If you spend much of the day sitting it's important to incorporate exercises into your routine that stretch the hip flexors in order to avoid stiffness and pain.
Pigeon pose is one stretch that really targets the hips and glutes, making it a great exercise to combat the effects of sitting for long periods of time.
Like most yoga poses, pigeon is also meant to relax your body, making it perfect for relieving tension and stress. Adding pigeon into your stretching routine will not only increase your flexibility, but also help you relax and reduce anxiety.
Pigeon pose benefits
If performed consistently, pigeon pose improves posture, mood, anxiety, balance and flexibility. It also targets muscles that are often neglected: the hip flexors and deep glute muscles. Pigeon pose will open your hips, decreasing your risk of pain and injury. (Fun fact: tight hips can also cause low back pain.) This improved flexibility helps with the ease of performing everyday activities, too.
Mistakes people make when doing pigeon pose
A lot of people are unsure where to position their rear leg when performing this stretch. Instead of keeping it straight out behind them, they rotate it at an uncomfortable angle. Keeping your leg straight makes the move more comfortable, allowing you to get a deeper stretch in the targeted muscles.
Another common issue is hip positioning. I find that a lot of my clients struggle to keep their hips square and lean off to one side. To correct this:
- Keep your back leg stretched straight behind you with the top of your foot rested on the mat.
- Keep your hips square. Refrain from placing too much of your weight on the side of your body where the front leg is bent.
- If you need to, prop the front leg’s glute up onto a block or folded towel so that your hips can be level instead of leaning towards the side of the front leg.
Pigeon pose for beginners
If you aren't very flexible, especially if you have tight hips, low back or hip flexors, modifying pigeon pose is helpful. There are some easy ways to decrease the intensity of the pigeon pose while still working on your flexibility.
One option is to place a pillow or cushion under the glute of your bent leg, bringing the “floor” closer to you. This will help to keep your hips square.
Another modification involves creating a "Z" shape with your legs. Sitting on the ground, bring your front knee to a 90-degree angle. Your thigh should be straight out in front of you while your calf is bent perpendicular. Then, instead of extending your back leg straight, position it in a similar way to the front leg, bent at a 90-degree angle at the knee. This works on opening your hips from both sides.
How to do pigeon pose
To perform pigeon comfortably and correctly, follow these steps:
- Start in a downward facing dog. Bring the right leg forward toward your right hand and rest it on the mat, while reaching your right ankle toward the left hand and resting it on the mat (as close to your hand as is comfortable for you.) Ideally, your right shin will be parallel to the front of the mat.
- Lower your hips toward the floor, resting on top of your right leg. Straighten your left leg out behind you.
- Keep your hips square, balancing your weight by pressing your hands down onto the mat in front of you.
- If this is enough of a stretch, stay here and breathe. If you want a deeper stretch, bend at the hips, bringing your torso down toward the mat and reaching over your bent front leg. Flex your right foot. Maintain this position for 60 seconds; breathe slowly.
- Switch to the other side; repeat the process.
4 other exercises that will stretch the hips
The pigeon pose stretches many different areas of the body at once, making it more challenging than the average stretch. If your body feels too tight to perform this move correctly, these other exercises can help you get there.
Seated toe touch
Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend at the hips, stretching your arms and hands toward your toes. Reach as far as you can (which may be the toes, shins or knees depending on your flexibility). Hold this position for at least 30 seconds, focusing on your breath. You should feel this stretch in your hamstrings.
The butterfly stretch helps open the outer hips, which is essential to performing pigeon pose comfortably. Sit on the floor. Bend both knees out to the side, bringing the bottom of your feet to meet each other. Hold your feet together with your hands and bend at the waist, lowering your chest toward the floor. Hold this pose for 10 slow, deep breaths. The closer your feet are to the body, the more challenging the stretch will be. So start with your feet a bit further from you and gradually bring them closer to your body as you become more flexible.
Kneeling hip flexor stretch
Kneel down on the ground on both knees. Then, step your right foot out in front of you, with your right knee bent at 90 degrees. Keep your left knee on the ground and stretch the left leg behind you, resting the top of the left foot on the ground. Keeping your back straight, push forward into your right hip, being sure to keep the right knee over the right ankle. Hold this position for 10 breaths, then switch sides and repeat.
Lie down on your right side and prop yourself up on your right elbow. Bend your knees in front of you. Keep your heels together and lift your top (left) knee toward the ceiling, opening your hips, while keeping your right knee on the floor. Repeat 10 times, then switch to the left side.