This deep hip-opening posture is one which divides yogis. I for one used to think it was torture, the stretch can feel intense, but I have developed a grudging respect, almost admiration for it. In short, I know I need it in my life! Whether or not it is your cup of tea probably depends on if like me you have tight hips, or any knee issues. But do not despair, below are modifications you can take to feel more comfortable and variations which give the same stretch.
The benefits of pigeon pose are many; physically, it stretches the hip flexors and deep hip muscles, the piriformis and psoas and opens the glutes. Internally, it stimulates the abdominal organs and aids in digestion. Mentally, this pose challenges our ability to sit with uncomfortable situations – hence this pose is often called a marmite pose!
Preparation to stretch and open the hips is key to a safe and more comfortable pigeon. Below are some poses you can build into a sequence before attempting the pose. Warm up by taking three rounds of sun salutation A and then two rounds of a sun salutation incorporating a low or high lunge to begin to stretch the hip flexors.
Preparation postures (from top left): Butterfly optional forward fold, low lunge, twisted dragon lunge, reclined pigeon, standing pigeon prep hip opener.
You are now ready to come into pigeon.* You can come into the pose from table top or downward facing dog. Bring your right knee forward and place behind right wrist, in line with your hip, position your right ankle behind your left wrist. Your shin does NOT need to be in line with the front edge of your mat. Extend your left leg out behind you and drop your knee. Shuffle the left toes back and square off your hips towards the front of the mat. Avoid injury, do not use your hand to reposition your right leg as this may twist the knee. Point the right foot then flex your toes (making a floint!). You should feel this in the outer hip on the bent knee side and the hip flexor on the left side. Send your breath into areas of tightness and find stillness in the posture. Options are to stay upright here lengthening through the spine on every inhale or you can fold over the front leg on an exhale. Modifications can be taken to improve your comfort in this posture. Using blocks under the hip, forearms or head. Build up to this posture slowly, enjoy working through the preparatory poses, stretching and opening the hips. Learn to love your pigeon!
Modifications for pigeon
* Please note: if you have a knee injury or sacroiliac issues you should avoid pigeon pose or modify/take a variation of the pose. All of our bodies are different so find a version which feels good, reclined pigeon is more supportive and standing pigeon allows outer hip stretch but you can control the depth and intensity.
Variations: reclined pigeon and standing pigeon