Many people are familiar with tight hips. Activities and sports that include running and jumping can make the outer hips tight, and sitting for long periods of time can shorten and stiffen the front hip flexors. One-Legged King Pigeon Pose (usually referred to as “Pigeon Pose”) is a powerful hip-opener that can help increase flexibility and the range of motion in the hip joints.
The Sanskrit name for the pose, “Eka Pada Rajakapotasana” (EKK-uh PAHD-uh RAH-juh-KA-poh-TAHS-uh-nuh), comes from five words:
- “Eka” — meaning “one”
- “Pada” — meaning “foot” or “leg”
- “Raja” — meaning “king”
- “Kapota” — meaning “pigeon”
- “Asana” — meaning “pose”
The full variation of the pose, in which you touch your back toes to your head, is an intense backbend suitable for advanced practitioners only. This version, with the back leg extended, is appropriate for intermediate yoga students. Be sure to warm up beforehand with other hip-opening poses, like Extended Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana), Tree (Vrksasana), and Bound Angle / Cobbler’s Pose (Baddha Konasana).
Yoga is really trying to liberate us from... shame about our bodies. To love your body is a very important thing… The health of your mind depends on your being able to love your body.
Benefits of One-Legged King Pigeon Pose
Pigeon Pose stretches the thighs, groins, and abdomen. It can often be felt deeply in specific upper-leg and hip muscles, including the psoas, piriformis, TFL (tensor fascia latae) and gluteus maximus. 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.
Do not practice this pose if you have a recent or chronic knee, ankle, or sacroiliac injury. Women who are pregnant should not practice the restorative version of the pose; they should keep their torso upright. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin in Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), or on your hands and knees in Table Pose.
- Bring your right knee between your hands, placing your right ankle near your left wrist. Extend your left leg behind you so your kneecap and the top of your foot rest on the floor.
- Press through your fingertips as you lift your torso away from your thigh. Lengthen the front of your body. Release your tailbone back toward your heels. Work on squaring your hips and the front side of your torso to the front of your mat.
- Draw down through your front-leg shin and balance your weight evenly between your right and left hips. Flex your front foot. Press down through the tops of all five toes of the back foot.
- Gaze downward softly.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release the pose, tuck your back toes, lift your back knee off the mat, and then press yourself back into Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat for the same amount of time on the other side.
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. Perform steps 1-4 listed above. Then, bend your back (left) knee. Reach your left arm back and take hold of the outside of your left ankle. Keep your left foot flexed. If you are okay there, reach your right arm back and hold onto the inside of your left ankle. Square your shoulders to the front of the room. Hold for up to 30 seconds, then slowly release. Repeat this variation on the opposite side.
Students with an advanced yoga practice and deep flexibility can take the full version of the pose:
- Perform the backbend variation listed above.
- Then, clasp your left toes with your left hand, reaching your elbow toward the ceiling.
- Extend your right arm overhead, then reach back and clasp your left toes with your right hand, as well, reaching your right elbow toward the ceiling.
- Drop your head back, touching the sole of your left foot to the crown of your head.
- Intermediate students can use a strap around the back foot to help work toward this variation.
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.
Unlock & Release
In yoga, it is often taught that opening the hips opens up the rest of the body. Practice stretching your hips every day, and always modify the poses if you need to. Never force yourself beyond your current ability — practice the pose you can do, not the one you wish you could do! With time, patience, and dedication, your muscles will relax and lengthen, benefiting your whole body in activities on and off the mat!