For people with knee or hip problems (joint replacements, labrum tears, meniscus tears, etc.) I don't recommend Pigeon for you, however, there are other variations that can accommodate any body, and I will describe them in a bit.
Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana):
Come onto your mat and bring your right knee forward, placing it on the mat in front of your right hip, slightly toward your right hand. Aim both hip bones forward equally toward the wall in front of you ("squareing" the hips). Your left leg should extend directly behind your left hip with the knee facing the floor and the ankle extended. Feel free to place a blanket or pad under your left knee for some cushioning if you need. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, lengthen your spine forward to fold over your right thigh. Let your head rest on the floor in front of you and lengthen your arms forward. Stay 5-10 breaths then repeat with the left leg forward.
Key points for Pigeon:
- Hips are squared forward
- The hips do no not need to touch the floor
- The head should rest on something
- Your front knee should be aligned in front of your hip
- Your shoulders should be relaxed and not holding you up
- You must breathe
Hips are squared forward. This means that both hips face straight ahead, rather than aiming on a diagonal. When you fold forward over your front knee, both hips should be aiming for and be equidistant from the floor.
Your hips do not need to touch the floor. The tendency is to place the hip of the leg that is forward on the floor, but this actually reduces the hip stretch. Eventually (perhaps) both hips will reach the floor at the same time, but that is not the goal. The goal is to feel an opening in the hip of the leg that is forward. If it is uncomfortable to have the hips off the floor, place a block, blanket or bolster under that hip of the forward leg. Make sure to bring the support up to meet the hip, not the hip down onto the support, as this will throw off your alignment by "unsquaring" your hips.
Your head should rest on something. If your head doesn't reach the floor, you can rest it on a block or on your hands. When you relax your neck, your jaw can relax. When the jaw relaxes, it allows the hips to relax, which is what we are focusing on in this pose. Also, when the head can rest on something it allows you extend the arms forward and relax the shoulders.
Your front knee should be aligned in front of your hip. If your right knee is forward, place it in front of your right hip so that the thigh is parallel to the right side of your mat. You can increase the intensity of the hip stretch by moving your right shin forward toward being parallel to the front edge of your mat, or decrease the intensity by bringing your right foot back toward your left hip. The intensity should never by higher than a 7 on a scale of 1-10.
Your shoulders should be relaxed, not holding you up. Try not to rest on your elbows as this causes the shoulders to scrunch and creates tension in the neck. Try to extend the arms in front of you so that the shoulders and neck can relax.
You must breathe. As you exhale, there is a natural physiological response of relaxation. The deeper you inhale, the longer you can exhale and the more time you have to relax the hips. The best way to gain flexibility is to relax into a stretch, not to force it. By breathing deeply your hips will open gently as they are ready.
As I mentioned before, Pigeon is not for everyone. If you have knee or hip joint problems, there is a great alternate pose called Reclining Pigeon Pose.
Reclining Pigeon (Supta Kapotasana):
Lie on your back with your left foot flat on the floor and your left knee bent.
Take your right ankle and place it over your left knee. Bring your
here. Stay 5-10 breaths then repeat on the other side.
In addition to being the Co-Director of Yoga and teaching yoga classes at Lumina Mind Body Studios, Janine is also a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who practices at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA.