One of my favorite hip openers is pigeon pose (Sanskrit/ Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana). This pose increases the external or outward rotation of the femur bone in the hip socket, stretching the hip abductor (the outside of the hip); and lengthening the psoas muscle, a hip flexor that connects the torso and the legs. As well, this pose stretches the gluteal muscles (buttocks). All these muscles connect directly into the pelvis which allows for better hip mobility and can alleviate back pain, sacral pain, and sciatica. This pose is especially effective for runners, cyclists, or anyone that does activities that chronically tighten muscles in the hips, gluteal muscles, and quadriceps (thighs). We are a country where many people sit all day which contributes to these imbalances. Pigeon pose can improve your posture and prepare you for back bends (moving the body into extension). Cautions in this pose are most certainly the knees. The pose is weight bearing and can cause pain in this joint. Use caution and tune in to the sensations in your body when performing pigeon. Any knee pain warrants the modification, “reclined pigeon” (see video) or use this pose as a warm up.
Begin by coming on to all fours on your mat. Start by bringing your left knee towards your hand at the left edge of the mat. Move your left foot towards parallel of the knee while sliding back your right knee to open the right hip flexor. Stay on your hands until you are sure your hips are level to the floor along with your right thigh. The right hip, knee, and ankle should be in alignment also. If your knee is in pain remember to come out of the pose and use the alternative reclined pigeon on your back. Props can be used to make this pose safer and more effective. Place a blanket or block under the left hip if it is elevated off the floor to ensure proper alignment and steadiness in the pose. Begin to relax as you breathe into the hips and notice the sensation happening as you surrender further.
Deepening the Pose:
Begin to lower to your forearms or chest. Make sure your hips aren’t tilting, putting undue pressure on the sacrum and back. Stay here for 10 breaths. Find stillness in the body and mind as you open and expand. Bonus pose:As you come back up to your hands you can add a deep quadricep (thigh) stretch to increase space in the lower body. Begin by taking your right foot with your right hand and bringing it towards the buttock. You can use a strap if you cannot reach the foot or again a blanket to increase steadiness and ease. Pressure should not be in the patella (knee cap) but rather just in front at the base of the thigh muscle. Breathe into the quadricep as you feel it releasing. Repeat this pose on the right side to achieve balance. Over time, the knee and the ankle will become more aligned as you increase the space in your hips.