Pigeon Pose can be a very relaxing pose to get into once you’ve loosened up your hips and hip flexors, and is a popular pose used in Yin Yoga, a type of yoga in which poses are held for a longer length of time to increase flexibility.
For beginners or people who have tighter hips, it’s best to do some preparatory poses in order to achieve the final pose (with the added addition of some pretty cool variations such as Mermaid Pose and One Legged King Pigeon Pose).
I’ve chosen a few of my favourite hip-opening poses, but remember to warm up with Child’s Pose, Downward Dog, and some Sun Salutations first!
Bound Angle Pose
In this pose, bring the soles of your feet together, and hold on to the tops of your feet. Pull your shoulder blades together to straighten the spine, and gently push your knees down, loosening up your hip flexors. You can also add a forward fold whilst keeping the spine straight to get the maximum benefit for your hip flexibility!
Next, Garland Pose is essential for getting anywhere near Crow or Crane Pose – it’s like a super deep squat, and eventually you’ll be able to relax your hips down like you’re sitting in a chair (honest).
Start by bringing your feet a little wider than your hips for a more accessible route to the pose, and come up on to the balls of your feet, pointing the toes out wider than your heels. If you can’t get your feet flat on the mat yet, don’t worry! They’ll get there, promise. Then bring your hands together in prayer at your heart, and push your elbows into your inner knees – squeeze the elbows and knees together and pull the shoulder blades together to straighten the spine.
When you finally get those heels on the ground, you can bring your hands down on to the floor in front of you for balance.
Finally, see if you can bring your hands together in prayer again and repeat the steps from before, squeezing the knees and elbows together and straightening the spine. You’re now in Garland Pose! Now try to relax a little more into the pose by sinking the hips down a little further towards the ground on an exhalation, releasing any tension you might be holding in your hips and bum.
From Downward Dog, bend one of your knees and step your foot up to the top of the mat, placing the other knee down, and either keeping the toes tucked under, or resting the top of your foot down on the mat – just whichever feels more comfortable for you! You can always use a block or some type of extra padding under your knee if you feel any pain or discomfort. Next, check that your bent knee is in alignment over your ankle. From here, you can use your inhalation to raise your hips a little and the exhalation to try to melt down a little further into your bent knee. You can keep your hands down on the mat, or hold on to the thigh for stability.
From your Low Lunge, shift your hips backwards, straightening out your leading leg. You can either keep your hips elevated or rest them down on the heel of your back leg. Point the toes of your straightened leg towards your face, and gently fold over the leg for a deep stretch down your hamstrings and calf muscles.
From a Low Lunge, lift up your back knee – this is where the strengthening of the hips and the leg muscles take place! Again, check the alignment of the bent knee over your ankle, and make sure your knee doesn’t start to fall inwards. Draw your navel in towards your spine to protect your lower back and keep the spine straight and elongated. Keep your back leg as straight as possible, and push your heel back for an even deeper stretch. You can keep your hands on your thigh for balance, or perhaps raise your arms towards the sky, relaxing the shoulders down and keeping space between your ears and shoulders.
Now place your back heel down on the mat, flattening your foot whilst keeping the front knee bent. Angle your chest and hips to the side of your mat, bring your arms parallel to the mat in front and behind you, and shift your gaze to your front hand. Remember to prevent the knee from folding inwards in order to maintain the flexibility of the hip flexor!
So now our hips are all loosened up, it’s time to try Pigeon Pose! From Downward Dog, step one of your knees forward and rest the shin down flat on the mat with your knee a little wider than your hip, and your foot resting on the mat near your groin. Keep your foot flexed to protect your knee from injury. You can then slide your back leg towards the back of the mat, untucking your toes and letting the top of your foot rest down. Keep your fingertips down on the mat to bear some of your weight as you try to ease your hips down a little closer to the mat. Try to align your hips with the front of the mat, so bring the hip bone at the side of your straightened leg forwards a little to ensure the hips are parallel.
After a while and your hips have eased down closer to the mat, you have the option to fold forward onto your forearms, or just let your entire upper body relax forwards with you arms stretched in front of you and your forehead down on the mat, resting your body over your shin. Just remember to keep those hips in alignment!