I have very tight hips, and I often feel pressure on my knee when coming into Pigeon Pose. How can I avoid this?
Tracie Ser, San Diego, California
Charles MacInerney's reply:
Any painful sensation in the knee joint should be taken very seriously. I'll assume you're free from any knee conditions and injuries, that the pressure is in the front of the knee, and that you're practicing the most common version of the pose, in which the back leg is extended behind you, the spine is upright, and the fingertips press into the floor. This is actually a modification of Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana (Pigeon Pose).
Before attempting this variation, it's wise to warm up the hip rotators and associated muscles. Start your practice with standing poses like Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose) I, II, and III. Then practice Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) to externally open the hip joint. Move into Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose) and increase the hip rotator stretch by drawing the top of the knee into your chest. Lastly, try Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose), leaning forward to increase the action in the hips.
When you're ready to try the modified version of Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana, place a folded blanket under the hip of the front leg. Also, you will sometimes hear the instruction to pull the front heel away from the groin so the shin is parallel to the front of your mat; in your case, I recommend keeping the front heel close to the groin. Both of these actions will reduce the amount of rotation required of the hip, which should lessen the chance of pinching the tissues in your knee.
If you still don't feel relief, I recommend that you discontinue this pose until you can find a qualified yoga teacher to help you adapt it to your body. In the meantime, there are many preparatory poses you can work on to open the hips. For ideas, go to www.YogaJournal.com and type "Hips Too Tight?" into the search box for an excellent article by Judith Hanson Lasater.
Charles MacInerney has been practicing yoga since 1971. He teaches hatha and raja yoga in Austin, Texas, and leads retreats around the world. He is also the founder of www.yogateacher.com and cofounder of the Living Yoga Teacher Training Program.