6 Pigeon Pose Variations to Ease Tightness At Any Point In Your Yoga Journey

Tight hips and sensitive knees are no match for these pigeon pose variations. Incorporate these modifications into your yoga practice for the relief you need.

MTM: Pigeon Pose
Photography by Jena Cumbo.

After a particularly tense workday or afternoon spent with overwhelming family members, you're likely in need of a practice that makes all the stress you're holding throughout your body and mind disappear in a flash. While warm baths and foam rolling sessions can do the trick, nothing quite compares to the pigeon pose.

“In the posture, you can release tension in your body,” says Valerie Verdier, a yoga instructor in New York City and lululemon ambassador. “You’re letting go of the lower back, the pelvis, and the weight of the body, and the floor will absorb the pressure.” What’s more, the pigeon pose will help stretch your hip flexors after eight-plus hours sitting in a desk chair, she adds. 

Despite the deep relaxation the posture promotes, the traditional pigeon pose can be pretty challenging, says Verdier. To perform it properly, you’ll need to deeply flex and externally rotate your front hip while fully extending your back hip, she explains. “You have two limbs coming from the hip joint doing opposite actions,” she adds. “It's hard because you’re asking the body to do so much.”

One way everyone — not just pro practitioners — can reap the benefits of the pigeon pose? Try a variation of the move that works best for your fitness level, abilities, and needs. For example, yoga newbies can practice a pigeon pose variation that uses a prop for support yet still helps you wind down your mind and loosen up your muscles. Folks with sensitive knees can try an alternative that minimizes the amount of pressure on the joints. And people craving a feel-good stretch throughout the spine, hips, or thighs can tweak the move so it gives them exactly what their body needs. Translation: There’s no shame in adjusting the posture to match how you’re feeling, both mentally and physically. 

Ready to try your hand at the pigeon pose? Follow the instructions below to nail down the basic posture, then watch as Verdier demonstrates how to adjust the exercise with seven different pigeon pose variations that can work for all abilities and fitness goals.

How to Do the Pigeon Pose

A. Start in a table-top position on the floor with hands directly under shoulders and knees under hips. Walk hands a few inches forward and spread fingers wide, pressing palms into mat.

B. Curl toes under and slowly lift hips toward ceiling, bringing body into an inverted "V" shape, pressing shoulders away from ears. Feet should be hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.

C. Lift left leg up toward the ceiling until body forms a straight line from head to heel, then sweep leg down to the ground directly behind hands, simultaneously dropping right knee to the floor. Place left knee behind left wrist and left toes behind right wrist.

D. Lower butt to the floor, keeping right leg fully extended behind body and resting top of right foot on the ground. Lift hands off the floor so only fingertips touch the ground. Right hand, left toes, and right leg should be aligned.

E. Hold this position, gazing toward the floor in between hands and keeping spine lengthened and pelvis centered.

6 Pigeon Pose Variations

After a trial run, you may find that the pigeon pose doesn’t feel right for your body, but you don’t have to give up the posture entirely. Instead, swap the traditional version with a variation that’s designed to erase tightness, keep aches and pains at bay, and meet you where you’re at in your yoga journey. Here, you'll find pigeon pose variations that scale the exercise up or down, including options that help ease tightness in the hips, outer thighs, and spine. Plus, Verdier demonstrates pigeon pose variations that stretch the quads and work for individuals with knee discomfort.

No matter which option you choose, continue checking in with your body as you perform the posture and test out a different variation if it causes discomfort. Throughout your practice, remember to keep your pelvis centered (think: no leaning toward the left or right) and your knees in line with your wrists in order to get the most benefit from the pose, says Verdier.

Pigeon Pose Variation to Scale Down: Supported Pigeon Pose

Placing a yoga block underneath your flexed hip during the pigeon pose will help your pelvis stay centered, which can be tough for newbies and folks short on flexibility to do without the assistance of props, says Verdier. “It also can remove some of the pressure that people feel either at the knee or at the ankle,” she adds. “If you have empty space, you tend to dump forward into the joint, so the block will take off some of the pressure.”

A. Start in a table-top position on the floor with hands directly under shoulders and knees under hips. Walk hands a few inches forward and spread fingers wide, pressing palms into mat.

B. Curl toes under and slowly lift hips toward ceiling, bringing body into an inverted "V" shape, pressing shoulders away from ears. Feet should be hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.

C. Lift left leg up toward the ceiling until body forms a straight line from head to heel, then sweep leg down to the ground directly behind hands, simultaneously dropping right knee to the floor. Place left knee behind left wrist and left toes behind right wrist.

D. Lower butt to the floor, keeping right leg fully extended behind body and resting top of right foot on the ground. Lift hands off the floor so only fingertips touch the ground, then place a yoga block (the wide face of the block resting on the floor) under left hip for support. Right hand, left toes, and right leg should be aligned.

E. Lift left hand off the floor and rest palm on left thigh. Hold this position, gazing forward and keeping spine lengthened and pelvis centered.

Pigeon Pose Variation to Level Up: Mermaid Pose

While the traditional pigeon pose involves folding forward, you’ll do a back bend during this variation, says Verdier. This tweak not only makes the posture more challenging, but it also gives your quads and spine a satisfying stretch.

A. Start in a table-top position on the floor with hands directly under shoulders and knees under hips. Walk hands a few inches forward and spread fingers wide, pressing palms into mat.

B. Curl toes under and slowly lift hips toward ceiling, bringing body into an inverted "V" shape, pressing shoulders away from ears. Feet should be hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.

C. Lift right leg up toward the ceiling until body forms a straight line from head to heel, then sweep leg down to the ground directly behind hands, simultaneously dropping left knee to the floor. Place right knee behind right wrist and right toes behind left wrist.

D. Lower butt to the floor, keeping left leg fully extended behind body and resting top of left foot on the ground. Place right hand on the floor in front of center of right shin, resting fingertips on the ground.

E. Then, bend left knee to a 90-degree angle to raise left foot toward the ceiling, rotate at trunk to reach left hand behind body, and wrap left hand around left foot.

F. Slowly drive left arm forward until tops of left toes are pressed against inside of wrist. Hold this position, gazing toward the left and keeping spine lengthened.

Pigeon Pose Variation to Stretch Outer Thighs: Figure-Four Stretch

This pigeon pose variation removes the full hip extension from the equation. In turn, you’ll get a more focused outer-thigh stretch, says Verdier. “Sometimes this posture can give you deeper or more precise stretch than Pigeon can,” she adds. The posture is also pretty accessible, as you don't need to fully extend or flex your hip joints or lie on your back, she adds.

A. Sit on the floor with knees bent to roughly 45-degree angles, feet resting flat about a foot in front of butt, and hands resting on the floor at sides a few inches behind butt, fingertips pointing toward body.

B. Lift left foot off the floor and use hands to guide left foot to front of right thigh just above knee. Rest left ankle on right leg and return hands to the floor at sides.

C. Hold this position, gazing forward and keeping spine lengthened.

Pigeon Pose Variation to Stretch Spine: Revolved Pigeon Pose with Thread the Needle

Thanks to its rotational element, this pigeon pose variation stretches the back of the shoulders and the spine, says Verdier. To seriously decompress, rest your head on a yoga block for support, she suggests. FTR, you'll need a decent amount of spine mobility to successfully perform this posture, and these tips will help you get there.

A. Start in a table-top position on the floor with hands directly under shoulders and knees under hips. Walk hands a few inches forward and spread fingers wide, pressing palms into mat.

B. Curl toes under and slowly lift hips toward ceiling, bringing body into an inverted "V" shape, pressing shoulders away from ears. Feet should be hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.

C. Lift left leg up toward the ceiling until body forms a straight line from head to heel, then sweep leg down to the ground directly behind hands, simultaneously dropping right knee to the floor. Place left knee behind left wrist and left toes behind right wrist.

D. Lower butt to the floor, keeping right leg fully extended behind body and resting top of right foot on the ground. Lift hands off the floor so only fingertips touch the ground. Right hand, left toes, and right leg should be aligned.

E. Then, slowly step left hand forward and extend right arm out to the left side underneath left armpit, simultaneously lowering chest closer to the floor, gaze locked on right fingertips. Rest right side of head on a yoga block.

F. Hold this position, gazing toward right hand and keeping spine lengthened and pelvis centered.

Pigeon Pose Variation for Sensitive Knees: Easy Seat

This symmetrical posture doesn’t place as much pressure on your knees as the traditional pigeon pose, making it an ideal option for folks with sensitive joints, says Verdier. By adding a gentle forward fold, this outer-hip stretch can also ease tightness in the lower back, she adds.

A. Sit on the floor with legs fully extended in front of body, arms at sides, fingertips resting on the floor behind body, and spine lengthened.

B. Bend knees to pull both feet in toward body and tuck each foot under the opposite leg to come into a cross-legged position. Move fully extended arms in front of body and rest fingertips on the floor out at sides and in front of knees.

C. Hold this position, gazing toward the floor in between hands and keeping spine lengthened and pelvis centered.

Pigeon Pose Variation for Hip Tightness: Fire Log

The fire log pose may look simple, but it provides a deep stretch through the outer hips, even more so than the classic pigeon pose, says Verdier. “Not everyone can do it,” she adds. “If my top hip flexor can't release, my knee is going to stay super high.” If that’s the case, you may benefit from incorporating hip flexor exercises into your routine before trying this posture. Or, try this posture while sitting on the edge of a yoga blanket to tilt the pelvis forward slightly, which can help you sit tall more comfortably.

A. Sit on the floor with legs fully extended in front of body, arms at sides, fingertips resting on the floor behind body, and spine lengthened.

B. Pull both feet in toward body. Tuck right foot under left knee, then use right hand to pick up left foot and place foot on top of right knee. Return fingertips to the floor behind body.

C. Hold this position, gazing forward and keeping spine lengthened and pelvis centered.

Credits

Photography and art Jena Cumbo

Model and fitness expert Valerie Verdier

Activewear lululemon

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