My body has a lot of issues with this pose, the main ones being: the length of my quadriceps (not long enough lol!) and hip flexors, side and shoulder muscles (longer armpits would be nice...) and bendiness in my lower back. My scoliosis mostly affects the lumbar area, and on one side I have hugely built up muscles, while the other side is a bit convex. Yoga helps a lot to balance it, but the imbalance really comes out when I attempt deep backbends that require more flexibility in the lumbar spine, so my backbends in this area are much easier on one side than the other. The entire pigeon set of backbends, to me, seems like a pipe dream. And yet, with slow and hard work, I AM making progress although I am nowhere yet near the final pose!
Anyway, in the spirit of doing as many impossible things as you can before breakfast, I've been working with a sequence that includes another of those 'impossible' poses - hanumanasana, or splits pose. Another pose that I thought I would NEVER EVER IN A MILLION YEARS be able to achieve... And yet, a few months ago out of the blue I slipped into it almost without trying (now it's hit and miss depending on how warmed up I am... and it's actually easier when I'm not trying). Go figure.
Like some others involved in this discussion on Nadine Fawell's blog, I have been finding that my primary series Ashtanga-based practice just does not open up these areas enough for me. So here is a sequence that I have been enjoying lately. To practice it, you will need two blocks (or sturdy books) and a strap. You might also want to put some extra padding under your knees for the lunges! Although some of the poses in this sequence might look a bit advanced, with the use of props I think it's accessible to everyone. Just respect your limits and remember, as I read in the blogsphere recently: "Yoga is a practice, not a perfect!"
1. Warm ups - start with your favourite warm ups, making sure you really warm up your hamstrings and your lower back. 5 sun salutations should just about do it, but any warm up works.
a) Find your way into a low lunge, placing padding under the back knee if you need it. Now, place the two blocks either side of the forward foot. Press your hands into the blocks and lift up through the spine, opening the chest and shoulders. Extend from the back knee, keeping it active and feeling a nice stretch the length of your back thigh.
b) Bring the blocks up so they are standing at their tallest, and walk them back a bit. Using your hands to ground into the blocks and keeping the legs strong, extend the spine upwards from the pelvis and curl backwards. This is called Monkey Lunge! If you are comfortable you can even release the hands and let your fingertips brush the floor.
a) To prepare for splits pose, from lunge turn your left toes back towards you to straighten the left leg, and take a gentle forward bend to stretch out the hamstring.
b) Place your hands on the blocks and start to slide your left foot forward. Keep the heel on the ground and the toes flexed towards you. Support your weight on the blocks as much as possible and focus on your breath. When you have found a comfortable extension, focus back in on the right leg, lengthening it away from your body and feeling the hip flexor stretch! Don't worry about how far you can go - just breathe and be where you are with this one.
3. Kapotasana Poses
Warm up with your normal variation of supine pigeon, folding forward and staying there for as long as you like. When you are ready, come back up for some pigeon variations and backbending work.
a) (NB I switched legs on this picture so you can see the pose better). Support your weight by pressing your hand into a block placed outside your forward knee. Then bend the back knee and gently bring the back foot up towards your body, grabbing it with your hand, or elbow if you choose. Keep the thigh muscles engaged slightly and try to enjoy deep breaths here.
b) A nice way to get used to the idea of backbending is to use a yoga strap. Loop the strap around the back foot (right foot again in the photos!) and bring the forward end over your shoulder on the same side. Get comfortable in pigeon, and when your ready grab the strap with one or both hands. Lengthen the spine from the waist, open up the chest, and start to curl back by walking your hands down the strap. Again, don't worry how far you can or can't go! Just focus on breathing fully and exploring new sensations.
c) Now try coming back into the first variation with the strap looped around your ankle, and play with catching the strap and bending backwards! (NB: this is a hard one to get into on the 10-second self-photo timer, so I haven't quite come fully into the backbend, opening up the chest and bringing the head back. But you get the idea!)
4. Finish up after you've done both sides with a nice long forward bend to counter the back-bending, and then take savasana or any other resting pose.
I hope you enjoy some or all of these ideas! What are poses that you used to think impossible that you are now working towards? What is your experience in King Pigeon? Any tips for me?