For the last 2 months or so, I’ve taken to using a block for support when I enter into half-pigeon. At first, I was doing this to relieve pressure on an injured knee, but as the weeks rolled by and I used the block consistently, I came upon new territory with the pose.
I still remember my first time so vividly! About 17 years ago I was in a “stretching” class at my martial arts studio (I now know that this class was actually a yoga class). When the teacher asked us to square our front shins to the mat and fold forward I had a distinct inner dialogue of “What the ___? Is he crazy?” My knee hovered about 12 inches off the ground and I looked around wondering why no one else was freaking out! Over time I learned to pull my foot in closer to my groin which enabled me to relax my knee to the floor and actually fold forward. YES! I made it into half-pigeon!
A few years later I had graduated to taking yoga classes at my local sports club. One Saturday morning, as the teacher described how to come into half-pigeon, my ego took hold. I was determined to make shin parallel to the front of my mat and sink into my hip. I was a martial artist, a lifelong athlete, and darnit… I should be able to do this! I forced my body into the shape and…. POP! Something deep within my hip had made it clear that I was not caring for my body. The injury was bad, and removed me from my beloved running.
After months of rehab and still not returning to the trail, I felt deteriorated, depressed and needed an athletic outlet. One day while driving home from work, I swerved into the parking lot of a local yoga studio I had passed many times. I signed up in an act of desperation! After one class I was hooked!
Now, after years of practicing in a heated yoga studio with knowledgeable teachers, I’ve learned to care for my body and allow it to open up over time. I now can come into half-pigeon and get my hips squared to the floor and sink in. BUT… not with my shin square to the front of my mat. And I carry so much protective tension in my body.
Here is where the block comes in!
I’ve discovered that I can truly bring my front foot into true north alignment. By this I mean it is parallel with the front of my mat. My hips are more square to the floor and front of my mat. I can keep my back leg engaged and bring ease to the rest of my body that was previously tensed up to prevent depth in my hips that could injure me.
All of this physical integrity and alignment is great, but how does it feel? Well, I’ve never felt such a productive stretch all the way down my IT Band. From hip to knee my leg is opening and able to release into the pose in a new way. There is WAY less pressure on my front knee which removes so much of the emotional stress that can come up with this intense pose. I am making progress toward being able to truly come into this pose without a block, and I’m ok with the fact that I don’t ever HAVE to!
My recommendation to any yogi at any level is to give this a try. Let this option work on you for a few weeks and see what you discover? Like everything in yoga, the benefit comes through repetition and consistency. Trying it once may not give you a ground breaking shift. Over time, however, you may notice access to opening that promotes new possibility.
Tip: Bring the block under your hip starting on the toaster setting. Square your shin to the front of your mat. Activate your back leg with your toes tucked under. After several breaths lower to the shortest block setting. After several more breaths, who knows? You may be ready for no block! The possibilities are endless!