Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana)
One of the main principles taught in yoga is that you must first open your hips in order to open your entire body. Pigeon pose is an excellent way to open and stretch your hip flexors, glutes, outer hips, and psoas (large muscles that start on the sides of your lumbar spine and run through your groin). As a society, we are increasingly more chair-bound, causing the important psoas muscles, which connect our torsos to our legs, to shorten and stiffen. The good news is that by regularly practicing pigeon pose, you can increase your flexibility and improve the range of motion in your hip joints, lengthening your psoas muscles and helping to reduce strain in your knees.
In Sanskrit, the pigeon pose is commonly referred to as Kapotasana (ka-poh-TAHS-uh-nuh). It is the combination of two words—kapo, meaning “pigeon” and asana meaning “posture,” pose,” or “seat.” This deep, intense hip and leg stretch is a great warm-up; you’ll notice that many yoga instructors incorporate Kapotasana at the beginning of their classes. It helps the body to open and release, allowing you to have more flexibility and range of motion as you flow into other asanas.
How to Do Pigeon Pose
Follow these eight steps to gradually master pigeon pose (Kapotasana):
Begin this pose on your hands and knees (table pose). You may also wish to start in downward-facing dog.
Now bend your left leg and slide your left heel as close to your right hipbone as possible.
Place your hands palm-down on the floor next to your hips. With the support of your hands, lift yourself up and slowly bring your right leg under you. Extend and straighten your right leg, touching your kneecap to the floor.
Lift your torso up by pressing your fingertips into the floor. Now push your tailbone toward your heels to feel a deep stretch through your lower back and hips.
Square your hips to the front of your mat to relieve pressure on your back. Gently lower your pelvis to the floor. Then do your best to balance your weight evenly between both hips to elongate your spine and reap the full benefits of this posture.
Let your head gaze upward slightly and hold this position for 10 breaths (or up to one minute). Relax and breathe deeply into this posture.
Ready to release? Tuck your right toes back and press them into the ground to lift your right knee. Now use both hands to lift yourself back up into table pose or downward-facing dog.
Repeat this posture with your legs reversed. Remember, it is important to bring balance and harmony to both sides of your body.
Variations of Pigeon Pose
As you progress in yoga, you will find that you can modify poses to your skill and flexibility level.
Follow these instructions to add variety to the popular and dynamic pigeon pose:
Follow steps one through six then slowly lower chest and rest your forearms on the floor. Gaze down, and continue to relax and breathe. In this variation, you will feel a greater stretch in your psoas and lower back muscles.
Follow steps one through six then gently drape your chest over your knee and lower your upper body to the floor, resting your head on the tops of your hands or on your mat. For an even deeper stretch, try extending both of your arms out in front of you. Now walk your fingertips forward on your mat to elongate your spine and really melt into this powerful stretch.
Benefits of Pigeon Pose
A 2016 study published in the journal, Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, provides insightful evidence that just 12 minutes of yoga per day can work to reverse osteoporotic bone loss. In this 10-year study, 741 volunteers took x-rays to measure their bone mineral density before they began their daily yoga practice and afterward. Remarkably, researchers found that despite individuals aging throughout this longitudinal study, bone mineral density improved in the spines, hips, and femurs of both the moderately and fully compliant participants (those who practiced yoga about 12 minutes a day or every other day).
This groundbreaking study shows that daily yoga practice has a direct correlation to healthier, stronger bones, which can ultimately help reduce the risk of falls in the elderly and other individuals who have difficulty walking. Researchers note that, “By improving posture, balance, range of motion, strength, coordination, decreasing anxiety and improving gait, yoga opposes falls in ways no medicine can provide.” Now that’s a good reason to learn even more about the specific benefits of pigeon pose.
In addition to raising bone mineral density, hip flexor stretches like Kapotasana can improve athletic performance and even reduce the risk injury. It has become increasingly more common for athletes to incorporate yoga into their training regimen. Many top athletes have spoken publicly about how this ancient practice has increased their speed, agility, and overall performance. Open hips mean less stress is transferred to the knees during sports like basketball, tennis, and volleyball. And less stress on the knees can helps sports pros and amateurs alike avoid painful injuries like anterior acute ligament (ACL) tears. Remember, flexible, aligned hips can improve your posture, your gait, and your athletic ability, so opt for the pigeon pose frequently to reap all of these incredible benefits.
Some other body benefits of practicing the pigeon pose regularly include the following:
- Increases flexibility in your hips, back, and legs
- Reduces cartilage and joint breakdown
- Relieves back pressure and tension, especially in the sciatic nerve (a long nerve that runs from the lower part of your spinal cord all the way down to the backs of your thighs)
- Lengthens your hips, groins, and hamstrings
- Helps restore full range of motion in your hips
- Prepares your body for backbends and more complex, seated postures
When you need to reduce tightness in those tender hips, make pigeon pose your go-to—it’s effective, restorative, and ideal for long, focused holds.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Pigeon Pose
As with any pose, you should always maintain correct posture for Kapotasana and be able to modify it as necessary. Follow this do’s and don’ts list to make the most of pigeon pose:
- Do place a folded blanket or small pillow under your hip for support, if needed.
- Do try other variations of this pose (forearms down or chest down) to see what feels best for your body.
- Do move your front heel toward your body if you feel the stretch is getting too deep. The further away your heel is from your body, the more intense this pose becomes.
- Do flex your front foot to help protect your knee.
- Don’t rush the pose. Accept your skill level at this given moment; have confidence that your flexibility will increase over time.
- Don’t try this pose if you have an acute ankle, knee, or lower back injury for which you are being treated.
- Don’t practice the restorative version of this pose (chest down to the floor) if you are pregnant. During pregnancy, it is best to keep your torso in an upright position as much as possible.
Follow-up Poses for Pigeon Pose
In yoga, it’s all about the flow. Once you master pigeon pose, give these related postures a try:
1. Fire log pose (beginner’s level):
After releasing from pigeon pose, get yourself in a comfortable seated position. Now bring your legs together and stack your right ankle over your left knee. Flex your right foot and let the tops of your right toes hang off your left thigh. Fold the upper half of your body slightly forward and push your sit bones firmly into the floor. Rest your hands on your thighs or place them in prayer position. Hold this pose for up to two minutes; then switch sides.
2. One-legged king pigeon pose (intermediate level):
After following steps one through five above, bend your back (right) knee and slowly lift it up. Now reach your right-hand overhead, clasping your right toes with your right hand or holding your leg just below your knee. Hold your left hand out in front of you, bringing your thumb and index finger together and lift it up toward the ceiling. Square your shoulders and hold for 30 seconds. Then repeat on the opposite side.
3. One-legged king pigeon pose II (advanced level):
Follow steps for the one-legged king pigeon pose directly above. Now bring your left-hand overhead and clasp your right toes alongside your right hand. Gently lower your head backward and touch the sole of your right foot to the crown of your head. This is the full variation of this pose and should be practiced by advanced yogis only.
Pigeon pose is the ultimate hip opener. Countless coaches now use stretches just like pigeon to help their athletes gain flexibility and range of motion in their hip flexors and knees. In addition to all the physical benefits Kapotasana has to offer, many yoga instructors have found that this pose helps to release negative emotions in their students. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for even advanced yogis to cry as they fully release themselves into this posture. So let go of all the bad and open up your body to restoring, healing energy using the power of the pigeon.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Yoga: In depth. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.htm. Updated June 2013. Accessed December, 18, 2017.
- American Council on Exercise. 5 yoga poses every athlete should be doing. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/6379/5-yoga-poses-every-athlete-should-be-doing. Updated April 2017. Accessed December 18, 2017.
- American Council on Exercise. The benefits of yoga beyond flexibility. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6561/the-benefits-of-yoga-beyond-flexibility. Updated September 2017. Accessed December 18, 2017.
- Lu YH, Rosner B, Chang G, Fishman LM. Twelve-minute daily yoga regimen reverses osteoporotic bone loss. Top Geriatr Rehabilitation. 2016;32(2); 81-87.
- Brunelle JF, Blais-Coutu S, Gouadec K, Bédard E, Fait P. Influences of a yoga intervention on the postural skills of the Italian short track speed skating team. Open Access J Sports Med. 2015;6:23-25. doi:10..2147/OAJSM.S68337.
- Evans MW Jr, Ndetan H, Ka Sekhon V, Williams R Jr, Oliver B, Perko M, Woolsey C, Singh, KP. Adult use of complementary and integrative approaches to improve athletic performance [Epub ahead of print]. Altern Ther Health Med. 2017. pii:AT5625.