I’m about to deviate from the hip series yet again. I know, I know. But I really do think pigeon is a sufficiently involved posture to merit some further exploration. As a starting point, I keep going back to Yoga Anatomy’s assertion that the piriformis is stretched the most when it’s flexed, externally rotated, and adducted.
I investigated the rotation bit here; now I’m interested in adduction versus abduction. I’ve known a number of yoga teachers who teach the posture with the font hip abducted, so the thigh tracks wide of the hip socket. I’ve also known a number of yoga teachers who teach the posture with the front thigh tracking right in line with the hip socket, which — when the thigh is laterally rotated — means the thigh is at least slightly adducted. Most of all, I know a large number of yoga students — me included — who do one or the other (or who — me included — vacillate between options) without really understanding the anatomy behind it.
And while I don’t think the following video gives me complete anatomical understanding (all the tiny little hip rotator muscles? where are they in this abduction versus adduction business?), it is a very good start:
[Hope Zvara instructing. Video via YouTube.]
I’ve done the abdominal and pelvic floor engagement thing for a while, so that part is not exactly new to me. I won’t say I’ve never collapsed into my low back during pigeon, but I’m pretty confident I’ve avoided the error since I first started trying this expression of it. Strange as it sounds on the surface, I’ve found it to be generally unwise to rely primarily on one’s back muscles while entering a deeper backbend. Pelvic floor and abdominal engagement are musts for my king pigeon, and they’ve followed me as default settings into the more common pigeon as well.
As for the femur angle in the socket, that is not something I’d previously considered. I was honestly a little skeptical at first because generally, when my femur hits against part of its socket — hello, bound angle! — I feel it very locally inside my hip socket, rather than in, say, my sacrum or sciatic nerve. But then I went, “Hey, isn’t it you who does not understand about the interplay between hip flexion and rotation and adduction and all that stuff? Why don’t you maybe shut up and try it?” And so I did.
Because when I even tell myself to shut up, I probably mean business.
And you know?
It did feel different.
Before, I would never have described the hip-abducted version as “pinching” — and to be fair, I probably still wouldn’t — but the sensation was definitely more localized compared to the adducted version. That is, for a hip-abducted pigeon, I feel the sensation almost exclusively in the band right around my hip crease. There is sometimes mild sensation along my glute and/or my IT band — but it’s not always present, and if it is, it’s never particularly noticeable.
With the hip adducted version, the overall intensity level decreases. However, I’m not sure if that’s because the sum total of the sensation is less or because it’s spread out over more butt. Er, more muscle and surface area. This is the version I feel predominantly in my glutes — couldn’t say which ones, maybe all three — somewhat in my hamstring, and somewhat along my IT band.
I have to say, the adducted version did feel more productive for me. It’s easier to feel the muscle relaxing, and with a longer hold, I end up with more purposeful shape changes, moving deeper into the posture. I also find that I have less fidgeting and less of an impulse to fidget.
My only complaint is one of proportions. With the abducted version, my torso ends up folding over my lower shin in an uncomplicated fashion. No big deal. However, with hip adduction, there’s boobs and belly and thigh all trying to make peace with a forward fold. I still have some sorting out to do there.