VIDEO: YoGanesh teacher Lynette Chiang demonstrates an easy way to get into Pigeon pose
Words and photos by Lynette Chiang
One of our more “obscure” muscles (in that, you’re not really aware of it on a daily basis like your quads and hammies) is the piriformis. This muscle is located deep in your butt, running from the sacrum to the top of the thighbone. It’s one of the the many hip rotator muscles that collectively turn the hips and upper leg outward (called external rotation), and particularly for athletes, provides stability around the knee when twisting and changing direction.
To find the piriformis: If you sit in a chair, cross the right ankle (flex that foot!) just in front of the left knee and tip your body forward from the hips, you’ll feel the piriformis wake up in your right lower butt. I call this the Piriformis Desk Jockey stretch, because it’s an ideal thing to do at your desk. Sitting cross-legged and leaning forward also activates this muscle.
In a more “proper” form of Pigeon, the shin is parallel to the end of the mat – rather difficult for all but the most malleably-hipped humans. Yoga Journal calls this One-Legged King Pigeon pose:
Lynette’s Easy Pigeon:
- A good idea is to warm up the area with some of the exercises listed under “Other Ways to Stretch the Piriformis” below. Then sit on the floor. Bend the back leg behind you completely at the knee, like you were jumping over a hurdle.
- Bring front leg shin parallel to mat, flexing foot
- “Box” the front leg in with the arms as shown, arms pressing in to keep the front foot flexed to protect the knee
- Keeping upper body low to the mat, manoeuvre it squarely over your front leg
- Now – with care – knee-toe the back leg to straighten it, so the entire front of the back leg faces the mat. Don’t over strain! Drop forehead to mat and exhale to deepen. Stay there a while, all the while “scootching” your back leg longer to be as straight and long as possible.
- To come out, the first thing you must do is release the back leg completely, i.e. bend it acutely at the knee. This “unlocks” everything.
- Stretch out and do the other side.
Other ways to stretch the piriformis
There are easier ways to stretch this muscle – and they provide a good warmup for Pigeon.
1. Piriforms stretch lying down: Lie on back, left knee bent, right foot crossed over it at the ankle. Reach through the “hole” to clasp left shin, and pull shoulders towards mat. Keep you head on the ground. This image thanks to Sciaticalive.com.
2. Piriformis stretch sitting: the easiest of them all! Sit in a chair, cross your right over the left at the ankle, and keeping back straight, lean forward. You can aim to reach for the floor. This image from Doubleyourgains.com which shows some other good lower back stretches.
3. Piriformis stretch standing: Stand on one leg, weighting it for a moment to get your balance. Cross the right knee over the left and lean over. Don;t do this one if it’s a strain on your standing knee. This image, with other tips, from chiropractor Dr Backman.