Give Yourself the Gift of Movement

Opening Up with Pigeon

2Unstoppable, Co-Founder
Michelle Stravitz
Posted:  01.23.2024

Opening Up with Pigeon

On a recent yoga retreat, I was asked to share my favorite yoga pose. It only took a moment to realize that, for me, it’s Half-Pigeon pose.

In Half-Pigeon pose, or Ardha Kapotasana, we bend one knee in front of the body so that the calf is perpendicular to the front, short end of the mat.  With that, we form a number seven with the bent leg in front, and the other leg stretched straight behind. Then, when we are ready, we fold over the front leg with arms outstretched on the floor. This folding enables us to stretch the hips and leg muscles while also lengthening and strengthening the spine.

Half Pigeon is well recognized as a great hip opener, and the hip chakra is where our emotions reside. At the same time, Half-Pigeon Pose also stimulates the Heart Chakra, or anahata. You may have heard about the seven chakras, the seven wheels of energy in the body – starting at the head and continuing down to the base of the spine. These two chakras are key to the importance and benefits of pigeon in my life. But … more on this later. First, a little on the physical manifestation of pigeon.

If our hips or muscles are tight, or even if we’re already flexible but working to open up even further, Half Pigeon involves some struggle against tight muscles. At the same time, it is a position of surrender, as we fold forward and allow gravity to pull us down closer to the ground or mat. What’s more, in order to find the stretch, you must breathe and relax the body down – and the more the muscles soften and stretch, the more you can surrender and relax in the pose. It’s a two-way dynamic.

Seven years after my own cancer diagnosis, I understand the concept of struggle and surrender all too well. Hearing some version of “you have cancer” immediately puts us into warrior mode,  so necessary as we prepare for the battle with cancer. At the same time, my cancer diagnosis also taught me acceptance. While I struggled to understand how cancer had invaded my body, I ultimately had to surrender to the existence of it. That doesn’t mean surrendering to the cancer (just the opposite … I fought hard and underwent difficult treatments to rid my body of it!), it just means surrendering to the fact of it. Like it or not, I will always be someone with a cancer diagnosis in my history. Pigeon Pose helps me to experience life through the mat – living with both surrender and struggle, learning to balance and to enable these two seemingly contradictory experiences to exist at the same time, so key to coping with cancer.

And yet, this seeming dialectic of struggle and surrender, fight and accept, is just one aspect that I appreciate about Pigeon Pose.

Because Pigeon Pose opens up the hip chakra and stimulates the heart chakra while simultaneously lengthening the spine, the pose also helps me to access my emotions while also enabling me – literally and figuratively – to stand upright and strong.

When faced with a cancer diagnosis, many of us are in for the fight of our lives – and we may have to shut down our emotions for a time in order to cope with the fight. Eventually, our emotions catch up with us, and we must find ways to deal with them. Anxiety and depression are highly prevalent among cancer survivors, and moving our bodies can help us address some of these emotional challenges. For me, Half Pigeon is one form of mind-body work that helps me accomplish this. On many occasions, as I settle into the pose, I find myself teary-eyed, or even sobbing, as Half-Pigeon opens up the channels to my emotions.

As I mentioned earlier, Half Pigeon helps us open up the hip chakra and stimulate the heart chakra.

When spinning properly, each chakra allows Qi energy to flow through the body. If these wheels of energy become blocked by stress, anxiety or emotional upheaval, your well-being can suffer, both physically and mentally.

When the heart chakra is in healthy alignment you will feel surrounded by love, compassion, and joy and connected to the world around you. You will feel open to all experiences in life, and it will feel like challenges, especially in relationships, flow through you and are resolved with ease. An open heart chakra allows us to see all of the beauty and love around us, and truly connect to ourselves, our loved ones, and the natural world. This chakra also helps direct love back to ourselves to truly be able to love and accept ourselves and our bodies. For those of us that have had major changes to our bodies as a result of cancer treatment, this is so important.

Further, the hips are often referred to as the body’s emotional junk drawer, and the hip region is connected to the sacral chakra, where we access creativity and relate to our own emotions. Understanding the mind-body connection is key here – people with trauma or other mental health conditions often experience physical symptoms as well. A blocked sacral chakra can lead to emotional instability as well as reductions in pleasure. When the hips are tight and contracted, it’s possible that sacral energy that’s not expressed remains stuck. The hip is one of the largest and most unique joints in the human body, responsible for bearing weight, stabilizing the core, and moving the upper leg.  The tighter your hips, the less mobility your body has. Now extend these concepts to our psychological flexibility and mobility and it makes sense that the sacral chakra, at the core of our body, is so important to our physical and emotional well-being.

So – by engaging me in both struggle and surrender, while simultaneously opening me up to access, relate to, and release emotions, Half Pigeon Pose is my favorite yoga pose. I love to do it … every single day … helping to ensure my physical and emotional well-being. 

Through yoga and other forms of exercise, I continuously move myself – and others – toward a better outcome.

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