Pigeon pose is one of my favorites because it has so many variations. Also known as Swan Pose in the Yin Yoga tradition (which in my opinion sounds much more elegant), this pose is a delicious hip opener that I like to practice every day as a way to combat the effects of sitting in front of a computer.
BENEFITS: Opens the hips by stretching both the hip flexors and the psoas muscles
HOW TO: From Downward Dog or Table Top, bend your right leg and bring your right knee forward between your hands. The right shin is coming as close to parallel as possible with the front of the yoga mat. Keep the right foot flexed to protect the right knee. Check that your back leg is pointed straight behind you. If it is splaying toward the left side, you may need to bring your front foot closer toward your body so that the back leg comes back to the midline. As the hip of the front leg externally rotates back, the other hip should internally rotate forward to keep the hips even. Lengthen through the crown of the head, gently opening up the chest, to avoid compressing the lumbar spine.
Hold for ten breaths or longer if part of a yin yoga or restorative yoga practice. Practice on both sides.
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Knee pain, back pain, hip tightness or pain
MODIFICATION: Pigeon pose with block, blanket, or bolster under the hip
BENEFITS: If you are tilting over to one side in this pose, using a prop will keep your hips level so that you can enjoy the pose in proper alignment.
MODIFICATION: Pigeon Pose in a chair
BENEFITS: this is a nice way to incorporate this stretch into your work day if you work at an office, it's also good for yogis who can't make it down onto the floor
HOW TO: In a chair, place the feet flat on the floor with the ankles directly below the knees. Lift your left foot up off the floor and cross the left ankle over your right knee. Keep the left foot flexed. You can bring the hands together at your heart, or you can apply gentle pressure to the left knee to intensify the hip stretch.
ALTERNATE POSE: Thread the needle
BENEFITS: This pose stretches the hip flexors and is a good option for beginners or for people with low back pain.
HOW TO: Lie down on your back and bend your knees, placing your feet flat on the floor. Lift the left foot off the floor and cross the left ankle over your right knee. You can stop here if you're already experiencing sensation in your left hip. If you'd like to go deeper, interlace the fingers behind your right knee and pull the right knee into your chest. Hold for ten breaths and then practice on the opposite side.
REMEMBER TO KEEP THE FOOT OF THE BENT LEG FLEXED!