Pigeon pose creates a deep stretch in the outer hip. It's a time to tune inward and rest. However, this pose might feel painful instead of restful because of different variations in your body around flexibility, strength, bone structure, or something else.
Whatever the reason for discomfort, know that...
1. There's nothing wrong with you.
2. You can still practice this pose to the benefit of the outer hip stretch, tuning your mind inward, and finding rest.
If you're in a group class, you might not look the same as your neighbor and that's wonderful because you're making the choice to practice in a way that supports you.
How do you get into Pigeon Pose?
From Downward Dog, bend your right knee and bring it towards your right wrist. Your right ankle can rest on the ground. Lower your hips. Your left leg is straight behind you. Your hips point forward.
For the seated or reclined variations, bring your right ankle over your left knee. You'll create a figure 4 shape with your legs.
What happens in pigeon pose?
In the upright positions, there's a stretch through the outer hip of the front leg, (in these examples, it's the right right leg.) In the back leg, there's a stretch through the front of the leg in the hip flexor area.
The more you make your front leg like a 7, the more intense this will be in the outside of your right hip. However, this can also create more tension in your front knee. You can create less stress there by bringing your front ankle closer towards your groin.
In the seated and reclined (on your back) variations, the focus is on the stretch through the outer hip. If your right ankle is over your left knee, the more you press your right thigh away, the more intense the stretch will be. You can also change intensity by closing the space between your left thigh and your chest.
5 Different Versions of Pigeon Pose
1. Upright pigeon pose. The more upright your are and allow your tailbone to descend, the more intense the hip flexor stretch in your back leg will be.
If you feel pain in your front knee, change the angle of your front leg and make your shin less parallel to the front of the mat. Having your shin parallel to the front of the mat is not helpful for most bodies since it's outside of the normal range of motion for your hip. You can learn about other options below too.
2. Sleeping pigeon. From upright pigeon, lengthen through your spine, walk your hands forward and rest your chest down. This decreases the sensation through the back hip flexor and provides more room for turning the mind inward.
3. Seated Figure 4. From seated with your hands behind you for balance, bring your right ankle over your left knee. Bend your left knee and bring your foot to the ground.
You can change the intensity in your outer hip by staying upright and walking your chest closer to your thigh.
4. Reclined Pigeon / Supine Pigeon / Reclined Figure 4. From lying on your back, bend your knees. Bright your right ankle over your left knee. Draw your left leg toward your chest and reach your hands through the figure 4 keyhole of your legs.
While this is said to be more relaxing and less stress on your body than the upright pigeon pose variation (photo 1), it might actually be more difficult. If that's the case, there is NOTHING wrong with you.
Some reasons for this might be less comfortable in your body:
Your body is tighter
Your hip flexors aren't strong enough to bring your leg to your chest
Your arms are shorter
You have a larger body
In all the above reasons, it's hard to reach your leg. And if you do reach your leg, you might not be able to find it relaxing because your shoulders and neck are straining to keep you in that position.
If any of these or something else is making this variation not work for you, see the next option.
5. Reclined Figure 4 with Props. Use a prop under your left foot to help bring your thigh closer to your chest and change the sensation through your right hip. If you're using a block, you can stack multiple blocks on top of each other. This allows your back and shoulders to relax onto the ground. Your hands are even free to press your right thigh away: another way to change the sensation through your outer hip.
The other prop you can use is a strap (not pictured). You would bring one end through the figure 4 keyhole of your legs and hold onto both ends with your hands. This option essentially makes your arms longer so you're able to reach for your leg.
Want help with your practice?
These are only the options I use in class the most. There are a ton of ways to practice the physical asana poses of yoga.
In my private yoga classes, I help people feel good in their bodies by exploring the different options they have available to them and trouble shooting any pain points. I come up with practices tailored specifically for you, and we work together to make sure they fit into your life. That way you can practice in a way that helps you feel free and not stuffed into a box.