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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Pigeon Pose: Muscles Worked, Benefits, and How to Do It

Pigeon Pose: Muscles Worked, Benefits, and How to Do It

Reading Time: 5 minutes


DATE: 2022-11-17

Yoga, in general, offers many benefits. It improves your flexibility, helps you relax, reduces your stress, and can even boost your mood. Each pose also provides its own benefits. For instance, some are poses good for building muscle. Others can help relieve lower back pain.

If you’re looking for a pose that benefits the hip area, Pigeon pose is one to consider. Here we talk about what this pose is, the benefits it offers, and the muscles it works. We also share how to do Pigeon pose, variations to make it easier or harder, and who should not include this pose in their yoga routine.

What Is Pigeon Pose?

The Sanskrit name for Pigeon pose is kapotasana. Kapota means Pigeon and asana is Sanskrit for pose. So, its name literally translates to Pigeon pose. 

Yoga International suggests that, with a bit of imagination, you can feel like a “proud Pigeon” while in this position. (1) However, it is actually named after a yoga master by the name of Kapota. It is said that when Kapota walked, it seemed as if he didn’t touch the ground. So, people referred to him as the son of Garuda, which was a mighty bird.

The basic position for Pigeon pose involves sitting on the floor with the front knee bent and the back leg straight behind you. You can keep your upper body in an upward, sitting position (a true Pigeon pose) or you can lean forward, resting over the bent leg (half Pigeon pose). You can also pull the foot on the back leg toward you, providing a deeper stretch.

Benefits of Doing Pigeon Pose

The Yoga Journal calls Pigeon pose “the king of hip openers.” (2) A hip opener is a pose that helps open and stretch the hip muscles. That makes it a good pose for someone with tight hips, relaxing the muscles around the hip joint.

Tight hips are common for people who sit all day, such as those with desk jobs. Hip tightness can also be the result of overuse. This makes athletes at greater risk of developing tight hips.

The more these muscles relax, the greater the flexibility in the hip. Improvements in hip flexibility and range of motion equate to better hip mobility. Research published in 2021 connects higher levels of hip mobility and flexibility with better athletic performance and reduced injury risk. (3)

Muscles Pigeon Pose Works

Because Pigeon pose targets the hip area, it helps stretch the hip flexor muscles. Several muscles make up the hip flexors. They are the:

  • Iliacus: a prime hip mover that connects the upper portion of the hip (ilium) to the top of the femur and helps support postural stability

  • Psoas major: another prime hip mover that runs from the side of the spine to the femur, also contributing to postural stability

  • Pectineus: located in the medial thigh and assists with hip flexion and adduction

  • Rectus femoris: an anterior thigh muscle that crosses the hip, aiding in hip flexion and knee extension

  • Sartorius: a superficial thigh muscle that runs from (and crosses) the knee and hip joints, helping with hip flexion and thigh adduction

How to Do a Yoga Pigeon Pose

You can ease into Pigeon pose from Dead Pigeon pose or Downward Dog pose. To get into this position:

  • Bring the right leg forward, bending the right knee as you lower your pelvis toward the floor. 

  • With the pelvis on the floor, bring the right foot in and toward the left hip. The left leg is straight behind you.

  • Sink the pelvis and walk your hands back toward the hips, keeping the left hip level with the right hip.

  • Stop once your head is centered over the pelvis, then bring your shoulder blades back and down and broaden the chest.

  • Hold this pose and breathe.

  • Come out of the pose by doing the steps in reverse.

Once you do Pigeon pose with your right leg forward and left leg back, switch sides. Go through the same steps with your left leg forward and right leg back. This helps ensure that you stretch each side of the hip evenly.

Pigeon Pose Variations If You Lack Flexibility

If you or your client find that Pigeon pose is too difficult, you can modify it in a few different ways to make the pose easier.

Supported Pigeon Pose

Unless you have good hip flexibility, you may find it hard to drop your pelvis fully to the floor. A variation that helps with this is Supported Pigeon pose. To do this pose, place a yoga block or folded blanket under the hip while doing Pigeon pose. This makes the position easier by reducing the distance you need to drop. It also places less stress on the hip muscles.

Reclining Pigeon Pose

If the hips are too tight, Reclined Pigeon pose is another option. This pose involves lying on your back with your knees bent. Cross the right ankle over the left knee and lift the left foot off the floor. Put your right arm through the opening between the legs and grab the left shin, using your left arm to grab the other side of the shin. Gently pull the left shin back while pressing the right knee away from you.

Return to the starting position, then do the same steps on the other side. Cross the left ankle over the right knee and lift the right foot. Put your left arm through the leg opening, grab the right shin, and pull it back. When doing this, push the left knee away from you.

Half Pigeon Pose

Half Pigeon pose is helpful for people who spend a lot of time sitting, leading to hip pain and stiffness. To do it, follow the same steps as Pigeon pose. Then, walk your fingers forward until your chest is against your bent thigh and your forehead is on the floor. You can also rest on your forearms if that is easier.

How to Make Pigeon Pose More Challenging

Once Pigeon pose feels easy, it can be modified to make it more difficult. One option is to bend the back knee and lean back toward it, holding the back foot so it’s pointing toward the ceiling. You can hold the foot with one or both hands. You can also hold the ankle instead. 

To make this position harder yet, pull the back foot gently toward your head. If it is your right foot that you’re pulling, bring your left hand overhead to grasp the foot and nudge it forward. If you’re pulling your left foot, bring your right hand overhead.

People with more advanced flexibility and fitness can also do One-Legged King Pigeon pose. Pigeon pose is actually a variation of this more advanced pose. It involves lying forward so the chest is on the floor and extending the back leg and foot more fully. This provides a better stretch of the hip area.

Who Should NOT Do Pigeon Pose

Even though Pigeon pose has many benefits, it’s not right for everyone. If you or your client has had a knee injury or knee pain, this pose should be avoided. It should also be avoided by anyone with issues with the sacroiliac joint. This is the joint that connects the pelvis to the lower spine.

If you’re interested in becoming a yoga teacher and helping your clients gain the benefits that this type of practice has to offer, you can get your Yoga Instructor Certification through ISSA. This course teaches you how to break each yoga pose into easy-to-understand steps. It also provides the skills needed to lead a yoga class. And if you want to work in a yoga studio, this certification may be required.


  1. Anderson, S. (2014, June 26). Kapotasana: Pigeon Pose. Home. Retrieved November 1, 2022, from https://yogainternational.com/article/view/kapotasana-pigeon-pose 

  2. Dehnke, A. (2021, November 8). The King of Hip Openers: Pigeon pose. Yoga Journal. Retrieved November 1, 2022, from https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/beginners/pigeon-pose/ 

  3. Teichmann, J., Burchardt, H., Tan, R., & Healy, P. D. (2021). Hip mobility and flexibility for track and field athletes. Advances in Physical Education, 11(02), 221–231. https://doi.org/10.4236/ape.2021.112017 

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