The One-Legged King Pigeon Pose, or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, is an excellent backbend for opening the hips, hamstrings and groins.
(Pronounced as "ache-ah POD-ah RAHJ-ah-kah-poh-TAHS-anna")
The Sanskrit phrase eka pada means "one foot," and rajakapotasana means "the King of the pigeons." Here you puff out your chest to the maximum like a proud pigeon.
Start by sitting on your yoga mat with both legs stretched out straight front of you. Bend your right knee and grab the right ankle. Pull your right foot in toward you until your right heel touches the left groin. Your right knee and the outer right shin should rest on the floor. Now bend the left knee and pull the left foot behind you, extending the entire left leg straight behind you on the floor so that the top of the left foot, the left knee and the left thigh are all pressing down into the yoga mat.
Let the front of your left thigh descend deeply into the floor. Your right buttock should also descend down as much as possible. Check the position of your right heel to make sure that it remains directly in front of the left hip. Look behind you to check the positioning of your extended left leg. The left leg should be in line with the left hip. The left leg should not turn to the right or left. Now press your tailbone down into the floor to help stabilize yourself. You can bend forward slightly to help loosen your hips and stay here for a few minutes if it's not too uncomfortable for you.
Create more length in your lower back by continuing to press your tailbone down and slightly forward. Balance your weight evenly between the left front of the thigh and the right sitting bone. If this position is already challenging enough for you, then you can stay here and hold this position without going further. Simply try to sit up as much as possible with your torso fairly upright and keep your hands on the floor by your sides for support.
Eventually, you will have enough strength to be able to balance in this posture without your hands on the floor by your sides. From there, lift up your sternum to straighten your torso so that it is perpendicular to the floor. Lift your hands off of the ground beside you and place the palms of your hands on your waist. Push the chest forward while you stretch your neck back to look behind you as far as you can and balance here for several breaths. Bend your elbows as you keep your hands on the waist to help you roll your shoulders out and back, deepening the expansion of the chest.
Stay in this position for a minute or longer. Once these steps are easy for you, then go deeper in the pose by following the steps described in the "Full Pose" section below.
You can either come out of this posture by sliding the back leg forward again, or you can simply roll your hips toward the side of the bent knee. For example, if your right knee is bent, then you would roll to the right side to make it easier to bring the left leg back to the front. Then repeat the posture on the other side for the same duration.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
It is normal for beginners to struggle with sitting all the way down against the floor. Therefore, you can place a folded blanket underneath your sitting bones for support so that you can sit up while practicing the pose.
As you progress in the pose, you need to prepare yourself to reach back and grab the toes of your back foot. You can train for this by making a small loop with the yoga belt and placing it around your back foot before you come into the posture. Then you can hold the end of the belt to gradually pull your foot up, bending your knee behind you. Gradually over time, you will be able to walk your hands down the belt until you can finally grab your toes with your hands.
To progress into the full version of One-Legged King Pigeon Pose, first follow the steps listed above. Now, continue pushing your pelvic floor down into the ground as you lift up your foot behind you. The back leg should form a 90-degree angle at the knee while your shin and foot should be perpendicular to the ground. Keep pushing the thigh of the back leg down against the mat as much as possible.
Next, reach back with whichever hand is easiest to grab the top of your back foot and pull the back foot down a little more to deepen the stretch in the front of the hips. From here, stretch the other hand up to the sky, bend the elbow and let the hand come down behind the head. Arch your back and drop your head back to grab your toes behind your head.
Eventually, the goal is to hold your foot behind your head with both hands. Then you can gradually continue bending your back until you can pull the sole of your foot against the crown of your head with your elbows pointing upward toward the ceiling.
Come into the posture to the best of your ability, using whatever props you need to support you. Then ask a partner to stand behind you and help you lift your arms and torso. Ask your partner to help push your shoulder blades into your back while they also grab your shoulders and rotate them back.
Now hold this position while your partner lifts the outer arms slightly toward the elbows, helping you to align your torso so that it is perpendicular to the floor. Resist this movement slightly by pulling your side ribs down as you extend your arms.
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