Eka Pada Rajakapotasana: 5 Secrets For Getting Into Pigeon Pose

Go thumb through Light On Yoga and you’ll discover at least eleven different poses that resemble Pigeon pose. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, itself, has four different variations!

So much of the body has to be flexible and strong to practice Pigeon, but the challenge most people have is how to clasp the back foot with the top arm. As always in yoga, it’s necessary to warm up and prepare before doing such radical postures, but there is also technique involved.

Here are my top 5 secrets to teach you how to hold the back foot and rotate the arm to reach the full form of the pose. Note that only one tip involves loosening up with preparatory poses, though that should take the bulk of your practice towards Eka Pada Rajakapotasana. The other four are all components of the technique needed to grab your back foot and flip your grip.

 Eka Pada Rajakapotasana 2 :: Pigeon 2

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana 2 :: Pigeon 2 outside of Bishop, CA

1. Loosening Up

The more limber you are, the closer your back foot will feel when you go to clasp it. There are three specific areas of the body you need to focus on to make it possible.

  • Flexibility in the spine.
    1. The easier it is to back bend, the easier Pigeon will be.
    2. Poses that help (poses here and below are listed in order of difficulty): Bhujangasana, Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana, Makarasana, Paryankasana, Ustrasana, Dhanurasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana, Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (if you don’t know them, go look ‘em up!)
  • Openness in the fronts of the legs.
    1. Both the quads and the hip flexors need to be stretched in order to clasp the back foot in Pigeon pose. (The front hip and leg may need flexibility, too, depending on which version of Pigeon you choose).
    2. Poses that help: Crescent Lunge, Anjaneasana, Virabhadrasana 1, Natarajasana Prep., Ardha Bhekasana, Virasana, Supda Virasana, Ardha Chandra Chapasana, Eka Pada Supda Virasana with top leg lifted.
  • Shoulder mobility.
    1. Your entire shoulder joint needs to move. The front of your chest needs to be open to reach back and grab your back foot, then you spin the elbow up, which requires a rotational action ending with the arm overhead.
    2. Poses that help: Anahatasana, Adho Mukha Shvanasana, Dolphin, Gomukhasana, Pincha Mayurasana.

The Technique

2. Turn Your Back Foot Out

Take a good look at the photo of me in Pigeon 1 prep and you’ll see that my right/back foot is angled out to the right and it’s flexed. These are subtle details, but both are necessary to actually clasp your foot to make the transition into Eka Pada Rajakapotasana.

3. How To Hold Your Foot

Begin with your hand in a palm-up position in front of you, as if you’re holding a tray. Then, keeping your palm up, swing your hand back and clasp under and around the top of your foot. It’s best if you can reach all the way around the ball of your foot, not just your toes; it makes it less likely that your hand will slip off when you rotate your top arm. Pro tip: It’s easiest to turn your torso and look over your shoulder slightly to see your foot, and you’ll need to do that in step 4 anyhow.

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana 1 :: Pigeon 1 at Glacier Point, Yosemite, CA

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana 1 :: Pigeon 1 (prep) at Glacier Point, Yosemite, CA

4. Maintain or Deepen The Back Bend

You absolutely must stay in the back bend to spin your elbow up in Pigeon pose. If not, your hand will fly right off your foot. Here’s the key: Look over your shoulder and back at your foot. Press your head back towards your foot to deepen the back bend. At the same time pull your foot in as close to your shoulder as possible. Your arm should still be in the palm up position while holding your foot, even though your elbow will draw in towards your torso.

5. Spin Your Elbow Up

When you’ve gone to your limit in step four, only then do you rotate your top arm. Hold your foot tight, still looking back over your shoulder at your foot, then draw your elbow along side your ribs until it points forward. As your elbow points forward, start to rotate your chest to the front, keeping your head back the whole way. Swing your elbow up, towards your face, and spin your palm over the top of your foot so you end with fingers down and elbow up.

Eka Raja Kapotasana 1, full pose

Eka Raja Kapotasana 1, full pose

Final Thoughts:

Don’t be afraid to use a belt. I still do, all the time! Do all the same actions, just make a loop in a yoga belt, securely buckled. Lasso your foot and hold the belt palm up, instead of your foot. Your other arm is great for stability, keep it on the ground for balance if need be. When you’re ready to try both arms in the pose, get the first arm set, then clasp it’s forearm with your second hand. Inch your hand down as close to your foot as possible.

Have fun, and let me know how it goes!