One-Legged King Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) engages multiple muscles that constantly contract, like the hip flexor and groin muscles. Mastering this deep hip opener and backbend can help stretch these areas and release tension. Use the following five poses from teacher Chelsea Jackson to warm up safely for One-Legged King Pigeon.
Seated Forward Bend
Warm up by starting in a seated position and extending your legs while flexing the feet. Inhale to extend through your spine while externally rotating your shoulders. Exhale to ground deeply into your hips. On an inhalation, extend your arms toward the sky. On an exhalation, bow forward with a long spine, reaching for your feet, or placing your hands on the ground next to the outer edge of your legs. As you hold the pose, breathe for at least 8-10 rounds. If you can move deeper into the forward fold, try placing your hands on the outer edge of the feet, or wrapping your big toes with the index and middle fingers. Each time you inhale, give the chest, lungs, and rib cage permission to expand. Each time you exhale, try to find a place of surrender.
This pose helps release constriction in the lower back while freeing your hips. Begin sitting and bring the soles of your feet together. Draw your heels in toward your body. Place your fists or fingertips behind the hips. Lift your hips off the ground, sitting erect with your spine extended and chest expanded. On an exhalation, reach your fingertips forward and hing forward at the hips. Press your knees toward the floor. Keep the spine long as you take 8-10 breaths.
The Fire Log Pose, sometimes called Ankle-to-Knee Pose and Dhuni Pose, is named after the sacred fire pits of India. It is a variation of Easy Pose (Sukhasana) and an excellent prelude to One-Legged King Pigeon Pose. The legs form the shape of the dhuni, or fire pit. The pose opens your inner and outer thighs, knees, and ankles and creates a deep external rotation in your hips. Begin sitting in Easy Pose. Stack your right knee on top of your left ankle and your left ankle on top of your right knee. The lower legs make a straight line in front of your body, parallel to your torso. Sit tall on your sitting bones as you lift the abdomen. Inhale to externally rotate your shoulders and press your knees toward the ground without using the force of your hands. Place your hands onto the soles of your feet as you take 8-10 breaths. Then switch sides by placing the opposite leg on top, realigning the ankles and knees.
Begin sitting with your legs in Easy Pose. Reach down and grab the outside of your right foot and bring your foot into the crux of the left elbow. Wrap your right arm around the outside of your right knee. Cradling your leg and rocking it side to side, creating a stretch in your right hip and IT Band, along the side of your leg. As you inhale, grow long through your spine and roll your shoulders back. Take 8-10 breaths then switch sides.
This pose also serves as a modified way to practice One-Legged King Pigeon Pose. Begin lying on your back. Bend your knees, placing both feet flat on the ground below them. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Begin pressing your right knee away from your upper body, opening your hips. Lift your legs toward your chest. Threading your right hand between your legs and your left hand outside your left thigh. Interlace your fingers against the back of your left thigh. Inhale and then exhale, drawing your legs in toward your chest while energetically continuing to press your right knee away from your body. Practice on each side for about 8-10 breaths.
Starting from a seated position, move into Table Top and draw your right knee forward to the floor near your right hand and wrist. Bring your right foot to your left hip at a diagonal, with the outside of the right shin resting on the floor. As your hips begin to open, you can try sliding your right foot closer to your left hand so that your right shin is parallel with the short edge of your mat. Work on getting the edge of your right foot solidly on the ground, with your foot flexed and engaged. Slide your left leg toward the back of the mat and lower the front of your left thigh and groin to the floor. Placing your hands on the ground, underneath your shoulders, inhale to externally rotate your shoulders. As you inhale again, allow space for the rib cage to expand. As you exhale, find the balance between hugging your thighs toward your centerline and allowing for surrender in your hips.
If you are comfortable in One-Legged King Pigeon Pose, you can try walking your hands forward, extending your torso toward the front of your mat and placing your palms together in Anjali Mudra. For a deeper arm and shoulder stretch, you can try folding at the elbows and bringing this sacred mudra to the back of your neck in a gesture of surrender.
Chelsea Jackson, PhD, has a 200-hour hatha yoga training from Kashi Atlanta Urban Yoga Ashram. Jackson is also certified by Yoga Ed to teach yoga to children, and earned her PhD from the Division of Educational Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. She founded chelsealovesyoga.com, a platform for discussion on yoga, race, and diversity; is a member of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition; and created the Yoga, Literature & Art Camp for teen girls.