Whether you want to add some variety to your home practice, or offer your students a fun new asana adventure, working toward a peak pose can be an interesting way to change things up and spend a little extra time with poses and actions within those poses that you might not normally focus on.
A peak pose certainly doesn't have to be super-hard or fancy—you could even make it tadasana (mountain pose) or shavasana (corpse pose). But there's nothing wrong with building up to a challenging peak pose either! Working toward a challenging asana (whatever "challenging" means for you) can be both humbling and empowering, and (when taught and practiced safely and appropriately) an amazing tool for self-discovery and moving beyond self-imposed limitations.
One of my favorite peak poses to work toward is eka pada galavasana, an arm balance that is often dubbed "flying pigeon," as it has the appearance of an airborne eka pada rajakapotasana (one leg king pigeon pose).
Prepare for Flying Pigeon with Poses Like:
Similar to crow pose, eka pada galavasana requires you to round your low back like in a cat stretch as you come into the pose. As you round up into cat stretch in your warm-up, press your hands down and forward—like you're pushing the floor away from you—to bring more stretch into your lower back.
Chaturanga is an essential arm-balance prep for cultivating both core stability and healthy shoulder alignment.
A few hamstring curls from all fours or downward facing dog
When you come into the arm balance, you'll have to squeeze the back heel of the lifting leg in toward your seat (an action which makes "liftoff" more contained and accessible), and then extend the leg up and back from there. Practicing this action in a simpler, more familiar pose first is an excellent way to prep for flying pigeon.
Other favorite asanas that activate and stretch the hamstrings and glutes
Think leg lifts from all fours, locust variations, warrior III, reverse table and purvottonasana, standing splits, pyramid pose or straightening the front leg in lunge, ardha hanumanasana, and supta padangushthasana.
Ardha navasana (half boat pose)
Use half boat to build core strength (essential for arm balances) and to practice drawing the sides of the waistline back, rounding the low back, while lifting and expanding through the chest as you will in flying pigeon.
Kakasana (crow pose)
Many of the key actions required for flying pigeon (rounding the back, shifting the weight forward, pushing the floor away) are also necessary in crow, making it an excellent precursor.
Eka pada rajakapotasana or a supine pigeon
It's always a good idea to take the shape on the ground before taking flight!
Flying Pigeon Step by Step
Standing at the top of your mat in tadasana, come into a "half chair" or "gentleman's chair" pose by flexing your right foot, crossing your right ankle over your left thigh, and sitting your hips back evenly like you would for chair pose. If you find your right hip is pulling forward of your left, draw the right outer hip back so that it's level with the left one. Bring your hands to your heart, or extend your arms straight forward or up alongside your ears. Feel free to stay here and balance for a few breaths if you like.
Bring your fingertips to the floor (or blocks) in front of you. Keep your right foot (especially the pinky-toe side) flexed, and keep your hips level. Engage your low belly.
Plant your hands on the floor and start to shift your weight forward a little, bending your elbows, bringing your right shin against your upper arms (as high up as you can!), wrapping your right foot around your left upper arm, and coming onto the ball of your left foot. Round your low back, but move your chest forward as you shift forward.
As your weight shifts forward, you may be able to squeeze your left heel in toward your butt. If this step has you stumped, you may find it helpful to practice with the ball of your left foot on a block. Even if your foot doesn't hover just yet, this extra little lift will help you get a sense of what the pose feels like when it's airborne!
From here, you may be able to extend your left leg back and up!
Draw the left side of your belly toward the right side of your belly to keep your pelvis from rolling open toward the left as you lift your leg. Gaze slightly forward—like you would for crow pose.
To Come Out of the Pose
Come out of the pose with as much control as you came into it: Bend your left knee, and place your left foot on the floor. Come back up onto your fingertips. Keeping your hips level, see if you can rise back up into gentleman's chair, then uncross your legs and return to mountain pose before repeating on the other side.
What to Do Next
I often find that, fun and strengthening as they are, arm balances can sometimes make me feel a little "bound up," which is why I love to practice a gentle, chest-opening backbend like bridge pose after. (To make it extra gentle, place a block under your pelvis for a restorative bridge.) From there, you can round out your practice with your favorite finishing poses, like supta baddha konasana, supine twists, happy baby pose, apanasana (knees-to-chest pose), and, of course, shavasana.
To experience a full practice that leads up to flying pigeon, check out my class Eka Pada Galavasana (Flying Pigeon).