How to do the Kapotasana Pose
Step-By-Step Pigeon Pose for Beginners
- Begin in downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana) with your palms planted slightly wider than shoulder distance apart.
- Inhale. Keeping your hips parallel to the floor, lift your right leg straight up.
- Exhale. Bend your right knee and sweep your right leg forward. Plant your right knee directly behind your left palm. Flex your right foot and plant it behind your right palm, so that your lower leg rests against the mat. The closer you plant your right foot to your hand, the more intense the external rotation of the right leg.
- Untuck the toes of your left foot and gently slide your left leg back so that your hips sink towards the mat.
- Look over your shoulder to ensure that your left leg extends straight out behind you. Rotate the leg slightly inwards. Press the leg – from the top of your foot to your thigh – into the mat actively. This will improve the alignment of your hips.
- Sink your left hip back and down so that your hips are parallel to the short edge of the mat.
- Slide your hands towards the back of the mat as you sit up. Scoop your tailbone towards your navel to protect your lower back from compression.
- Plant your hands where the pose feels active, but not painful. Press your fingers into the mat.
- If your hips are open, place your hands on your hips. Push down to sink your hips closer to the mat. Lengthen the spine by lifting up through the ribcage. Open the chest. Lengthen through the back of the neck (to avoid compressing it) and drop your head backward.
- Breath and hold the pose.
- Plant your hands on the mat, above your lower leg (where they started). Exhale. Tuck the toes of your left foot under and push up into downward facing dog. Repeat the pose on the opposite side.
Modifications and Props
Prop your hip. Pigeon pose for beginners can be challenging. If your hips are tight and hover uncomfortably above the mat, propping your hip can make pigeon pose gentler. Modify it by placing a folded blanket or prop under the thigh of your externally rotated (front) leg. Propping the hip also helps prevent knee torsion.
Dead Pigeon Pose. This supine variation gently opens the hips. Begin lying supine on the mat. Bend your knees and lift your lower legs so they hover parallel to the mat. Externally rotate to the right leg and place the heel of your right foot directly below your left knee. Exhale. Use your right arm to gently push your right knee forward, so that the external rotation deepens. Breath and hold the pose. Switch sides.
Sleeping Pigeon Pose. There are three things happening in pigeon yoga pose: the front leg is externally rotating, the hip flexors in the back leg are lengthening, and the back is bending. It’s sometimes difficult, then, to jump into all aspects of the pose at once. In place of step nine (above), fold your torso forward over your front leg. Sink your belly into your thigh, rest your forehead on the mat, and reach your arms forward. This modification eliminates the backbend, so you can focus exclusively on opening the hips.
Mermaid Pose. This pigeon pose variation engages the quads in a deep body bend that extends from the knee, through the entire back, and into the elbow. In step ten (above), inhale and bend the left leg up. Keep the foot pointed. Reach your left arm behind you, palm facing out. Grab hold of your left foot from the inside. Bend your arm. Slide your left foot down your forearm until it’s hooked in the crease of your elbow. Raise your right arm and bend it backwards. Take hold of your left hand with your right. To exit the pose, release let go of your left hand. Straighten your left arm and slide your foot up your forearm. Release your leg. Go into step eleven.
One-Legged Pigeon Pose Variation I (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana). A more advanced version of pigeon pose involves catching the back leg with both hands. In step ten (above), inhale and bend the left leg up. Keep the foot pointed. Reach both arms behind you, elbow creases pointing down. Grab ahold of the outside of your foot with your left hand and the inside with your right. Bend your elbows upwards. To exit the pose, straighten both arms, release the leg, and go into step eleven.
One-Legged Pigeon Pose Variation II (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana). This variation focuses on stretching the quadricep muscles in the back leg. Begin kneeling on the mat. Inhale. Step your right leg forward, bending your knee at a 90° angle. Place your right hand on your right thigh. Exhale. Bend your left leg up, bringing your foot towards your buttocks. Reach your left arm behind you, palm facing in, and grab ahold of the outside of your left foot. Gently pull the foot towards your buttocks.
King Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana). King pigeon pose is an intense back bending posture that is, actually, very different from one-legged pigeon pose. Seek detailed instructions before attempting this challenging pose. Essentially, the practitioner assumes camel pose. Then, instead of dropping the arms back, the practitioner reaches over her head to plant her arms on the mat as in circle pose (chakrasana) and then drops head to the mat.
Although the sheer number of pigeon yoga pose variations can be overwhelming, they are actually the pose’s greatest strength. Move through the variations, beginning with gentler ones like dead pigeon pose and sleeping pigeon pose, for a pigeon flow that opens the hips while also targeting areas like the quads, the erector spinae, the chest, and the arms. Utilizing both forward bending and back bending pigeons is also an intuitive way to counter the stretches.
Because the transition from downward facing dog to pigeon pose is seamless, it’s also easy to incorporate pigeon pose into your sun or moon salutations.
Hip flexors. The hip flexors are a large group of muscles located deep in the thighs, hips, and buttocks. They connect the leg, pelvis, and abdomen and allow you to lift your upper leg towards your body or bend your body over your upper leg. Sitting for long periods of time weakens the hip flexors, making it difficult to lift the upper legs and to bend over. Pigeon pose lengthens the psoas and rectus femoris in the back leg.
Hip rotators. The hip rotator, or lateral rotator, muscle group includes six small muscles in the hip that control external rotation of the legs. Short hip rotator muscles contribute to poor pelvic alignment. Pigeon pose lengthens the hip rotators in the externally rotated (front) leg for good pelvic alignment and improved external rotation.
Gluteal muscles. The gluteal muscle group includes the three buttocks muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. The gluteal muscles are some of the body’s strongest and are the primary movers of the hips and thighs. When upright in pigeon pose, the internally rotated back leg stretches the gluteus minimus and gluteus medius. When in a forward bending pigeon pose, the pose stretches the gluteus maximus.
Quadriceps. The quadriceps muscles cover the front and sides of the femur, making up much of the muscle mass of the thighs. The quads stabilize and allow extension of the knee joint. When the quads are overworked from jumping, running, or lifting, they can become tight and increase the chance of ACL injury. Particularly when the back leg is bent, pigeon pose stretches the quads of the back leg.
Erector spinae. The erector spinae is a bundle of muscles and tendons in the back that control extension and rotation. Because they are responsible for straightening the back, the strength of the erector spinae muscles are closely linked with posture. Back bending in pigeon pose strengthens the erector spinae muscles deep in the back.
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