Single Pigeon Pose – Possibly One Of The Most Contentious Poses

I have seen and heard it all when it comes to Single Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana). It either:

  • Eliminates back pain
  • Destroys the knees
  • Relieves sciatica
  • Jams the SI Joint
  • Overstretches you
  • Heals past trauma

As you can see, there are a lot of exaggerated claims about this pose. It’s either the best thing ever or the worst thing ever. As is usually the case when it comes to exercise interventions and injury prevention, the more realistic position is usually somewhere between the extremes.


Pigeon Pose – Probably Not Doing Harm & Probably Not a Panacea

Since I have a pretty neutral position on most things yoga (unless strong evidence compels me to take a strong position), I wanted to clarify a simple debate around the “right way” to teach Single Pigeon Pose. That quickly turned into a 3-part blog post with 3 separate videos because the comments on social media kept coming.

I hope you learn something useful in this series. Most importantly, keep practicing the pose if you love it, and feel free to avoid it if you don’t. ✌



Part 1: The “right way” to teach pigeon pose depends on the purpose or intent.

As originally planned, below is your video on “the right way” to do pigeon. The answer isn’t as cut-and-dried as we might expect. That’s because the intention is everything. Here are a couple of the considerations I address:


What type of pose is Single Pigeon?

Ah, the endless yoga teacher debate on whether this yoga pose is a floppy forward bend, a backbend, a hip opener, or something else entirely. Hint: It’s all of them and it depends on how you set up the pose.


Do you have to keep the front shit parallel to the mat?

Yes, if you are looking to maximize external rotation, abduction, and flexion. Since most people don’t have that range, they will not be able to be in that position. An experienced yoga teacher will recognize these strategies and choose to modify the pose, offer the right props, or just let it go and now worry about range of motion.  I demonstrate all these options in the video below.




Part 2: Common claims around Pigeon Pose should be examined through a critical lens.

Is Single Pigeon Pose bad for your knees?

Do you often hear people cue to “flex the foot to protect the knee” and wonder if there’s any validity to that?  I do think flexing the foot can make the knee less susceptible to becoming sensitized (in some people) by engaging the muscles that put tension across the knee joint and helping it feel more stable.  I expand more in the video.


Does Single Pigeon Pose relieve symptoms associated with sciatica?

Do you hear the claim that Pigeon Pose relieves tension on the piriformis muscle and then decompresses the sciatic nerve?  This notion is based on a theory about stretching that I haven’t found to be validated by the research. That doesn’t mean it can’t help relieve symptoms, but I am critical of the mechanism of action.  Especially because some people actually get more sensitized by stretching during flare-ups.  I say more in the video below.




Part 3: Uneccessary criticsms of Pigeon Pose should be met with criticism. 

Does Single Pigeon Pose cause asymmetry in the sacrum (SI Joint)?

Have you heard that Pigeon Pose causes asymmetry in the sacrum? This one was new to me. Half the poses we do in yoga have one leg in flexion and the other in flexion. Or one leg in external rotation and the other in neutral rotation.   Why would Pigeon Pose be the only offending pose? In fact, in many activities, our limbs are doing opposing actions while simultaneously applying much larger loads (in magnitude and acceleration) across these joint surfaces.  Of course, in the absence of research on this specific question, it’s hard to know. And at the same time, if the position was so troublesome, we’d probably have people interested in studying it.


Is Single Pigeon Pose bad for the back hip because it goes into maximum extension?

This argument is new to me. Again, by that rationale, most split leg poses and backbends would also be “bad” for the back hip. Or any sport that required long strides (sprinting, hurdling, gymnastics, dance, soccer, rock climbing…). Of course, this is a bigger conversation about end-range issues which I discuss in great detail in Chapter 5 in my book. The TLDR of that is that if end-range stuff sensitizes a tendon or joint, lay off end range for a bit, load it up in a more mid-range position, and eventually expose it to end range again (think many months or years, not days/weeks).  I didn’t get into that in the video since that would go into tissue mechanics, but you’ll still get some good insight watching the video.


Is Single Pigeon Pose bad for the front hip because we’re stretching things we should be strengthening?

This claim stems from a misunderstanding of how stretching works.  In general, stretching doesn’t loosen or weaken tissue, it increases their capacity to tolerate loads associated with stretching. And once again, I compare this pose to other stretches that do the same but have a great reputation!  Watch me break it all down in the video below.

Pigeon Pose Summary

If you’re still reading (and watching), thanks for sticking around. I hope I gave you some useful insights. While I stand by everything I said here, I also acknowledge that this pose is problematic for some people.  Any pain or discomfort someone experiences is real!  As yoga teachers, we always respect a yoga student’s experience and help them make decisions for themselves about their yoga practice. We can do all of that and more without inventing mechanisms of action to blame. Sometimes it’s better to say less and listen more.


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