PIGEON, MERMAID, KING PIGEON POSE – EKA PADA RAJAKAPOTASANA
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, from Sanskrit One (Eka), Foot or Leg (Pada), Pigeon (Kapota) or King Pigeon (Rajakapota) takes is name from the wide opening of the chest, which is pushed forward like that of a Pigeon.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra distinguishes between four variations of the pose, going from intermediate to advanced level. I’m going now to present you only with two of them: King Pigeon (Patanjali’s Eka Pada Rajakapotasana I), and two variations of a simpler one that have become very popular in the Western shalas.
Those are a preparatory pose that should lead to the classic Pigeon Pose, which has become popular in Yoga shalas, and Mermaid, still accessible to a wider number of practitioners who already have a good back flexibility and for sure one of girls’ favorite!
Those poses will help you work on your back flexibility and lengthen the psoas, the muscle that connects torso with legs, which we always keep short due to our sedentary lifestyle!
Let’s see all of them!
- Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana. Lift your right leg, then bend it and bring it forward, placing your knee by your right wrist. You can choose whether to place your shin in diagonal toward your left hip or horizontally, so that your right foot gets close to your left hand, which will provide considerable hip opening.
Extend your left leg backward and rotate it inward, so that your thigh, knee and top of the left foot lay on your mat. While doing this, focus on squaring your upper body: draw your tailbone down and forward; meanwhile, lengthen your torso away from the pubis and point your left hip forward.
Place your hands on your waist and open your chest pushing it forward. You can eventually look upwards, so that your neck creates a unique arch with the rest of the spine, but avoid crunching or straining it.
Stay for 5 full breathe cycles.
- You can also avoid arching. In this case, rest your hands on the ground in front of your right knee and tuck your left toes to feel a greater lengthening of/in the left psoas.
- To stretch your back instead, place your forearms on the floor in front of the right knee and lay your torso on the right inner thigh, lengthening your spine.
- To shift to King Pigeon starting from point 1, back arched and hips well squared, bend your left and back leg so that the shin gets perpendicular to the ground. Your left foot must be close to your head. Inhale to prepare and, on the exhalation, lift your right arm and bend it over the head to grab your left foot. After a few breaths, on an exhalation do the same with your left arm, to hold your foot with both hands.
Hold in this pose for 5 complete breathes. If you do not feel at ease or feel your hips can’t stay squared, it means you are not ready for this pose, and your body needs some more time and practice.
With respect to the Pigeon Poses described at point 1 and 2, some teachers allow students who can’t rest their pelvis on the floor to lift it slightly and turn the front leg (right leg in our case) inwards, laying their right shin and foot top on the floor, with the heel close to the pubis. I would discourage this variation due to the strain it puts on the right knee, and the risk of injuries in case of imbalances.
- Mermaid is similar to King Pigeon pose, but differs in that your hips are not squared. In this case, in fact, you can rotate your torso and shoulders in direction of your back leg, the left in this case. For Mermaid arms, extend your left arm backwards and bend it, placing your left foot in the elbow cavity so that it is locked and can’t slip away. Bend your right arm, which is still over your head, so that your right hand reaches the left. You can also interlace your fingers.
BENEFITS AND SYMBOLIC MEANING
On the physical and most superficial level, Eka Pada RajKapotasana is a great posture to open your hips and chest, and to improve your spine backward flexibility while opening your torso. This will help you acquire a better posture, which turns into a greater assertiveness, quality associated to the Pigeon.
On a symbolic and emotional level, Pigeon in Hindu Mythology has been associated Rati, the goddess of lust and passion, in a carnal rather than a motherly conception woman and of love. Eka Pada RajKapotasana hence, is connected to the activation of the Second Chakra, Manipura, responsible for controlling sexual desire and increasing fertility.