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How to perform pigeon pose — the perfect stretch for tight hips

This yoga pose stretches many areas of the body at once, which makes is effective, but also challenging.

Pigeon pose is a yoga move designed to stretch deep into the glutes, and it’s also a great hip-opener and thigh stretch. Because it does such a good job at stretching the lower body, you’ll see it incorporated into many cool-down routines beyond yoga.

The pandemic has led many of us to lead a much more sedentary lifestyle. So now is a great time to start incorporating pigeon into your routinen, as it can help stretch your body and get your blood flowing after long periods of sitting.

Like most yoga poses, pigeon is also meant to relax your body, making it perfect for relieving tension and stress. I recommend incorporating pigeon into your stretching routine not only for increased flexibility, but also for reduced anxiety and relaxation.

What does the pigeon pose do for the body?

Like other yoga poses, pigeon pose improves posture, mood, anxiety, balance and flexibility if performed consistently. It also helps target often neglected muscles. Many of us are used to stretching our hamstrings and quadriceps, but the hip flexors and deep glute muscles are harder to target.

Pigeon pose will open your hips, decreasing your risk of injury. Improved flexibility helps with the ease of performing everyday activities, too.

The common mistakes people make when performing pigeon pose

A lot of my clients are not sure 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.

How to do a modified pigeon pose

Modifying pigeon pose is helpful for those who struggle with flexibility in the hips, low back and hip flexors. 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 perform pigeon pose

To perform pigeon comfortably and correctly, follow these steps:

  1. Start in a downward facing dog. Bring the right leg forward towards your right hand and rest it on the mat, while reaching your right ankle towards 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.
  2. Lower your hips towards the floor, resting on top of your right leg. Straighten your left leg out behind you.
  3. Keep your hips square, balancing your weight by pressing your hands down onto the mat in front of you.
  4. 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 towards the mat and reaching over your bent front leg. Flex your right foot. Maintain this position for 60 seconds; breathe slowly.
  5. Switch to the other side; repeat the process.

4 exercises that will help you with the pigeon pose

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 towards 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.

Butterfly

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 towards 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.

Clamshells

Lie down on your right side and prop yourself up on your eight elbow. Bend your knees in front of you. Keep your heels together and lift your top (left) knee towards the ceiling, opening your hips, while keeping your right knee on the floor. Repeat 10 times, then switch to the left side.

More ways to master the move: