gap. Rest your fingertips on the floor at either side of your body. Those who are more flexible, walk your hands forward along the floor, folding your torso over your crossed legs. Repeat other side.
Reclined Pigeon: This variation is ideal for yogis with sensitive knees. It still allows for a hip-opening stretch while keeping the knees protected. Lie on your back. Place your right ankle across your left thigh close to the knee. Externally rotate your right thigh then bring both knees towards your chest. Thread your left arm through the gap between your legs and reach your right arm around the outside of your legs to clasp hands either around your left shin or at the back of your left thigh. Keep your head and shoulders on the ground and relax into the posture. Draw your knees closer to your chest to increase the stretch. Repeat other side.
Upward Pigeon: This more “traditional” Pigeon pose is a deep stretch for your hips and inner thighs. This Pigeon pose is one of the most commonly practiced poses in yoga classes. From Downward Dog, step your right foot forward, placing your right knee just to the outside of your right wrist and the top of your right foot behind your left wrist. The front side of your left leg will come to the floor. Your left foot might come right behind the left wrist so that your shin is parallel to the front edge of your mat (it’s likely that your foot will feel be somewhere between your left wrist and your left hip point). Once you have your front leg in a comfortable position, tuck your left toes under and scoot your left knee a little further back on your mat. Release the top of your left foot to the floor with your toes pointing back. Repeat other side.
Sleeping Pigeon: This version of Pigeon is a deep and powerful stretch for your hips. Going beyond the basic pigeon pose, this increases both the intensity of the stretch as well as the relaxation of the pose. Sleeping Pigeon takes a basic hip-stretching pose by lowering the chest down to rest over the top of the stretching leg and adds a deeper sensation to the stretch. Begin getting into this pose by following the same instructions from the previous pose. For a more intense stretch, extend your arms and chest to the ground in front of you. To fully experience the pose, keep the spine long versus rounding. Make sure to begin by placing the belly down, then the ribs, and finally the chest and head. This keeps your spine in proper alignment and gives you better posture and a deeper stretch.
Caution: If you have any knee injuries or surgeries some of the above poses can put pressure on your knee cap. Alternatively you can turn over onto your back and pull your leg toward your chest for a “supine pigeon” (reclined pigeon). This takes the pressure off the knee joint while also giving a similar hip stretch.
Modify any of the poses when needed by using props. Slide a yoga block or rolled up towel under your hip (the bent one) for extra support. There’s nothing to be ashamed about using props - even the most flexible yogis have days where they need some added cushion to protect their bodies.
For many people their daily lives consist of a lot of sitting; whether that comes from work, school or driving, we sit for many hours these days than previous times. Some people try to balance that with exercise, such as walking, running, cycling swimming or cardio, but how many of us spend quality time stretching our muscles, tendons and ligaments? Lack of stretching leads to immobility of joints, mainly the hips and shoulders, causing stiffness and, often at times, pain. How does your lower back feel? How about the muscles between your shoulder blades? Where do you carry your stress? We spend a lot of time on our cell phones, computers and tablets, hunched over. This shortens the muscles in the front of the shoulders, this atrophies the hip flexor muscles. To combat this, practicing the above yoga poses on a daily basis can begin to reverse the effects of tight hips and shoulders. Just a few minutes of yoga can make a big difference for your overall well-being!
Parsvottanasana comes from the Sanskrit words Parsva meaning side, Ut meaning intense and tan meaning to extend, stretch or lengthen. Hence the name Intense Side Stretch Pose. This pose is also called Pyramid Pose, which emphasizes the powerful foundation and strength created in this pose.
Getting into the pose:
Caution: Do not practice this pose if you have a hamstring injury. If you have a shoulder or wrist injury, do not practice the full version of the pose. Women who are pregnant and those with back injuries or high blood pressure should practice the pose against a wall. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. As with any exercise regimen, including yoga, talk with your doctor before practicing.
Many people today have tight hips and inner thighs due to prolong sitting at work and/or school, cars, and sitting at home. For many adults we have lost that easy flexibility in our hips and feel tight and restricted when attempting this pose. Regularly practicing hip-openers, such as Baddha Konasana, will counteract this stiffness, reduce pain, and bring more ease and grace to your overall movements.
Baddha Konasana comes from three Sanskrit words: Baddha meaning “bound” Kona meaning “angle” and Asana meaning “pose. Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana) has many names; Cobbler’s Pose, Butterfly and Diamond. Bound Angle, Butterfly and Diamond describe the shape of your legs while in the pose. Cobbler is derived from the way that Indian cobbler’s traditionally sat with shoes held between their feet as they worked. Whatever name you choose to call it, it is a great pose with many benefits.
Begin in a sitting position.
Press the soles of the feet together, and pull feet towards pelvis
Open the tops of the feet like a book. The bottoms and pinky toes should continue to touch, like the binding on a book.
Sit straight - don't round the back. Slowly begin to fold forward at the waist .
Added move: fold over feet with heart open, eyes looking up to the sky
Added move: fold over feet, arms extended to the floor and forward, gaze to the front of you
To come out of the pose, place your hands beside you on the floor. Press firmly through your arms and as you lift up, extend through the chest and bring yourself back to a seated position.
If you have issues with your knees, use blocks or cushions under your thighs to support your legs.
If feel that your spine is rounding as you fold forward or if you have any discomfort in your lower back, elevate your hips slightly by sitting on a small cushion or folded towel.
If your hips are tight, increase the angle at your knees by moving your feet further away from your body.
Caution: Never press on your knees in this pose! Doing so can cause injury to your groin and knees. Avoid jerking, pulling, pushing, or forcing any movement in this pose. Let your movements be slow and smooth.
Baby Cradle pose or Leg Cradle pose, is a seated hip-opener that also stretches the hamstrings and calf muscles. It is a slight variation of pigeon pose and is sometimes also known as rock the baby pose. Although this pose is considered a beginner level yoga asana, its benefits can be profound. This asana is a wonderful yet gentle preparation for meditation and for more challenging asanas, such as full lotus and pigeon pose.
How to do Hindolasana
1. Begin in Dandasana / Staff Pose.
2. Inhale and lift your right leg up.
3. Place your right foot on your left forearm, and your right knee on your right forearm.
4. Clasp for fingers and bring your right shin close to your chest.
5. Twist your upper body to right side and then to your left side.
To come out of this pose, release your foot and sit in Dandasana / Staff Pose.
Repeat the sequence on your left side for the same length of time.
If this pose causes your lower back to round, or doesn’t feel good for your knee, try a seated figure four stretch instead, planting your feet on the floor and your palms or fingertips on the floor behind you. Lean back (keeping a long spine); cross your right ankle over your left thigh, keeping your right foot flexed; and walk your hands back until you find a position where you’re able to maintain a gentle curve in your lower back.
Caution: Do not attempt this pose if you have knee or hip injury.
The hips are the center of the body, connecting the upper body and the legs. Ancient yogis name this location in our bodies as the resting place of kundalini-shakti energy. When our hips are strong, balanced and flexible, they are the foundation for a yoga practice and a life that hold those same qualities.
Lizard Pose or Utthan Pristhasana in Sanskrit, comes from the words Utthan meaning “stretching out” and Pristha meaning “back of the body.” An alternate translation of Pristha is “page of a book,” an appropriate description as we hold many of our emotions in our hips. Lizard pose opens the hips and hamstrings while strengthening the inner thigh muscles of the front leg. The hips store an abundance of emotions so this stretch not only helps the muscles but also helps to release that stored energy allowing for healing and strength. Tight hamstrings are an indication of feeling stuck in our lives so this pose also helps us take on new strides and abound to new wonderful moments in our yoga journey.
How to do Lizard Pose
Begin in Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana), step your right foot forward between your hands. Heel-toe your foot towards the edge of your mat, so that your foot is slightly wider than your shoulders.
Let your hips grow heavy, so that they settle forward and down. Begin to walk your hands forwards until you are able to come down on to your forearms (You may place your forearms on the ground, or on a block). Either rest your hands palms facing down on the mat (as seen in the picture), or bring your hands together in prayer position.
Extend your heart forward, lengthening the spine. Try to soften the heart and draw the shoulder blades together, taking heed not to round your back.
Keep your right knee hugging towards your midline to get into the inner hip and thigh area of your right leg. You can keep your left knee lifted with your leg active, or for a more restorative version, you can lower your left knee (as seen in the picture).
Don’t worry if the forearms can’t come down onto the mat just yet. Work on softening into the hips as much as possible, and try placing a block underneath the elbows as you begin to find more openness in your hips. For those with sensitive knees, place some padding underneath the knee such as a rolled up yoga towel or fold your yoga mat over for extra cushion for the knee. Repeat other side (if needed).
There’s a tendency to drop the head and collapse through the chest in Lizard Pose. Keeping the head and neck aligned with the spine by lifting the chin slightly and sending the gaze forward allows for more extension along the body (rather than contraction).
Caution: Those suffering from hip, groin or knee injuries should avoid this pose. Also, those who have had any recent surgery of the abdomen, thorax, hips or legs should not attempt this pose.
Balasana (Child’s Pose) comes from the Sanskrit words bala meaning child and asana meaning pose. Child’s pose is practiced in almost every style of yoga and class. This pose is usually practiced as a way to rest after an intense pose or sequence. However, it has numerous benefits of its own. Balasana is a great pose that allows you to turn inward; providing the opportunity to calm the mind and restore energy. Child’s pose is a basic beginner pose that nearly anyone can do.
Child’s pose is one of the most common postures that you will see when using yoga for back pain due to the versatility that it offers. Child’s Pose relieves tension in your back and hips while increasing flexibility and circulation to the muscles and joints in your low back. When practiced in the full expression of the posture, Child’s Pose can produce immediate back pain relief. Above are more great benefits of Child’s pose.
Getting into the pose:
To come into this pose, kneel onto the floor, and sit back onto your ankles. Keep your knees and big toes touching one another as you sit back. Lean forward at the waist and place your forehead on the floor. If your hips pop up, don't worry about it. As you stay in the pose, keep inviting your hips to meet your heels.
Your arms can take several positions:
To open your body farther, begin the pose in the same manner as described above. Instead of keeping your knees together, spread them as wide apart as is comfortable for you. Still keeping your big toes together.
Caution: If you have a groin injury, back or hip problems, consult with your physician prior to doing this pose. Please, carefully check in with your body before doing this pose, and do NOT do anything in which your body feels unsafe!
Garland Pose is a hip-opening yoga pose that helps to lengthen and open the hips, helping to create more mobility. The Sanskrit name for Malasana comes from two words: mala meaning garland and asana meaning pose. Malasana offers numerous benefits especially for those who sit all day at work. Sitting leads to a higher percentage of stress on the back and lower spine. When we sit at a 90-degree angle in a chair, we shorten our hip flexors (the psoas). As the psoas shorten, our lumbar spine is pushed forward and pulled out of alignment. Prolonged sitting can lead many people to experience a back injury or pain.
Our hips are one of the largest joints in our bodies, an energetic area where we tend to store anger, tension and rigidity. Our hips allow us to move forward in life with grace and ease, therefore, it’s important to keep this part of our body limber, open and lubricated. When aligned properly, practicing this pose can feel great, opening up the hip flexors and offering a deep stretch to the groin muscles and a complimentary release for the sacral chakra (second chakra) which oversees the flow of creative, sexual and reproductive energy. It can also help strengthen and relax the lower back, calves, and glutes. It also helps boost metabolism, stoke the digestive fire, and alleviate constipation.
Modifications & Variations
There are as many reasons for hip pain as there are approaches to resolving it. Hip joints connect the pelvis and leg bones. No wonder hip health relates to the back, knees, ankles and feet. So, what can you do? If you have a regular yoga practice, notice if your hips feel the same, better or worse after your practice and up to 48 hours after. Move in a way that does not increase the pain. Starting a yoga practice that includes gentle hip exercises can help relieve pain in the hips safely. Relieving hip pain can also relieve pain in the lower back, as tight hip flexors can misalign the pelvis and affect the muscles of the back. You may even want to consider a yoga therapy session. Here, you can find out which muscles are supporting your hips and which are overworking that should be resting. You don't need to understand the anatomy but you will learn to listen to your body for the answers. Here are 4 yoga poses for hip pain relief:
Bound Angle Pose can relieve hip pain caused by sciatica, while also stretching the inner thighs and groin. You may wish to sit on a folded blanket before starting, as this helps your pelvis tilt forward, aiding in the stretch. Start in a sitting position with your knees bent and the soles of your feet pressed together. Hold your feet, bringing your heels as close to your pelvis as is comfortable. If you can't comfortably hold your feet, hold your ankles or shins. Sit up straight, keeping your shoulders pressed down.
Happy Baby Pose gently stretches the hip flexors. Start by lying on your back. Bend your knees and bring them towards your chest so that you can grab the outsides of your feet. If you can't reach your feet, use a yoga strap or belt. Widen your legs, gently pulling your knees towards your armpits. Keep your shoulders pressed into the floor, and press your feet into your hands. Push your tailbone down towards the floor to release pressure on your lower back.
Wide-Legged Forward Fold stretches the hip flexors, while also stretching the spine and legs. Step your feet out so that they are hip-width apart (about 2 of your fists in between your feet). Put your hands on your hips and keep your spine long as you bend forward from the hips. Release your fingers to the floor directly under your shoulders. Relax your shoulders down your back so they don't press up around your ears. Place your hands back on your hips and keep your spine straight as you bend upward out of the pose.
Fire Log Pose is a hip opener that can be as gentle or as challenging as you'd like it to be. If needed, sit on a blanket to help your pelvis tilt forward. Place your left leg on top of your right leg so that your shins are lined up straight in front of you. Your left ankle should sit just outside of your right knee. Keep your torso straight and let your fingers graze the floor for support. For many, this is enough of a stretch, though you may also fold forward if you want to increase the stretch. Switch legs.
While Padmasana (Lotus Pose) may seem simple, it is considered an intermediate to advanced pose and may not be comfortable for beginners. Lotus Pose is sitting cross-legged with the spine vertically straight, making it ideal for meditation and concentration.
Padmasana in Sanskrit, comes from the words padma (meaning lotus) and sana (meaning seat or throne). The lotus, a sacred aquatic plant, is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols and one of Buddhism’s most recognized motifs. Traditional Hindu texts says that Padmasana destroys all disease and awakens kundalini (a dormant energy residing at the base of the spine that can be awakened through meditation and yoga).
Getting into Lotus Pose
Avoid practicing this pose if you have recent or chronic injury to the knees, ankles, or hips. Lotus Pose requires a great deal of flexibility and self-awareness to be performed correctly. If you do not yet have the flexibility to practice this pose, practice Half Lotus (Ardha Padmasana) or Easy Pose (Sukhasana) until you become more flexible.
Remember to always practice yoga within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical conditions or concerns, talk with your doctor prior to any yoga practice.
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