Kapotasana! AKA Pigeon Pose. Not to be confused with the intense floor hip opener – a variation of One Legged King Pigeon Pose or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (eka meaning one, pada meaning foot or leg, raja meaning king, and kapota meaning pigeon or dove).
I believe that the most empowering poses are heart openers, and Kapotasana is as deep and intense as they get. Heart openers are amazing because they leave you feeling ready to take on the world. They literally open your chest up and unlock your heart so you may receive and give with compassion and awareness! They also work on contracting the back muscles, which doesn’t happen nearly as much as we need it to in our modern, day to day lives. In addition to all this, they force you to face fear and learn to trust. Heart openers can be scary and they require a lot of trust in yourself, in the universe, and in physics. Trust physics. Always. Gravity has got your back – literally. 😂 In short, they are powerhouse poses that can literally change your entire life.
With that being said, I do have a few disclaimers. First of all, I highly discourage people with really bad knees or a bad back from trying this pose without first consulting a physical therapist. You will need full use of your knees and back to enter and exit the pose safely. There are many other gentle heart openers that will create the same effect over time without causing more harm to injured knees or backs. (And, yes, I will present them here soon!)
It’s also super important to never, ever, ever do this pose cold. This pose should always come towards the end of your practice. If you want to practice this pose outside of your flow, run through several mindful and present sun salutations to ensure you are warm enough to enter this pose safely. Focus deeply on the breath so that you can heat the body from within. Place extra emphasis on the up dogs and down dogs, putting attention on warming up the spine.
Once you are warm and present, come to the knees and place them hip distance apart. Send your energy through the quads and root through the knees as you begin to thrust your hips forward. The motion of energy you want to create for this is down, up, and back rather than exclusively backwards. It’s imperative that you lift through the spine before bending backwards to avoid squishing the lumbar. In order to facilitate moving the spine upwards, root down through the knees while engaging the quads, the glutes, and the core. Practice this down, up, back motion until you feel ready to begin dropping backwards.
Before you begin the drop backs, be sure to relax the shoulders, chest, and neck and continue to keep the lower half of your body engaged. *Some teachers say to relax the glutes, and others say to engage them. I prefer to engage them because it allows me to have more control over my drop back and prevents me from sinking into my lower back. Every time I relax the glutes, I feel a dull pain in my lower back for days, so in every single backbend I do, I engage the core, glutes, and legs and release the chest, neck and shoulders.*
As you begin to drop back, keep the chin to the chest to protect the cervical spine. The bend should be coming from the middle of your spine, not the lumbar or the neck. Once the thoracic spine is sufficiently bent, you may drop the head and allow the neck to relax fully. Be very mindful to keep the shoulders as relaxed as possible so as not to pinch the neck. Dropping the head can be very triggering for some and it requires deep calm and evenness of breath. The more you practice this particular point of backhanding, the more fearless power you will feel.
The final leg of the pigeon’s journey is reaching for the heels. This may take a few weeks to master or a few decades. However long it takes, never force it. It is very painful to force backbends. Backbending is the ultimate balance between strength, flexibility, and relaxation. Listen to your body and work on achieving the balance between engaging the lower half of your body and releasing the upper half of your body rather than forcing yourself into a pose that your body is not yet prepared to do. Stay in the pose (at whatever depth your reach) for as long as it feels comfortable, aiming for increasing breaths rather than seconds. At your deepest expression, you will feel a release in the chest that directly translates to opening your heart. This feeling can bring up a lot of emotions. Choose to observe the emotions rather than judging them. Choose compassion. Choose love.
When you are ready, exit the pose as carefully and mindfully as you entered it, reversing the movements step by step. Once you have come back up to standing on the knees, take a knees together child’s pose and eventually move to a seated forward fold.
This pose is often labeled as “advanced” and “challenging”, but don’t let that deter you from trying it! So long as you are aware of the breath and your body in space, you did the pose to its fullest and most perfect expression. Yoga isn’t about the way a pose looks in an Instagram post. Yoga is about the journey you went on to get the pose to look that way.