Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Kapotasana or Pigeon Pose: How to Safely Open the Hips

By Janine L. Agoglia

Pigeon Pose, or Kapotasana is a quintessential hip opener common in many yoga practices. For people who run, climb stairs or really do any type of physical exercise, the Glutes, or what we call the "hips" in yoga, can get very tight. This can lead to dysfunction in other parts of the body (knees, lower back, hip joint). By "Opening the Hips" you can release the tension and feel more comfortable in your daily life, as well as prevent compensation injuries from occurring.

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
left knee toward your left shoulder keeping your right foot flexed. Reach your right hand through the hole made by your right leg and hold your left thigh with both hands. Use arm strength to bring your left knee toward your left shoulder while lengthening your tailbone toward the floor and keeping your hips and legs relaxed. To deepen the stretch, use your right elbow to gently press your right thigh forward. Listen to your body and don't force anything. Again, the intensity should never be higher than a 7 on a scale of 1-10. To read more about knowing your limits in a yoga class, click here. Stay 5-10 breaths then repeat on the other side.

Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she discovered Vinyasa yoga in 1997. The combination of breath with proper body alignment is what fuels Janine's practice and the classes that she teaches. She believes that yoga should be safe as well as challenging, creative and fun. She always emphasizes proper alignment within the flow, as well as focus, breath and humor to help students find the balance between strength and ease. Deepening one’s physical awareness helps one strengthen his/her spiritual awareness and mind-body connection. Janine loves being able to help people deepen their own practices, finding yoga in everyday life, on and off the mat. Her DVD, “Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People” is available for purchase at the front desk at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA.

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.

To contact Janine, please email acuyogamama@hotmail.com or visit her website, www.acuyogamama.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment