Yoga handles stiff hips in a variety of ways, but most directly through a family of poses that are known loosely as “hip openers.”
Pigeon Pose, or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, primarily targets the external rotators of the hips. These tight and usually overworked areas breathe a sigh of relief when the time comes to settle into this healing pose.
It relieves tension in the chest and shoulders, and it also stimulates the abdominal organs, which helps to regulate digestion. The restorative version of the pose (see Modifications & Variations below) helps to relieve stress, fatigue, and anxiety.
Step by step:
- Begin in Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), or on your hands and knees in Table Pose. Place your ankle somewhere in front of your left hip. The more your lower leg is parallel with the front of the mat, the more intense the hip opener.
- Slide your left leg back, straighten the knee and point the toes. Make sure your leg is behind your body and not drawing outwards and your heel is pointing up to the ceiling.
- Draw your legs in towards each other to help keep your hips square.
- Gently lower yourself down and use some support under your right buttock if needed, to keep your hips level.
- On an inhale lift your upper body, come on your fingertips, hands shoulder width apart, draw your navel in, tailbone down and open your chest.
- On an exhale walk your hands forward on the fingertips and lower your upper body to the floor. You can rest your forearms and forehead on the mat.
- Stay here for 5 breaths or longer and on an exhale try to release the tension in your right hip.
- Balance your weight on both legs.
- Come out of the pose by pushing back through the hands and lifting the hips, move the leg back into all fours.
Modifications & Variations
Pigeon Pose can feel intense and stimulating. Remember to breathe evenly throughout the pose, particularly when you are feeling discomfort. Make any of the following changes to find a variation of the pose that works best for you:
- If your hips are tight, your front-leg hip might not come all the way to the floor. If this is the case, place a folded blanket or yoga block under the hip of your front leg for extra support.
- Work toward bringing your front shin as parallel to the front edge of your mat as possible. If your hips are tight, your front shin might angle back toward your opposite-leg hip. That is fine. With practice, your hip flexibility will increase.
- For a more restorative variation on the pose, drape your torso over your front shin. Stretch your arms forward along the mat. Allow your forehead to rest by placing it on the mat, your hands, a folded blanket, or a yoga block. Also allow your body weight to rest on your front leg as you continue to square your hips.
- More flexible students can deepen the backbend in the pose.
To gain all of the benefits of Pigeon Pose, it’s important to keep your mind calm while maintaining alignment. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- The further forward your front heel is, the deeper and more intense the pose will be. Some beginners might bend their front knee deeply. Over time, with practice and patience, you will be able to bring your shin more parallel to the front edge of the mat.
- Keep your front foot flexed to help protect your knee.
- Keep your back thigh internally rotated. Try to press all five toes of your back foot onto the mat.
- Take your time. Pigeon Pose can bring up more emotional resistance than other, less intense poses. If you are getting frustrated, take a deep breath and let go. Then, try again. Your flexibility will increase with time, but you can’t force it. Be patient and accept the present moment. Then, try again.
Be kind to your body and remember to protect your knees in all variations of pigeon. Allow your hips to open up in their own time and they will reward you for your patience.
Happy pigeon posing!