Yoga Pose of the Week: Pigeon

This is the basic pigeon pose, using your hands to keep you steady. However, you can also do some additional variations to get a deeper stretch and give yourself more of a challenge.

This is the basic pigeon pose, using your hands to keep you steady. However, you can also do some additional variations to get a deeper stretch and give yourself more of a challenge.

It may not look like much fun, but this is by far one of my favorite poses. Once you get the hang of it, it can really open up your hips and walking will feel like floating!

What it does

Simply, it stretches your hips. In a really great way you never knew existed.

Why it helps

Our hip muscles are probably one of the most neglected muscle sets because we often have no idea they were tight until we loosen them up! Your hips can get tight from sitting at a desk all day, from wearing certain types of shoes, and even from sleeping in a certain position.

If you’re a side sleeper like I am, especially if you tend to curl your knees up a bit (into a fetal position), you are unwittingly tightening your hip muscles while you sleep!

Whatever the cause, you will really notice a difference after you loosen up your hips. Your gait will feel more natural and fluid, and you may even relieve some back pain in the process.

Pigeon pose is a bit challenging if you’ve never done it before, but it’s my favorite one to loosen up tight hip muscles because I feel like it gives you the most complete stretch specifically for that muscle group.

How to sit like a pigeon

  1. To start, sit cross-legged.
  2. Without uncrossing your legs just yet, come forward onto your knees a bit and choose which knee to set forward.
  3. Push that knee forward and straighten the other leg out behind you.


  1. Start in runner’s lunge.
  2. Lower the forward knee to the ground, bringing that calf and foot out to the side. (If you started with your right foot out, bring your right knee down to the floor, and bring your right calf and foot out to the left.)
  3. Your back leg is already straight behind you. Lower onto your back knee and rest the top of your back foot on the floor.


  1. Start in downward dog.
  2. Bring one leg forward as if into runner’s lunge, but lower down and rest that forward knee on the floor, with the calf and foot out to one side (see photo).
  3. Lower the back leg down onto your knee and rest the top of the back foot on the floor.

The Finer Details

Your forward lower leg and calf should still be facing inward, but you shouldn’t be sitting on them directly. If you are flexible enough to angle your forward knee and lower leg into a right angle facing your body, you can, but if that causes any knee pain or pain elsewhere, it’s perfectly acceptable to keep your foot and lower leg angled in toward your body.

Your forward knee should be straight forward, in line with your hip. If you have it set too far to the right or left of its connecting hip, you might hyperextend and hurt yourself, so try to keep it straight out.

Make sure you’re not resting on the side of your extended knee. That won’t create the stretch you want. Your weight should be mostly in your legs and on your hands if you’re using them to stabilize yourself, not in your hips or butt.

Your back leg should be going straight back under you, with the top of your foot flat on the floor.


Most of all, this position is a HIP STRETCH, so you should not be experiencing any knee pain. If you are, try to ease up a bit by using your hands to sit upright, maybe even propping a block or blanket under your hip to support the pose.

You will see a lot of pictures with people going into a bit of a back bend doing this pose. If your back is strong enough, the pose may feel more natural if you push your hips and chest forward and roll back your shoulders a little bit, looking skyward. If you have lower back pain or if back bends are especially uncomfortable for you, it’s not necessary to add the bend. Just try to sit up straight, using your hands (see the photo), or some blocks under them, to help you balance if you need to.

Take it to the next level

Some people (mostly those really flexible people we all secretly hate and envy) like to do “reclined pigeon.” If you want to try it, and it doesn’t cause you any pain to do it, you can slowly lower yourself forward over your extended knee, coming down to your forearms, or all the way down, like in devotional pose. This will deepen the hip stretch. It might feel great, but if it’s painful in a bad way (and not in a good-stretch kind of way), ease up, and either don’t go down as far or stay sitting up in the original pigeon pose with your hands holding you up for support.

Hold It…

Don’t forget to even it out and do the other side! If you can, try to keep the amount of time/breaths spent on each side even.

In my practice, I like to hold each pose to a count of ten, rather than a “flow” practice in which each pose only lasts a breath or two. If you’re working this into a routine, you can add it in and hold for whatever pace you’re used to. But since it’s not the easiest pose to get in and out of, it may be best to include toward the end of a routine after you’ve loosened up your abdominals and your leg muscles.

If you’re just wanting to get in a couple quick stretches before work or on your lunch hour, you may find more benefit in holding the pose a for a few breaths.


No matter what, yoga is all about YOU. Getting in touch with your body, your comfort level, and your breath. Never hold a pose longer than is truly comfortable to do so, and if you experience discomfort or pain in a pose, ease up or change poses to relieve the discomfort.

REMEMBER: In yoga, your practice is YOUR practice. Nobody’s yelling at you to move faster, bend lower, or breathe deeper. There’s no competition, no drill sergeant trainer, and no counter telling you how many reps to do. If you can’t get the full pose today, it’s all right. You’ll try it again another time when you feel more flexible and more comfortable with it.

Photo by: Flickr user Yoga Mama

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About Jessica

I'm a writer, blogger, and just your average gal trying to live a healthy, happy life. I'm no expert, but my knowledge comes firsthand from my own dieting, exercise, and overall wellness experiences. Tweet me @cultivate happy!

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