Sunday, December 25, 2011

VIDEO: Easy Proper Pigeon - a piriformis workout for the rest of us!




One of our more "obscure" muscles (in that, you're not really aware of it on a daily basis like your quads and hammies) is the piriformis. This muscle is located deep in your butt, running from the sacrum to the top of the thighbone.  It's one of the the many hip rotator muscles that collectively turn the hips and upper leg outward (called external rotation), and particularly for athletes, provides stability around the knee when twisting and changing direction.

If you sit in a chair, place the right ankle (flex that foot!) just south of the left knee and tip your body forward, you'll feel the piriformis wake up in that very spot. I call this the Piriformis Desk Jockey stretch, because it's an ideal thing to do at your desk. Sitting cross-legged also activates this muscle. 
Piriformis as viewed from behind.

The piriformis skates somewhat close to the infamous sciatic nerve - the one that often gives grief by sending shooting pains down the leg and sometimes numbing the butt.  This Wiki entry eviscerates the area impressively, showing how the nerve actually passes THROUGH this muscle for a certain percentage of the population. Stretching and strengthening this muscle is thought to help alleviate and and avoid sciatic pain.


Easy proper Pigeon pose: make a "box" with your arms to keep the front foot flexed

Apart from sitting cross legged, doing the Piriformis Desk Jockey and a further variation of the latter lying flat on your back (loads of Google images of these moves here) you can kick things up a notch by doing Pigeon Pose.

In its easiest form, it's simply lying face down with one leg tucked under your body, grounding the same side hip down on the mat. 

In its more advanced or "proper" form, the shin is parallel to the end of the mat - rather difficult for all but the most malleably-hipped humans.

I made the video above to illustrate an easy way to get into "proper" pigeon. As you can see I am one of these humans who aren't super open-hipped by design - I'm also one of the child ballerinas who could never really do the splits! None of this genetic stuff need stop you from getting a good approximation to the essence of any yoga move and reaping the benefits.

Yoga Journal describes a more usual way of getting into the pose here. If that's not easy for you, try it my way!

Lynette's Easy Proper Pigeon:

1. Bend the back leg completely
2. Bring front leg shin parallel to mat, flexing foot
3. "Box" that front leg in with the arms as shown below, keeping the front foot flexed to protect the knee
4. Keeping upper body low to the mat, manoeuvre it squarely over your front leg (with flexed foot!)
5. Now - with care - knee-toe the back leg to straighten it, with the entire front of the leg facing the mat. Don't over strain! Drop forehead to mat and exhale to deepen. Stay there a while, all the while "scootching" your back leg to be as straight and long as possible.
6. To come out, the first thing you must do is release the back leg completely, i.e. bend it acutely at the knee. This "unlocks" everything.
7. Stretch out and do the other side.

Just remember 3 things:

1. The FIRST thing you do going INTO the pose is bend the back leg completely.
2. Keep that front foot FLEXED (that's what the boxed arms are for) to protect the knee
3. The FIRST thing you do coming OUT of the pose is bend the back leg completely.

Happy piriforming/pigeoning! 

Lynette teaches Vinyasa for the rest of us at YoGanesh Manhattan