Pigeon Pose or Kapotasana is a very popular pose used in many styles of yoga. While researching on the topic for my yoga instructor course, I realized that the term Pigeon is used for a variety of poses, yet they all are quite different. In this article I would like to shine a light on the subject, so other soon to be yoga instructors can hopefully benefit from it as well.
In the 19th century a standing pose apparently had the same name, but the modern pose ‘Pigeon’ was first described in B.K.S Iyengar’s Light on Yoga in the 20th century. In Ashtanga tradition, Pigeon Pose or Kapotasana, is a symmetrical backbend and shoulder opener, with your knees and forearms on the ground. The apex of backbends some say. However, you will mostly find variations of the pose taught in nowadays classes. Such as the One-legged-version Eka Pada Rajakapotasana or King Pigeon Pose – an asymmetrical backbend and a half split, with the back leg bent, and with both your hands reaching over and back to grasp hold of your foot. For most of us even this is a bit too advanced. Therefore we will spend our time with preparatory poses like Reclining Pigeon/Eye of the Needle Pose or Sucirandrasana, Half Pigeon or Ardha Kapotasana and a very common Pigeon prep, that also goes by the name Sleeping Swan in Yin Yoga – a One-legged-pigeon variation with a forward bend.
Then there is the Mermaid – a slightly more advanced pose than the Pigeon prep, in which you also bend your back leg and reach back with your arm, to slide your foot into the crook of your elbow. This one’s quite challenging too, even for a student of a Yoga Alliance teacher training.
The last variation I want to mention in this article is the Flying Pigeon or Eka Pada Galvasana. A pose that requires a pretty strong Pigeon Pose and strong arms.
In time I hope to master all of these exciting variations! But until then I will keep on taming my ego and do what I’ve learned on my quest to become a certified yoga instructor: wherever you are is exactly where you are meant to be. Ohm.
All in all Pigeon is certainly one of the prettiest poses there are, but as we have just established: it takes time. Just like with all other poses you should only be doing what feels right and spend some time getting comfortable in each pose before moving to the next step. No matter the variation though, they are all immensely beneficial when performed carefully and properly in order to prevent injury or strain. Depending on which version you look at Pigeon is generally known to be a hip-, thighs-, chest- and shoulder-opener and to release lower back pain. But it also improves the circulation to the abdominal cavity as well the lower back, stimulates the digestive and reproductive system, can help with menstrual and menopausal problems, the thyroid, the parathyroid and the adrenal function and is a game changer for people with low blood pressure, infertility and headaches. You see, there is almost nothing this pose can’t do.
But it doesn’t just improve the overall mobility and the hormonal balance of the body, it is also known to reduce stress and anxiety. The hips can store a lot of emotions and negative feelings, therefore Pigeon might bring some of those emotions to the surface. One of my Yoga instructors in my Online 200hr Yoga Teacher Training course put it this way during a Yin Yoga class: “Don’t be surprised if tears well up. Pigeon can do that, many emotions are stored in our hips”. And oh boy, did they well up.
Etymology of Pigeon Pose:
Translation from Sanskrit:
Eka = One
Pada = Foot
Raja = King
Kapota = Pigeon
Asana = Posture
Most common variations of Pigeon pose are:
- Reclining Pigeon Pose or Supta Kapotasana/Sucirandrasana
- Classic Pigeon Pose/One-legged-Pigeon Pose or Eka-Pada-Rajakapotasana (Pigeon Prep, Half Pigeon, Mermaid etc)
- Supported Pigeon Pose or Salamba Kapotasana
- Resting Pigeon Pose or Sleeping Swan or Kapotasana II
- Revolved Pigeon Pose or Parivrtta Kapotasana
- King Pigeon Pose or Eka-Pada-Rajakapotasana
- Flying Pigeon or Eka Pada Galvasana
How to do it in a beginner’s yoga routine
We will start off with a preparation pose for all the Yogis among us with tighter hips, and who are therefore in dire need of more flexibility. A real good way to start is with Lying Pigeon Pose or Reclining Pigeon.
Reclining pigeon pose (Lying Pigeon Pose, Supta Kapotasana, Sucirandrasana)
- Lie on your back with the knees bent hip width apart, press all four corners of the torso into the mat and roll your shoulders back. Lift the right leg, cross the right ankle over the bent left knee, and flex the right foot.
- Thread your hands through the thighs, clasp your hands on the backside of your thigh or over your left knee, and gently pull your left leg towards your chest.
- Push the left hip slightly back and the right one forward and make sure your lower back is pressed against the floor.
- Hold 30 seconds or longer. Then gently release and repeat on the other side
For Intermediate yogis
Classic Pigeon pose (One-legged-Pigeon Pose, Eka-Pada-Rajakapotasana)
- Begin in Downward-Facing Dog, press into your hands and feet, straighten your legs and lift the sit bones to the sky or ceiling
- Raise your right leg, bend the knee and bring it to the back of the right wrist, rotate your shin to the front of your mat and move the knee a bit farther to the right than your hips
- Bring the left leg to the floor and align it with the hip
- The extended knee should be square to the ground and not rotating outward
- Feel the front of your left thigh elongate
- Inhale, elongate the spine, open the chest
- Push the left hip slightly forward and the right hip slightly back
- Ribs in and lift your lower rib cage away from your hips
- Relax your shoulders
- Exhale slowly fold forward and down over the right knee
Before repeating on the other side, stretch out your legs in Downward Facing Dog.
For advanced yogis
King Pigeon pose (Eka-Pada-Rajakapotasana)
This variation starts in the same position as the classic pigeon pose.
- Instead of folding forward over the front leg, catch the inner edge of your right foot with your right hand and then place your left hand next to the right one on your right foot.
- Arch back from your mid spine
- Balance on the back thigh and on the front leg
- Open the chest, rotate shoulders out from your chest
- Gaze up
- Focus on your breathing
Pigeon pose is a great way to wake up and to end your yoga session
- It helps with balance, strengthens the core and stretches your shoulders and hips
- Energizes your body
- Opens the hip flexors, thighs, chest and shoulders
- Stimulates the digestive and reproductive organs
- Improves lung capacity
- Helps with back pain, knee pain, and shoulder injuries
- Beneficial for people who have suffered from lower back injuries or chronic pain
- Helps relieve stress
- Increases circulation to the pelvic floor
- Improves low blood pressure
Pigeon Pose is sort of a miracle worker and one of the most common yoga poses. It can be done in seated or lying positions, it is a great way to ease into your morning routine or to end a session for stretching. Pigeon Pose promotes a healthy neck, shoulders, back, and posture while also increasing the lung capacity. It’s a great way to start off your day or to end it. Challenging but so rewarding. As my yoga instructor in my online course likes to put it: It’s a yummie pose!