Pigeon stretches, most commonly taken from the yoga asana Pigeon Pose, are hip opening forward bends. Pigeon stretches generally come in three different flavours: first, you have the basic pigeon pose, as can be found in most leisure centre yoga classes; then you progress up to mermaid pose, a slightly deeper, more advanced version; finally, you have the One-Legged King Pigeon.
It takes a good while to get comfortable in any variety, so progressing through them will take a long time. In fact, it can take a lot of time to get comfortable in the basic pigeon stretch, and many people don’t want or need to take it farther than this.
The Benefits of Performing Pigeon Stretches
As a specific hip opener and forward bend, a pigeon pose will stretch your thighs, groin, lower back, spinal erectors, piriformis and psoas. The front leg will experience a rotator and outer hip stretch, whilst the rear leg extension will experience a deep stretch to the psoas and other hip flexors.
Because of this, pigeon stretches are often thought of as a good remedy for tight muscles due to sitting all day, as many of us do. They are also great for athletes who take a lot of stress into the effected muscles. If you spent a lot of time squatting, for instance, you may want to consider including pigeon pose in your regular practice. It will help you to heal faster, decreasing DOMS in the lower body, and will improve your range of motion, thus aiding you as you aim for proper technique in your lifts.
For yogis and/or gymnasts, pigeon pose variations work well as preparations, warmups, cooldowns or entries into seated postures and more intense backbends.
How to Perform Pigeon Pose
Let’s look at the most basic version of pigeon pose, as taught to new yogis around the world. We will approach it today as if you’re coming from a full plank position, though there are of course many ways to get into a full pigeon pose. Either way, it will be most comfortable to perform a pigeon pose on a yoga or exercise mat.
To perform a pigeon stretch:
- Begin in a plank position, on hands and feet. Alternatively, you can begin from hands and knees or a downward dog pose.
- From here, bend your right knee bring it forwards towards your chest, as though you were about to come into a high lunge.
- However, instead of placing your feet down, bring your knee to the ground on the outside of your right hand.
- Your right shin should come to lie flat on the ground. This can be anywhere from parallel with the front of your mat to angled right back towards your left hip- whatever your range of motion allows. If your right knee hurst at all, decrease this range of motion. To further protect the knee, keep the right foot lightly flexed throughout the stretch.
- Allow your left knee to come down to the mat, staying in the middle of the mat with your left foot pointed straight backwards. If needed, put some padding beneath the right hip, like a rolled-up towel or a pillow.
- Square your hips towards the front of your mat as much as possible.
This is a basic pigeon pose. From here, you should feel the stretch in your right outer hip and the front of your left thigh and hip. If this is enough for you, that’s absolutely fine. Hold it for thirty seconds on each side and then change leg.
If you feel you can go a little deeper:
- Keeping your torso stable and keeping your hands on the ground as you move, lower your torso down into a forward bend over your right leg.
- Again, keep your hips square. If you can’t, come up into the basic pose until you open up a little more.
- Bring your forehead down towards the ground. Release your hands and bring them, one of top of the other and forearms on the ground, beneath your forehead as a pillow.
- Try to sink a little deeper with each exhalation. Continue trying to square your hips and breath through any tension that arises.
- Hold for thirty to sixty seconds on each side before changing legs.
Pigeon pose itself is quite involved. Performed correctly, it’s one of the most beneficial stretches you can run through to build and maintain healthy hip and lower back mobility. However, in part because there is so much going on, there are also a fair few common mistakes that you should look out for and avoid as you practice it. These include:
- A rotated rear leg: Keep your rear leg in a neutral position, tucking your toes under and slightly lifting your thigh in order to properly square your hips.
- Keep your hips square: On this note, you need to keep your hips square. Don’t collapse onto the hip of the forward leg.
- Under-bend your front leg: You don’t need a perfect 90-degree to that front leg- far from it. Keep a good bend, especially as you begin, and slowly experiment with your range of motion.
- Bringing your hips up: If you can’t include the forward bend without lifting your hips, or over-rounding your back, leave the bend out. Stay in the basic position until your body is ready to come down.
Pigeon stretches, including all variations of the pigeon pose, are amongst the best hip opening exercises going, especially for internal rotation. Use them as part of your regular mobility drills, as part of a yoga practice, or as a stretch after a heavy leg workout. Either way, you will find yourself with looser, more mobile hips and less stiffness in your lower back as a result.