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.
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