Pose Breakdown: Pigeon at the Chair

Pigeon is a great way to stretch the outside of the hip. However, traditional pigeon pose on the mat puts a lot of your body weight on your hip and knee. It can be hard to get into the pose if you’re not very flexible and challenging to stay there because of discomfort for a variety of anatomical reasons.

Chair pigeon provides an excellent alternative.

Pigeon pose at the chair.

Popular activities like yoga, running and cycling really challenge our glutes, and that’s great, but we don’t always take the time to stretch them. Stretching using poses like pigeon and reclined twisting can really help us ensure this vital part of our bodies stays flexible and mobile – as well as strong. Plus, my students with hip replacements tell me that chair pigeon helps them stretch areas that are often tight and uncomfortable.

To set up:

1. Start in mountain pose at the chair. Come toward the edge of your seat so that your feet are making good contact with the floor, but you still feel supported by the chair under your sitz bones. Extend the spine.

2. Bend and stack the right leg. Lift the right leg and rotate the foot so that the right ankle bone rests on top of your left thigh. Keep your right foot flexed throughout the pose.

3. Bring movement to the hip socket. If you have had little or no movement in your hip joint so far during your practice today, go ahead and warm it up a bit. I like to do this by placing my right hand on my knee and my left hand on my foot. Then I “rock the baby,” by lifting my foot a little off the thigh and rocking the leg back and forth or in circles. You can extend your left leg a little if it gets in the way. This gentle motion activates the synovial fluid in your hip joint. Perform this move for 5-10 breaths.

4. Move into the stretch. Place the right ankle back on the left thigh and then decide if you need more or less sensation in your stretch, which you should feel on the outside of your right hip. If you need to back off, do so by extending the left leg. If you need more, lengthen through your spine and then hinge at the hips to fold forward with the chest lifted. You’re brining your belly toward your thigh more so than rounding the nose toward knee. Stop when you feel good stretch sensation. Hold for 5-10 breaths, moving a little deeper if you lose the stretch sensation.

5. Repeat on the opposite side.

Pose Breakdown: Restorative Child’s Pose

Restorative child’s pose with a sandbag on the lower back and a blanket roll under the ankles.

Child’s Pose is often offered in yoga classes as an option for rest. It’s the universal sign for “I am taking a break right now.” It’s a simple forward fold, similar to the fetal position. For most of us, it signals to our bodies that it’s time to relax.

That said, child’s pose isn’t comfortable for everyone, and not everyone would be able to comfortably hold it for several minutes.

That’s where our props come in handy. In the photo above, I’ve gone pretty much all out with the props. Let’s check them out:

1. A blanket or thick mat under the knees. The number one complaint I hear about child’s pose is discomfort putting our body weight on the knees. Let’s address this by putting down an extra thick yoga mat or padding it up with a folded blanket. Note where my knees are in the photo. You’ll want to build your “ramp” in step 2. on top of your knee blanket so that your knees still land on the blanket.

2. Build your ramp. Child’s pose can be done with nothing underneath you, which, depending on your anatomy, could take some work to hold yourself in place. Instead, with restorative child’s pose, we want to relax and let gravity and the props do the work for us. So, you can try simply placing a large bolster flat on the mat. It will support your torso and give you something to hug onto. Or, you can do as I have done in the photo and build a ramp so you don’t have to bend down as far. To do this, take two blocks. Set one on the medium setting and the other on the lowest setting to build yourself a little stair-step. Bring a large bolster to rest on top to create your “ramp.” Note: I’ve seen some people whose anatomy or positioning causes their heads to bend back sharply. If this is you, try bringing your ramp up even higher, either by stacking two large bolsters on top of each other or making more of a “table” out of your props, by placing the blocks on their highest setting and placing them under both ends of the bolster.

3. Support your ankles. If you have tight ankles – especially common among runners and cyclists – or find it uncomfortable to put body weight on your ankles, then try rolling up a blanket to place under the ankles as I have done in the photo. It will allow your ankles to keep a slight bend and will take some of the pressure off.

4. Not pictured: Support between the hips and heels. Many people find it uncomfortable for their hips and bottom to hang above their heels. You can ease this tension by placing a rolled up blanked or a long and thin bolster on top of your heels to sit on.

5. Settle in! To come into the pose, come to hands and knees facing your ramp. Scootch in close, and open your knees so that the end of the ramp lands between your legs. Arrange your props and then lay your torso down on the props. I like to look over one shoulder for half of my time in the pose, then look the other way. I see plenty of students who prefer to look down the whole time, sometimes with a little extra support like a folded-up blanket under their forehead so their face has a little separation from the bolster. Notice spots of tension and resistance, and focus on relaxing them. Hold for a total of six minutes, switching your gaze at the three-minute mark.

6. Nerd out with the details. In the picture, I have also placed folded up blankets under my forearms. I have short arms, so sometimes blankets help bring the floor a little closer to me. Other times, the floor is just plain cold! Blankets can help. You’ll also notice that I like my hands facing up in the pose. I find that when I try putting my palms down, it feels a little too active. My body thinks I’m about to ask it to do pushups or something, so the muscles in my back stay ready and a little tense. I’ve also seen people who have busy/active hands grasp onto the blocks or grasp onto small eye pillows to quiet their hands. Also in the picture, I have a sandbag on my low back to gently guide my bottom a little closer to my heels. Ask a friend to add one for you, it can be a juicy touch. And lastly, consider covering up! A blanket over your whole body can make this a cozy pose indeed.

When nothing works. Some people are never comfortable in forward folds and find them agitating rather than relaxing. Other people, espeically some of my clients with hip or knee replacements, never seem to settle in either. It’s OK to find another pose, like a restorative puppy (with support under your hips so there is much less pressure on the knees), a restorative child’s pose in the chair, or other option.