Sunday, April 18, 2010

My Reintroduction to Half Pigeon Pose

Flowers at the Samovar Tea Lounge

When I started practicing yoga in my early twenties, I neither liked nor disliked Half Pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana).  Time has passed, and I'm not sure when things changed exactly, but I do know I've hated Half Pigeon for at least the last four or five years.  I know the word "hate" is not a great complement to a yoga practice, but I really have hated this pose.  My knees used to hurt like crazy whenever I came into it, and I've never felt like my hips were squared properly.  For some reason, my body awareness goes right out the window when it's time for Half Pigeon.  And, on top of it all, even the Sanskrit name for this pose is harder for me to remember than any of the others.  It's like a conspiracy!

My sister loves Half Pigeon.  She savors it.  I can't relate to that at all, but I know many people feel the same way she does.  When I teach it, I watch at least half of my students sink right in (these are usually all women, by the way).  They move their chests easily towards the floor, touching forehead to ground, and they appear as if they could hold the pose forever.

Many times I would move into Double Pigeon when cued to move into Half Pigeon, telling myself that Double Pigeon was better for my knees.  And perhaps it was.  It's odd, though, that I preferred Double Pigeon, as it's considered a more difficult pose.  My body apparently feels otherwise. 

When I started teaching yoga, I felt like I should walk the talk, so to speak, so I began focusing on my Half Pigeon pose again.  I realized that, if I concentrated on flexing my front foot A LOT, I could avoid the knee pain, and I managed to hold myself in the pose during group classes.  I'd even spend a short amount of time in the pose when I practiced at home.  I was making some progress.

You can buy this ornament and others like it at

Baron Baptiste explains how to do Half Pigeon pose in his book, Journey into Power, and then says: "This should feel so freeing!  If you feel fidgety or uncomfortable, it's just anxiety coming up.  But if you can recognize it as such and breathe through it, the discomfort will dissolve like snow in the summer sun. Tune in, breathe, relax.  Break up tension, break with the old and break through to the new!"

A week ago, I would have shrugged my shoulders at all of this (or even rolled my eyes) and reminded myself that this pose just doesn't really work for my body.  But something changed for me yesterday.

I've had a rough few weeks, and this past week everything felt like it was really getting to be too much.  I felt exhausted mentally and physically.  I rarely feel this way, which compounded things - I didn't know how to handle these emotions, and I knew I was losing perspective.  Though I most often attend group yoga classes, I do practice alone at home once or twice each week.  Yesterday I cancelled my plans to practice at the studio and instead decided to practice at home.  I thought I made this change because I was too tired to say hello to the instructor (I'm not kidding), but I think now that maybe, somehow, I knew what I really needed.

One of my favorite blogs to read is Suburban Yogini, and she said something in a post the other day that really resonated with me: "Practicing yoga doesn’t change a person overnight. All the difficulties of everyday life are still there as soon as you get off your mat and the only thing we can control is our reaction to these difficulties."  This is so true.  But what yoga can do is help us to control our reactions.  It relieves stress, brings us into the present moment, and, for me, reintroduces me to the many blessings in my life, which of course helps with the whole perspective problem.

Yesterday, when I practiced at home, I made the decision to go ahead and do Half Pigeon pose.  By that part of my practice (about 3/4 through), my head had cleared a bit, but I still entered the pose grudgingly.  I did a short set on each side and then came back to down dog, where I thought a bit more about Half Pigeon.  It's a hip-opener, and we store lots of stuff in our hips, including emotional baggage, anxiety, and negativity.  I decided to go back into the pose on the right side.  And then, with absolute disbelief even as I did it, I set my iPhone timer for three minutes and decided to see if I could stay in Half Pigeon (Half Pigeon, of all poses!) for that long.  I honestly wasn't sure I would manage it.

But I did.  And then I did the same thing on the other side.  It wasn't easy to stay in the pose, but my body felt clear and light and free when I came out.  I had to be somewhere shortly afterward, or I probably would have practiced longer than I'd planned.  I didn't want to get off the mat.

Baron Baptiste also says the following about Half Pigeon: "Slam on your mental brakes and expand into full acceptance of the spiritual moment--everything you are feeling and what is happening.  Don't try to change anything.  Just breathe, witness, and let go.  Allow this moment to be exactly as it is, and watch with a quiet mind as each new moment unfolds.  Allow yourself to be exactly as you are, so that you may break through your resistance." 

Not bad advice, as it turns out.


  1. Love, love, love pigeon poses even though my right hip would say otherwise. Love my home practice too especially cause I could hold it as long as I want. Also love Baron and your blog :) Thanks for finding me.

  2. hmmm, i also "hate" half pigeon- and my knee hurts a lot too. i did have advice on the flexing foot deal... and it helps a little bit.

    i wonder, though... when i read what Baron said about "just letting go" i had an internal eye roll, which you then wrote... and i felt a bit sheepish lol.

    i have an issue with half pigeon- i don't want to stay in it that long if it hurts- but i think you're right. you have inspired me- it's about time i give it a try for longer than 10 secs...

    (SO glad i'm not alone with my feelings re: half pigeon though- I NEVER got why teachers always said it should be restorative... it's anything but for me right now!)

  3. Well done for taking that leap and finding out that you could do it! Sometimes our biggest obstacles are in our own heads...

    I also find that a few props in the right places - a block or pillow under the front hip especially - can make this pose a LOT more comfortable... For a full pampering, place a big bolster or rolled up quilt underneath the groin, inside the forward leg, add extra pillows as needed, and then lie down on the bolster. That's when you can start talking restorative.

  4. Thank you all so much for visiting!

    I could never have stayed in the pose for 3 minutes with the knee pain I used to have - I would have been too afraid of doing real damage. For whatever reason, my knee pain has let up in this pose, at least for now. Flexing my front foot definitely helps, and I also energetically push that front foot into the ground as hard as I can.

    And I cannot WAIT to try out those props in this pose! Thanks for the great advice.

  5. I love this pose too, I think props would give you a new respect for it. I would also stretch my quads first to release the knees.

    Thanks for stopping by Yoga Addicted, I love the blog! (and love San Fran too!) Oh, and thanks for the review on Commited, was wondering how it was!

    Have a great day!

  6. I love pigeon pose!!! It feels so good to my arthritic hips. I'm so old after ballet.

    -Meredith W.

  7. I used to hate pigeon pose too! Thanks for mentioning it so I don't have to feel so alone! I found that Leeann Carey has a great free yoga video on pigeon pose that has helped my form. Your readers might want to check it out:

  8. This is one of the challenging yoga poses. What I felt was similar to yours, "It wasn't easy to stay in the pose, but my body felt clear and light and free when I came out." The quote from Baron Baptiste is indeed excellent advice.