Yoga Poses

Playing with Pigeon

I have loved Pigeon pose since the first time that I saw it on a yoga video. I don’t remember which workout it went to but it was the yoga video to some fad workout that everyone was trying. I’d been doing yoga for a few years by then and my friend had just gotten the whole work and wanted to do the yoga one with me. The whole video was pretty good, but that pigeon sticks out.

Until then, I had been doing the “modified pigeon” from the WII, which is about the only yoga I had done other than that solitary hot yoga class that got me into it in the first place. This modification is laying on your back and a rather popular stretch to do after running. But the pigeon itself is the prone pose featured up top. Ever since that fateful day when I first saw the full Pigeon, I’ve been playing around with it for one goal or another. First it was getting into pigeon with my hips level and now it’s attempting King Pigeon.

As with most sequences, but particularly those in the prone, let’s start with Downward Dog:

Downward Dog

From here, we push with our legs and move forward into plank:

Plank

From here, let’s get into a Side Plank by lifting one hand toward the ceiling and following that hand with your gaze. The purpose of looking at the upward hand is so that the neck stays engaged and we avoid strain. This could also work with another focal point, but the overall point is to not let your head droop and strain your neck and therefore hurt yourself. Side Plank can be done with the bottom leg straight like this:

Side Plank

Or modified to have the bottom leg bent and supporting weight like either of these:

If I’m in the mood for it, sometimes I’ll starfish before moving on and lift the top leg too. It depends on how my wrist feels for the day. For this reason, I always start on my bad wrist. If that side can’t really hold the weight, I don’t end up with that feeling of unbalance by doing a pose on one side that can’t be done in the other. From the Side Plank or starfish, the next pose is Wild Thing.

I get into this one by stepping the top foot back to the knee area of the bottom leg and dropping my hips to kind of reposition my upper body like this:

Set up for Wild Thing

And then pressing up with my hips and laying back on the lower arm while reaching up and over with the upper arm to reach a shape like this:

Wild Thing

We transition into Pigeon next by revolving on the straight leg and bringing the bent knee around and in front like this:

Pigeon

Then straighten the hips as possible or support them if needed. From the other side it looks like this:

Pigeon

Bring your hands up and look forward for Pigeon pose. I love the way the side of my leg gets an amazing stretch. Bear in mind that the foot attached to the bent leg is not necessarily at a 90 degree angle. I know it’s pictured that way in all those perfect looking yoga pictures, but the foot goes where it goes and don’t get caught up in things like that. If the foot is next to your hip, you are still in pigeon pose. Working it out in front is great and I’m definitely working on that, but it’s not a major concern.

I like to use one of my bolsters for those not so flexible days and advise the same for friends when they come over to do yoga. The point is for the hips to be straight, so it sits like this:

Supported Pigeon

After holding the pose (unless your doing a flow) this way, then fold over your legs and hold there too. That’s the part that I can only describe as delicious. When I come up from this, there are a few options of poses that I do and try out to kind of play in this pose and just feel it out.

Sometimes I’ll come back up and then reach for the back foot like this:

Or bend back like this, being careful not to over extend or pinch anything. Then Mermaid:

Mermaid

The back foot is in the crook of the arm on that same side and the hands are clasped together and above the head. The most important thing about being in this pose is that you don’t compress your neck or lower back. If your upper body is compressed or hips roll to one side, then just bring the foot in like the previous pose until that part is comfortable. An important part of yoga is knowing when to try to step into the next pose and when to just stay where you are and work on the flexibility. Yoga is a balance between strength and flexibility, its both getting into the pose and holding the pose. If you can’t get into it without feeling something tweak, definitely don’t try to hold it.

If it’s not my most flexible day and I want to work on Mermaid, sometimes I’ll use a strap or a strap and a bolster if I can’t get my hips to cooperate:

Mermaid with strap

That said, another thing I like to work on is King Pigeon sometimes and I am so dreadfully far from that one. It’s like Mermaid, but both hands are reaching up and back and touching the toes with the back arched and the head tilted back. This is good as my King Pigeon gets these days:

King Pigeon with Strap

Before switching, I usually come up into downward dog, then forward into plank, down to chatarunga, up to upward facing dog, and then back up into plank.

After switching, if I’m still feeling like doing some prone poses, I may throw in successively higher Cobras:

Or Locust:

Locust

A good thing to remember in Locust is that the “pelvic triangle” is the part of your body that is pressing into the floor and not your stomach. That had me messed up for years and only learned the distinction in yoga instructor class. So the two points of your hips and the pelvis are being pushed down, the legs are tighted at the thigh and naturally come up, and pull the shoulders back and up.

A Bow and Frog combination gets thrown in sometimes:

I don’t have the most arching bow, but it works and it gets better all the time. A big improvement came from learning about the pelvic triangle pressing down here too. I used to think I was balanced on my stomach and that is just not the case.

I may even come up to my knees and come into Camel before moving to Sitting Poses:

Camel

The other prone sequence that I do is one for splits. It also involves Pigeon but has some other elements. I’ll share that one next week but just know, it’s not that I can do splits, because I can’t. I’ve been working on it with mixed success for a few years now. One day, when I can work consistently on yoga, maybe I’ll get it. I don’t know. I’ve been told that at 37, if I haven’t been able to do it already, it’s not in my future either but this is yoga. Yoga isn’t about the poses but learning about yourself on the way into the pose, so like with handstand, I’m just going to keep trucking along it.

To try this one out in a flow:

  • start in downward dog and inhale to plank
  • exhale
  • inhale to side plank
  • exhale to the set up for wild thing
  • inhale to wild thing
  • exhale and bring the leg around to set up for pigeon
  • inhale the arms up for pigeon
  • exhale and lean over the leg
  • inhale the arms back up
  • exhale and plant the hands
  • inhale and step the bent leg out of it into downward dog
  • change sides

If you wanna try the other back bends in a flow, exhale to set up and inhale to the bend but remember to keep the core engaged by trying to bring the hip bones and rib bones together.

Do you work on pigeon?

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