Pigeon Pose can be as difficult as it can be relaxing. That’s because most of us are doomed to sit all day for one reason or another, and that lack of activity keeps our piriformis muscles tight.
Key muscles Pigeon Pose stretches:
The main idea of this pose is to externally rotate the front hip (that happens when you rotate the knee outwards to get into this pose).
This helps stretch a commonly tight area — your hip flexors — as well as a muscle deep underneath your gluteus maximus that I’m most interested in talking about: the piriformis.
This muscle is a common culprit in sciatic pain. Like all muscles, if we don’t keep it nice and stretchy, it can affect other parts of our body.
When any muscle is tight it may get firm enough to press onto nearby nerves. If you feel a tight part of your body right now — maybe your shoulders, where so many of us feel tightness — you might understand what I mean by this muscle firmness. Now imagine putting that muscle pressure on a nerve in your body. This could lead to numbness, tingling, and, yes, nerve pain.
According to The Key Muscles of Yoga by Ray Long, “The sciatic nerve runs behind the piriformis and can be irritated by tightness and inflammation of this muscle, a phenomenon known as “piriformis syndrome” (p. 91).
Why is this happening?
So many of us are tight around the hip flexors and external hip rotators because we sit or stay inactive all day. The beautiful thing about pigeon pose is that, while it feels difficult to do because our muscles are tight, it could be exactly the pose we need to stretch them out, especially the piriformis.
However, this doesn’t mean that sciatic pain is always caused by just piriformis tightness, but it could be a place to start. If you find Pigeon isn’t helping your sciatic pain, then stop doing this pose because it’s likely there’s another reason for your pain and Pigeon might not be what you need.
Pigeon Pose Alignment:
How do you properly get into Pigeon pose?
- Make sure your legs are warmed up a bit first, so you’re not going into this with cold muscles.
- Start in Downward Facing Dog.
- Inhale the right leg up, foot flexed. Then bend the knee into your chest, shift shoulders over your wrists, and set your right knee behind the right wrist.
- Bring your right ankle in line with the left wrist. (Note: you can keep your right heel by the left hip bone if it doesn’t go any further).
- Lower the back knee and untuck the foot. Foot is pointed so top of the foot is pressed against the floor (you can keep toes tucked if this bothers your left knee).
- Keep weight even in the hips – try not to lean into one hip more than the other.
Voila! You’ve done it. Just three minutes in this pose daily could help your sciatic pain.
A lot of students think yoga is performance-based and so they avoid a pose if they think they’re not “good” at it. But, hello! It’s not about performance, it’s about practice and health. So I always like to say that if any pose is hard for you, then your body has just told you what stretch it needs and what poses you need to be doing — or should I say practicing — in order to feel better in them.