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YOGA | Pigeon Pose to Open the Hips

Pigeon Pose to Open the Hips

Reading Time: 5 minutes 30 seconds


DATE: 2024-01-04

Pigeon pose is one of yoga’s hip-opening asanas. Each of these helps open and stretch one or more parts of the hips: the psoas and hip flexor, the piriformis, the external rotators, the glutes, and more. 

The pigeon pose is one of the most effective hip openers because it targets multiple areas. It increases flexibility in the outward rotation of the hip and in the front of the hip, the hip flexors. Both areas of the hip tighten up during long periods of sitting, an issue for many people. Try this pose and its variants after a long day of sitting. 

Have you ever thought about taking a yoga teacher training course? Here are the top signs now is the right time to enroll

About Pigeon Pose

Pigeon pose is popular in yoga classes for its ability to open the hips in multiple ways. Although many yoga classes use just one or two forms of pigeon pose, it is actually a progression from classic, to resting, to one-legged king or full king pigeon. 

Each progression of the pose is more challenging and increases the stretches across the hip. If you have very tight hips, you can start with thread the needle pose before working up to the first part of true pigeon pose. Thread the needle is also often referred to as reclining pigeon. 

Progression is very important in getting the most from pigeon pose and doing it safely. Don’t push your body through any steps of this progression before it is ready. 

The extreme flexibility of many yoga practitioners can be intimidating to newbies. No, you don’t need to be flexible to start doing yoga, here’s why. 

What Are the Benefits of Pigeon Pose? 

Stretching is the name of the game with pigeon pose. You might get some added strength in the core from balance, but this pose is primarily about flexibility. 

Hip Flexibility and Mobility

The hip is the primary area of stretch for this pose. It stretches all areas of the hips as well as supporting muscles like the glutes and quads. By stretching and lengthening all of these muscles and connective tissue, you also improve hip mobility, giving them a greater range of motion. 

Improved hip mobility makes it easier to move in all kinds of ways, from daily functional movements to yoga poses and athletic activities. Greater mobility makes your movements safer too, reducing injury risks. 

Spine Flexibility

Although the hip area is the primary focus, pigeon pose also improves mobility and flexibility in the spine. In the first stage of pigeon pose, you extend the spine up and then forward. If you can progress to king pigeon pose, you’ll add even more spinal flexibility to the movement. 

Lower Back Pain Relief

Tight hips cause a ripple effect, which often includes lower back pain. Stretching out this area of the body will relieve some of that pain. If your back pain includes sciatica, pigeon pose can provide some relief by stretching the piriformis. 

Reclining Pigeon Pose (Thread the Needle)

Most people benefit from beginning with this gentlest variation of pigeon. So many people have tight hips, that it’s a safe bet you’ll want to start here. 

  • Start on your back on a mat. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the mat.

  • Bring the right foot up and rest the right ankle over the left thigh close to the knee. 

  • Thread your right arm between your legs and bring your left arm around the outside of the left leg. 

  • Hold on to the back of your left leg with both hands and gently pull it toward the chest. 

  • For a more intense stretch, hold onto your shin instead of your thigh as you pull.

Use this pose a few times to loosen up the hips before attempting the next progression in pigeon pose. 

Classic Pigeon Pose

Classic and resting pigeon pose are often done together and are what you most often encounter as pigeon pose in a yoga class. Start with the classic pose, and if you feel loose enough, progress to resting pigeon. 

  • Start on all fours, hands flat against the mat, arms shoulder-width apart and knees hip-width apart. 

  • Bring your right knee forward toward the right hand and twist at the hip to point your knee outward and to the right. 

  • Place the right leg down with the outer shin and knee on the mat. The lower leg should be parallel to the front edge of the mat and your hips. Your right knee will be near your right hand and your right foot and ankle near your left hand. 

  • Tuck in the toes of the left foot and slide the left leg back into a straight position. 

  • Lift your chest and allow the spine to stretch upward. 

  • Repeat with the left leg forward and right leg back. 

It’s easy to make some minor but important mistakes as a pigeon pose beginner. Keep these tips in mind as you attempt the pose: 

  • Keep the hips square. Until you can comfortably bring the forward leg flat against the floor, that hip is likely to sag downward. Use towels to prop that hip up if necessary.  

  • Engage your core to help keep the hips square. 

  • Don’t rotate the rear leg. It’s easy to let the rear leg rotate outwards, but it should be in a more neutral position. Lift your thigh up and readjust it to keep the leg neutral. 

Resting Pigeon Pose

To transition to resting pigeon pose and get even more of a stretch, inhale as you walk your hands forward. Lower your chest toward the floor with each exhalation. Again, you probably won’t be able to get your chest on the floor on your first try. Work toward that flexibility over time. The closer you get to the floor, the bigger the stretch in the hips. 

One-Legged King Pigeon Pose

Believe it or not, you can deepen the stretch even more by attempting one-legged king pigeon. Here’s how to do it: 

  • Start in classic pigeon pose with the right leg forward and the left leg back. 

  • Bend the left leg at the knee and lift the foot.

  • Reach back for your left foot with your left hand and grasp the outside of the foot. 

  • Reach back with your right hand and grasp the inside of the left foot. 

  • Let the spine arch and the chest open as you hold onto your foot. 

Full king pigeon pose is very challenging and best not attempted until you have reached more advanced level of practice. It is a full backbend that requires a lot of flexibility. 

Modifying Pigeon Pose

One of the great things about pigeon pose is that it is already a progression of steps from beginner to advanced. If you have very tight hips and limited flexibility, start with a gentle reclining pigeon pose and work your way up. 

Even with this progression, you might find it challenging to make the transition from one pose to the next. Some modifications can help:

  • Place some padding under the hip of the forward leg in classic pigeon pose if you cannot get it all the way down to the floor. 

  • If you can’t get the lower part of your front leg to be parallel to the mat, let the foot drift in toward your hip. Work on making it parallel as you get more flexible. 

  • Instead of placing your hands on the mat in classic pigeon, rest them on blocks. This makes it easier to maneuver the front leg forward and underneath your chest. 

  • You can also use blocks to support your upper body as you lower down into resting pigeon pose. 

Who Shouldn’t Do Pigeon Pose? 

No one should attempt to the more advanced poses without building up some hip flexibility. Even with progression, there are some reasons to avoid pigeon. Most importantly, if you have knee or hip issues, this pose might not be right for you. Stop doing it if it causes pain in these joints. Women far along in pregnancy might also find this pose uncomfortable. 

The ISSA’s Yoga Alliance-approved 200-hour teacher training program is a great way to learn more about pigeon pose and other fundamental asanas. Whether you hope to become an instructor or just want to enjoy a deeper practice, this is the course for you. 


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