A common request in any yoga class is for hip openers like the Pigeon Pose. Although hip openers can be challenging, they are popular because they can also be very satisfying, both physically and emotionally.
Our hips tend to be extremely tight. Most people spend much of their day sitting which renders their hips joints immobile and reduces their agility. Also, everyday activities like walking and common sports such as cycling and running involve hip strength but not hip flexibility. Most of us lead very busy lives and this leads to stress. This stress in turn creates tension in our bodies and often results in further locking up our already tight hip sockets.
Incorporating Pigeon Pose into your daily routine will help you to unlock your hips, move with greater ease and relieve a considerable amount of tension.
This pose stretches the hip flexors and the hip rotators, providing a terrific solution to problems arising from hip tightness. Since it also requires internal rotation in the back leg and external rotation in the front leg, it will have a positive effect on your whole body, perhaps even allowing you to move more freely after consistent practice.
The Pigeon Pose isolates various muscles in the hips, reducing stiffness and increasing flexibility. It is this isolation of muscles that can make this pose so challenging. Be aware that there is definitely some physical work involved with the practice of this asana. The key is to bring your attention to and observe the sensations created in your body during your practice.
On your mat, go on all fours with your knees below your hips and your hands underneath your shoulders. Bring the right knee forward until it touches the right wrist while maintaining a straight line between the right thigh and the sides of the mat. Slowly move your right foot and shin toward the middle of your body until your foot is directly below your left hip. Straighten the left leg toward the back of the mat.
Don't lean forward but walk your hands back and lower both sides of the pelvis toward the mat. Keeps your hips straight and level as the pelvis releases. You can use a block or a folded blanket if you have trouble lowering the hips evenly.
Press the fingertips firmly into your mat and lengthen the sides of your waist as your hips continue to settle. This will help keep your lower back long and free from strain.
Inhale deeply and walk the hands forward as you lengthen in the midsection. Exhale as you fold forward and lower the elbows to the floor. The weight that is released in the hips can be adjusted by using the arms. Using the arms to support the body can ease any discomfort felt in the hips.
Pay attention to the sensations in your hips and buttock. If it feels extremely uncomfortable, a shift in alignment may be required. Remember, the idea is to relieve tension, not to create additional tension in your joints.
Keeping the hips level is vital in the practice of the Pigeon Pose. If the hips are uneven, an imbalance will result when you fold forward. To offset this, a folded blanket may be placed under the right buttock (if you are extending the right knee).
Keep the thigh of your front leg lined up parallel to the sides of the mat. Your front foot should be directly beneath your back hip. Bring your breath into your hips and observe the sensations running through them. Relax the muscles in your face and let go of thoughts appearing in your mind. Allow your body to melt to the floor as you continue to breathe into your hips.
Stay in the forward fold for 5 - 10 breaths. Then inhale and come back up. Lift your hips away from the floor as you press into your fingertips. Transition to downward dog and take 5 deep breaths, observing how you feel in your hips. Then switch to the other side.
Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Yoga