Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose) stretches your thighs and hips. Deeply.
“Part of the difficulty and complexity of the pose lies in the positioning of the legs,” says yoga teacher John Schumacher. “One hip is in an extended position, as is typical in backbending poses. The other hip, however, is in a flexed and externally rotated position, which is unusual in backbends. This creates difficulty in balancing and aligning the pelvis, and as a result, makes moving evenly in the spine, especially the sacrum, quite challenging.”
Though the traditional version of Pigeon Pose also features an intense backbend, this version—in which you fall forward over your bent leg—can be challenging in a different way. “Intensity in your practice depends on the measure of energy, attention, depth, and desire you bring to it,” adds Schumacher. “It is not so much what you do, but how you do it. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana may be an advanced pose for you, or it may not.” Regardless of how you approach it, the mindfulness required for this pose can help you delve deeper into a sense of calm and presence.Section divider
One-Legged King Pigeon Pose I basics
Sanskrit: Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (aa-KAH pah-DAH rah-JAH-cop-poh-TAHS-anna)
eka = one
pada = foot or leg
raja = king
kapota = pigeon or dove
Other names: Pigeon Pose
Pose type: Hip-opening
Targets: lower-body flexibilitySection divider
One-Legged King Pigeon Pose can improve your posture and counteract the effects of prolonged sitting. In your front leg, this pose stretches your buttocks (including your glutes and deeper muscles like the piriformis) and the front of your thigh (quadriceps). In your back leg, this pose stretches the front of your hip (hip flexor, including the psoas) and front of your thigh (quadriceps).
Other One-Legged King Pigeon Pose I perks:
- Fights fatigue
- Inspires introspection
- Starting on your hands and knees or from Downward-Facing Dog Pose, slide your left knee forward, angling your left shin under your torso so your left foot is at the front of your right knee and the outside of your left shin is resting on the floor.
- Slowly slide your right leg back, straightening your knee and resting the top of your thigh on the floor.
- Lower your outer left backside to the floor.
- Position your left heel just in front of the right hip.
- Your left knee can angle slightly to the left, outside the line of the hip. Look back at your right leg. It should extend straight back from your hip.
- Lift your torso away from your thigh. Lengthen your lower back by pressing your tailbone down and forward.
- Draw your right front hip point slightly forward, toward your left heel.
- Remain in the pose for a few breaths, release your hands one by one, and lower your torso over your left leg and down to the floor, keeping your spine long.
- Stay for a few breaths, resting the forehead on the floor or your forearms. Come up with an inhale and return to your hands and knees.
- Repeat on the other side.
Explore the pose
One-Legged King Pigeon is actually the first in a series of four increasingly difficult versions of Pigeon Pose. In each of the three successive poses, the forward leg is placed in a slightly different position. In the second variation, the forward foot is standing on the floor just in front of the same-side buttock, with the knee angled well forward of the heel. In the third variation the forward leg is in Ardha Virasana, while in the fourth the leg is stretched straight forward (as in Hanumanasana or Monkey Pose) of the pelvis.
In the pose, your hips should be level. If they’re not, support yourself with a blanket or a mat under your left thigh and/or your right buttock. Then elongate your spine by taking your tailbone toward the floor and lifting your front hip bones.
- Avoid or modify this pose if you have any knee, back, or hip pain or injury, or if you have a hamstring or groin pull or tear.
One-Legged Pigeon Pose variation
Seated Pigeon Pose
Begin by sitting in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Bend your knees and place the soles of the feet on the mat. Place your arms slightly behind you, with fingers pointing backward. Cross your left ankle over the top of your right knee. Flex your left foot. Draw your right shin in toward the body as you press your left knee away from you.
Reclining Pigeon Pose
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor hip-distance apart. Hug your right knee into your chest, then rotate your thigh outward so your right ankle rests against your left thigh to create a Figure 4 shape. You can instead take this version alongside a wall with the bottom of your foot resting against it.
Reclining Pigeon Pose with a strap
Come into Reclining Pigeon Pose (variation above) and interlace your fingers behind the thigh (or shin) of your left leg. Hug that knee toward your chest until you feel a stretching sensation. If you cannot reach your thigh, you can use a strap around the back of your thigh to extend your reach.Section divider
Preparatory and counter poses
Ensure that both your hips and quadriceps are adequately warmed up and open before transitioning into this posture. Save this posture until the end of your practice.
Counter posesSection divider
Your body in One-Legged King Pigeon Pose I | Anatomy
A lot happens at the same time in Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana. Your front hip flexes, abducts, and externally rotates while your back leg extends, adducts, and internally rotates. The opposing actions in the hips create a tethering force across your pelvis, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga teacher.
Engaging the hip muscles that produce these opposing actions transmits a force across the sacroiliac ligaments, tightening them. This helps stabilize the pelvis.
In the drawings below, the blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.
When you flex and externally rotate the thigh of your front leg, you contract the psoas and its synergists, the pectineus and adductors longus and brevis. A cue for engaging the psoas is to press down on the knee while attempting to lift it off the ground. Observe how the psoas tilts the pelvis forward and straightens your lower back. Squeeze the side of the buttocks to activate the components of the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius that abduct the femur.
When you extend your back hip, you contract the gluteus maximus. Note that engaging this muscle also externally rotates the femur. But in Pigeon Pose, you want to internally rotate it. Do this by engaging the gluteus medius and and tensor fascia lata. The cue for this is to press the back thigh and knee into the mat and attempt to drag your leg out to the side (abduct it). No movement will occur, however, this engages the gluteus medius and tensor fascia lata and internally rotates the femur.Section divider
Put One-Legged King Pigeon Pose I into practice
Ready to put Eka Pada Rajakapotasana into practice? Here are a few sequences to try:
About our contributors
Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.
Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.