I remember my first experience in Pigeon Pose. The yoga teacher at my local YMCA instructed us on how to come into the pose, and I followed as best I could. One leg out in front, chest coming to the ground. Is this right? I thought. I attempted to mask my confusion. Can my body move like this? Am I being hurt or repaired right now? I had no idea.
I had never put my body in any position like this before and I was wary of the teacher’s instructions. I remember finally melting into the ground. The muscles in and around my hips and my mind begged me to just STOP. It felt so wrong.
I could hear the tick of the on the wall clock, each second feeling like an eternity. I couldn’t understand why we were staying like this, and for so long!
As a beginning yoga student, I was attracted to vinyasa yoga. It seemed the closest to every other form of exercise I’d done. Growing up playing sports, swimming, and running, my entire conception of “workout” was something that makes you sweat and your heart race.
Getting more into yoga, I loved the feeling of stretching and the calm it brought to my mind, but I felt guilty about not getting an “intense” workout. I figured with vinyasa yoga, I could incorporate the stretching and meditation with a least some cardio. I figured with enough movement, I would inevitably be fit.
But on this day, as we stayed there in Pigeon, I didn’t understand why class had slowed down—and right when it was the hardest. This pose was pushing me to a new place, and it felt … uncomfortable. Something was happening. But my breath and heart rate were steady and no sweat dripped down my face. Was this a workout?
As the seconds turned into minutes, I realized this was not a single-breath type of yoga pose. Soon my discomfort floated away and my mind danced with other thoughts, like the sun coming through the window onto my face and the sound of soothing breaths from my yogi neighbors around me. With this release, my body was able to sink further to the ground and my muscles began to relax. Soon, what I was before experiencing as “pain” became nourishment. Discomfort had opened me up to an entirely different feeling.
My hips had never been stretched like that, and frankly, neither had my mind. I had always been the athlete that would push through. There was no “surrender.” But Pigeon Pose had challenged me in an entirely different way. Instead of going going going, I had to stay stay stay. I had to be OK with the stillness and the odd feeling in my body.
Almost two years later, Pigeon is my favorite yoga pose. When a teacher announces the pose, a smile paints my face and I thankfully fall into the posture, and almost always wish for more time. In the pose, I make subtle changes, bringing the stretch into different parts of my hip. I am not sweating nor falling over with exhaustion. Instead, I exit the pose refreshed and tingling with a feeling of openness.
My idea of “workout” has shifted. What I know now is that a healthy body is not necessarily one pushed to a brink of exhaustion, but one that is open to new movement and challenges. One that is calm and ready for all obstacles.
Pigeon Pose once felt so strange and wrong, slow, and confusing. Now, as I settle into what I know will be a lifetime of yoga practice, Pigeon just feels so right.
Jessica Abelson is the Web Editorial Assistant at Yoga Journal.