Q. Sati, you recently said that we don’t need to have our hips square in pigeon pose. Can you please explain this because many other teachers tell me I need to have my hips square to be doing this correctly.
A. Pigeon is my favorite position! I do it EVERY DAY and it is the last pose I do EVERY NIGHT! Sound hard to believe? I do it in bed right before I sleep, with my head on my pillow! This position does so much for me. It helps with back pain, assists in my digestion, helps me relax, and loosens my legs and hips. Afterwards I truly feel amazing and I do this for about 3-5 minutes per side each day.
The Kapotasana कपोतासन, Pigeon pose is truly one of the most rewarding and enjoyable of all of the Yoga positions. I have myself mastered this position with the help of many years of practice and detailed instruction. The pitfalls that I battled while mastering the pigeon were many, and I do recall once crying actual tears on a beach to my teacher literally saying aloud ‘I will never get the king pigeon pose.’ I believe that we are never upset for the reason we think. I now understand the tears were healing and less about doing the position. I had determination to heal the trauma and fear and I eventually did master it. The mastery that I eventually did attain were beyond the position itself as I learned to relax and enjoy through the process and found that pigeon is much more of an experience and less of an activity. It can be a deeply relaxing moment.
My feeling for everyone is that you need to do a pigeon in which you feel comfortable. This is a deeply emotional experience and should be done in a relaxed way if possible. Its important that you can rest in the position and relax. When we struggle in poses we actually tighten the muscle and create anxiety. Crossing over the natural edge in a position continually over time can lead to damage and injury and should be avoided. I no longer cross the edge in any position and I much more enjoy the experience of yoga. In the beginning of working with pigeon I was stalled and then in the second half I was injuring myself. It seemed like either a black or white experience. Variations provide all of the grey area for this position. For these reason I do not suggest that everyone square the hips in pigeon. I do suggest that you try and square your hips, and if you cannot at that time yet do that choose a different form of pigeon until you can. I also do not suggest blocks in pigeon but instead I suggest using a variation (unless you have knee issues.)
Pigeon creates a stretch in the glutes, hip muscles, and adductor . To do the full expression of this pose, you need your front hip to easily rotate outward to a 90 degree angle. MOST people are unable to do this. If you can’t, don’t worry, just choose a variation.
First of all, trying to fit every person into the same form of any position is like trying to fit all people in the same size clothing. Trying to fit every person into a pigeon pose with absolute square hips, is like trying to fit all people into a size 0 jeans. This was what happened to me. I was continually given instruction to square my hips which for me led to mild injury and frustration. I as a teacher respect that all people are different and come prepared to provide actual alternatives to pigeon for people with hip issues.
For whatever reason, my hips we particularly tight at one time (I was 18) and pigeon was really difficult for me. By many different instructors I was told to ‘square my hips’ and was even given a block as a prop to help me to do pigeon ‘right.’ I did this of course, and I found that I was not progressing. To be very clear, I do think that props can he helpful in pigeon (I love props and I use them all the time but for pigeon I don’t see them as useful or necessary UNLESS you have knee issues or replacements in which case yes, use the blocks and go high). Supposedly for some with hip issues propping onto blocks in pigeon can be dangerous and for others who cannot yet square the hips it can in many cases be a hindrance to the practice and opening of the hips and in turn the experience of pigeon.
When I began I was actually not really that inflexible, I was just not used to feeling my emotions and I was a little squeamish about all of the sensation that pigeon brought up for me. In the beginning I did square my hips and came up off the hip and felt like I might fall over balancing on my ankle and then was given a block by a few different teachers. I didn’t progress in pigeon for years because I was never deep enough to experience the position enough to feel into it. I was unable to square my hips so I used the block as instructed, for years. I probably would have mastered king pigeon much quicker had I been given more variations. Over the years as a teacher I gathered up many and I use them all in my classes, and in my home practice.
In terms of pigeon form, yes we eventually want to square the hips. Though, when the hips and front knee are actually square we are so deeply open that we actually are nearly in a full split. Have a look at the following images and look at how closely we are into split when in pigeon. For the left side image I have opened up the angle with the back leg straight back. The front leg can move all the way into split from pigeon here. So, unless you have a full split as one of the positions that you can do or you are working towards that, I suggest a different version of pigeon. For example if you are a complete beginner, there is absolutely no reason to try and square your hips in this position at first.
While researching other teachers views upon this topic I was surprised at how many actually went ahead and gave the same bad advice that is often given in class to so many students which is basically to square your hips and stick a yoga block under your hip to make that happen. Now, that does work to some degree, but what I experienced personally was that this particular instruction held me back and made my journey to pigeon and loser hips a much longer process than if I had been told how to do pigeon in the right way for me.
If your hips are tight and if your inner groin is not going to allow you to square your hips under any circumstances then you need a variation. These three options are there for you. The two left side images are what some teachers call a ‘lopsided’ pigeon and some actually either ridicule this position or say that it is incorrect. This type of teaching is not inclusive or adaptive and could not be more incorrect. Some Yin teachers call this type of ‘lopsided’ pigeon a Deer Position, so I use that title for my favorite pigeon variation. Much can be learned by researching Deer Position which is the ‘lopsided’ pigeon. This position is always an excellent variation to pigeon and in all of my gentle classes I offer this. On the right side image you can see the pigeon with the block which should only be used for those who CANNOT take the deer position because of a knee issue.
The prop with the block is not meant to be offered to every person who struggles in pigeon and this variation can hold back students for years in my experience, for that reason I do not usually offer this variation in my classes unless it is a specific case of a person with a knee injury or issue.
For those who absolutely cannot do the pigeon pose from Deer position or with a prop under the hip then one of the following variations can be used. Lying down Sleeping Pigeon on the top left, Sitting pigeon on the top right, and even just a deep hip opener for those with incredibly tight hips and groin.
For those who are more advanced in pigeon and who have already found the completely square hips or even a full split deeper and more advanced pigeon forms are available. First there is the double pigeon which can be seen here on the left, in double pigeon we have the ankles stacked atop the knees. This is an excellent position to start to move to more advanced pigeon forms. Over time we will learn to work with Eka Pada Rajakapotasana एकपादराजकपोतासन, King Pigeon which can be seen on the right side. The side king pigeon and the full king pigeon. Notice, King pigeon and half can be done without having the hips completely square. If that makes sense, we can master the entire position and still be unable to square the hips and 90 degree angle – or you can spend 6 years on a block trying to square the hips. I think that variations help us to meet in the middle.
In addition, for those who are more advanced the block can be used to enhance to experience between pigeon and split. As you can see in this position I am very close to a split using the block. In this case the block can be used as an advanced prop versus a setback. I do offer this variation to those more advanced.
I hope that helps to answer the question, that the question and that this information can help others to find their way to a cozy and deeply relaxing pigeon position.
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