Breaking Down the Pose – Pigeon
The lights start to dim and the tempo of the music slows. My heart is racing, sweat is pouring …
“Right shin across the mat….parallel to the front mirrors as best you can….flex your foot…and fold”
And so we meet again….Pigeon. Oh how I love to hate you.
We have been in a volatile relationship for the past five years…you complex little bugger. Some days I meet you with a dread – knowing full well every minute with you will ache and hurt. Other days you are like a welcome respite from all of life’s movements and we gently rest together. And some days you make me cry. Literally.
What gives? It is like the whole of yoga and its lessons are all wrapped up in this pose named after a nasty dirty bird….
The hips don’t lie. (just ask Shakira) Our body is so…subtle. Buried emotions, past hurts, and tough experiences are stored so deep within our physical bodies. Our conscious self may believe we have moved on, resolved, or adjusted to these things. But our subconscious, subtle body often lets us know the real deal. The key is being open to hearing what it has to say.
Opening our hips in poses such as pigeon can release a flood of emotion both on the mat and off. I have heard so many stories that start with “I was just innocently lying in pigeon and all of a sudden I started bawling for no good reason….”
Truth: There is a good reason….there is always a good reason. Your good reason is your truth. No one can say what is being released on any given day or why. Sometimes the release is so intense there is no denying the desperate attempt to stifle sobs and wipe the snot from our faces. Most days it is less so. Maybe it is deep exhaustion later in the day. It can even be euphoric….a profound sense of peace and happiness. Whatever it is, it is always there for us to learn from. Whether a slap in your face emotional response or a more subtle nagging feeling, this pose, this yoga practice, is giving our bodies the opportunity to tell our minds something. We just have to listen.
The asana (pose) itself is called kapotasana, literally, means a posture mimicking a pigeon. As with every shape in your practice, pigeon is a pose that can change from one day to the next. Honor your body and where you are on your mat physically. With one leg bent and the other stretched out behind, you have a wide range of subtle variations to take on any given day.
Let’s talk about the details.
The goal is to eventually have the front shin as close to parallel to the top of the mat as possible but don’t get stuck on that. The most important thing is keeping the hips square. You should be able to see your knee peeking out from the side body so be sure that you’re not lying with it in the center of the chest. Pull your toes back towards your shin on the bent front leg and reach through the heel. It’s common in this pose to want to cock the hips to the side but roll it all back into the center and don’t worry about trying to make contact of the hip with the floor. Probably won’t happen. Use a block under your butt if you need some extra help with hip squaring and roll over and take pigeon on your back if you experience any knee pain. (Check out this post on Jen’s blog for more info on pigeon variations.)
Pigeon doesn’t seem like it should be such a complex asana. It comes after a hard flow, gives us a chance to catch our breath and relax. That’ the sneaky beauty of yoga, right? Pigeon and all of its physical nuances give us a chance to take exactly what we need from our mat. It gets deep into those mysterious hips and releases all that gunk….it gives us a chance to get IN there…to BE in there.
I am hoping my pigeon work and our contentious relationship brings me to a place of greater acceptance and acknowledgement of all of the feelings this life gives to us every day. I am also secretly keeping my fingers crossed that as I get to know my hips better, my dance moves will improve….