Yoga Poses

Challenge Pose: 4 Steps to Flying Pigeon

Kathryn Budig breaks down the components of this advanced arm balance then wraps it all together with how-to instructions for getting into this elusive peak pose.

Move with confidence into Flying Pigeon with these step-by-step prep poses from YJLIVE presenter Kathryn Budig. Want more yoga inspiration, practice and pose tips? Take our 21-Day Yoga Challenge, graduate and get a chance to be on YJ’s cover!

Flying Pigeon, eka pada galvanasana

Flying Pigeon is one of those poses that will stand out in my memory forever. I was in shock the first time I saw a teacher demonstrate this arm balance. She was effortless, and shockingly tiny for such a seemingly powerful pose. I knew it had to be mine. I proceeded to try with zero success and left baffled.

With time, practice, and fantastic teachers, I eventually wrapped my brain around the mechanics of the posture and now love it. Mastering an advanced asana like this one isn’t as simple as just doing the pose—you have to understand the different components needed to turn it into a whole. In the following sequence, I’ve broken down the core work needed to maintain the pose, ways to open and strengthen the hip (since this is such a massive opener), and a pose to challenge balance as it is a low-flying posture. Then I’ll wrap it all up with the full burrito—how to tackle the peak pose itself.

Enjoy and be patient. Remember that working any of these preps will only make you stronger, just accept that your body will deliver exactly what it can and should be doing in this moment.

Step 1: Knee-to-Arm Core Work

Knee-to-Arm Core Work

This isn’t your average knee-to-nose torture—it’s worse!

Don’t worry though, it’s completely worth the pain and will make you stronger in our peak pose. Begin in Downward-Facing Dog. Firm your upper outer arms in as you extend your right leg behind you. Bend your knee and draw it in toward your right armpit as you shift your shoulders over your wrists. Before your knee reaches your arm, pivot! Swing your right foot toward your left armpit as you do your best to maintain the location of your right knee. This will mimic the hip rotation combined with shoulder and core strength needed in the full arm balance. Hold for 2 breaths and return to Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat 3 more times on the right side and then switch to the left.

See also Alignment Cues Decoded: “Engage Your Core”

Step 2: Standing Pigeon Pose

figure four,

This version will help you get ready for the balancing and hip opening element of the peak pose.

Start standing and shift your weight onto your left foot. Bend your right knee and cross your right ankle directly above your left knee so that your foot is flexed and hanging slightly off to the side of your left leg. Find one point to gaze at in front of you. (Gazing forward and down is the most grounding, while straight ahead is a bit more challenging.) As you bend your standing knee, sink your hips. You can keep your hands on your hips or extend your arms and torso forward to deepen the hip opening. Hold for 8 full breaths and switch sides.

See also 5 Ways to Warm Up for One-Legged King Pigeon Pose

Step 3: Single Pigeon Pose

half-pigeon pose, eka pada rajakpotasana

If you think about it, Flying Pigeon is the exact same shape as Single Pigeon Pose if you could just drill two little arm holes in the floor in front of your shin bone to slip your arms through!

This hip opener is a must if you’re looking to gain the flexibility needed to perform this arm balance. Start with your right shinbone forward and left leg extended straight behind you. Start with your right heel close to your groin and work on squaring your hips (you’ll need to roll the left side of your pelvis forward and down). If this is accessible, work toward moving your front shin parallel to the front of your mat. This will deepen the hip opener but also get you ready for the entry position of the arm balance. Allow yourself to forward fold as you work the internal rotation of the back leg. Actively press your toenails into the mat and engage the entire length of the leg. Hold for 1 minute on each side.

See also 3 Ways to Make Pigeon Pose Feel Better

Step 4: Flying Pigeon

Flying Pigeon, eka pada galvanasana

Eka Pada Galavasana

Time to put it all together. Begin the same way as we did for Standing Pigeon with the torso extended over your rotated leg. Reach your hands down to the ground hooking your shinbone onto the back of both of your arms. (If your hands don’t reach the ground, it means the hips aren’t open enough yet. Back to your single pigeons!) Hook your right toes around the tricep of your left arm and wiggle that shinbone up as close to both of your armpits as you can. Now it’s time to bend and wiggle. Bend both of your elbows and rock your weight forward. Wiggle your left foot back. Bend deeper, lean forward (the goal is to get to Chaturanga arms), round your upper back, gaze forward, and repeat the wiggle back of your rear foot. Eventually, it will have no choice but to lift up, but the arms will need to be in that 90-degree bend. If you don’t round your upper back, your hips will be heavy and swing you forward like a bowling ball attacking your arms as if they were pins. Try to maintain this shape in the beginning for a few breaths. Eventually, jazz up your back leg and push the ball of your left foot back as if you were trying to push something away from you. Don’t lose the rounding in your back. Keep your gaze slightly forward of your fingertips. Either shoot back to Chaturanga to exit or simply place the back foot down.

See also Challenge Pose: Grasshopper

About Kathryn Budig

Yoga teacher kathryn budig

Kathryn Budig is the yoga teacher behind AIM TRUE, a regular writer for Yoga Journal, and a presenter at Yoga Journal LIVE! Catch up with her @ kathrynbudig.com and on:

Twitter: @kathrynbudig
Instagram: @kathrynbudig
Facebook: @kathrynbudigyoga