Thanks to its resemblance to half pigeon pose, eka pada galavasana (which roughly translates to “one-legged pose dedicated to the sage Galava”) is often referred to as “flying pigeon.” Like half pigeon, it tends to elicit either exclamations of delight or groans of displeasure in a yoga class—it’s a pretty polarizing pose!
Your feelings about flying pigeon on any given day might depend on how tight your hips and hamstrings feel. (Case in point: Most of the time I really like this pose. But on mornings when I’ve gone for a pre-yoga hike or run? Not so much.) Your ability to embrace the pose might also depend on your relationship with arm balances in general. If you’re worried about falling on your face (a healthy, reasonable fear!) it may not be your favorite at the moment. And, let’s be honest, attempting to lift and extend that bottom leg can be incredibly frustrating! First, there’s the matter of actually getting the foot off the floor. Then, if you manage to do that, extending that leg poses its own set of challenges: It often throws off your balance, which takes us back to the whole “falling on your face” matter.
That’s where props can be particularly useful. They can make the pose more accessible by giving you a little extra lift or support, and they can help to alleviate fear. And if you happen to be in the “I love eka pada galavasana!” camp, they might also allow you to experience the pose in new ways, offering fresh insights into an old favorite.
While there are dozens of ways to prop or vary flying pigeon, I’m particularly fond of the four variations below because they require only blocks and/or a little wall space—all of which are readily available in most yoga spaces. (If you don’t have blocks, substitute some thick books.)
Before You Begin
As you (hopefully) would before attempting any arm balance, make sure you’re warmed up before practicing eka pada galavasana. It’s a particularly good idea to practice some hip openers, hamstring stretches, and forward bends along with a few wrist stretches and anything else your body needs to prepare for balancing on your hands. (I offer some specific suggestions in this article along with instructions and tips for the unsupported version of the pose.)
This is a great variation if getting your hands flat on the floor is a challenge (a common struggle if your hips are on the tighter side). I also find that having my hands up a little higher makes it easier for me to keep my “chaturanga alignment” in the pose (i.e., I’m not as likely to let my shoulders dip below my elbows, which generally decreases stability). You can place your hands on blocks for any of the variations that follow, but to begin with we’ll explore using them in the more traditional eka pada galavasana setup.
Begin by standing at the top of your mat in tadasana (mountain pose) with your feet hip distance apart and parallel and your blocks lengthwise and on their lowest setting, a few inches in front of your toes.
Place your hands on your hips. Bend your left knee and lift it toward your chest, keeping your right leg straight and your spine tall. Keeping your “hip points” (ASIS) facing forward, turn your left thigh out—(but only as much as you can without also opening your pelvis to the left). Now, flexing your left foot, cross your left ankle over your right thigh and sit your hips back to come into a one-legged chair pose (also known as “standing figure four”).
If you like, you can reach your arms up alongside your ears as in chair pose, or bring your hands to your heart.
For some bonus hip opening, you might stay here and balance for a few breaths—perhaps even coming out and switching sides before venturing into eka pada galavasana.
When you’re ready to explore eka pada galavasana, while keeping a long spine, begin to hinge your torso forward and sit your hips back a bit more, eventually bringing your hands to the blocks (your hands should be about shoulder distance apart, so adjust your blocks if needed). Your spine will round a bit here, which is fine—it has to round for the arm balance!
Place your hands near the top of the blocks—if they’re too far back, it will be difficult to shift forward enough to lift your bottom foot off the floor. If you’d like, grip the top and sides of the blocks with your fingers and thumbs.
From here, work to hook your left foot around your right upper arm—as high up as you can. Lean forward so that you can press your left shin into your left upper arm. Gaze slightly forward. Then, shift your weight forward more, as you would to come into crow pose, coming high onto the ball of your right foot.
Then, see if you can squeeze your right heel in toward your seat, lifting that foot off the floor. Press your hands into the blocks, continuing to lift your body away from the floor. Remember your chaturanga alignment: shoulders higher than elbows!
Keeping your left foot hooked around your right tricep, see if you can extend your right leg back and up behind you. As you do so, continue pressing your hands into the blocks.
Note: If you’re worried about face-planting, come out of the pose and place a bolster or stack of blankets in front of you. Then, “crash pad” in place, set yourself back up and try again.
Aim to stay for three breaths, and then endeavor to come out of the pose with as much control as you came into it: Bend your right knee, place your right foot back on the floor, and return to your one-legged chair pose and then tadasana.
This variation is particularly useful if you’re struggling to lift your bottom foot off the floor. Here, as in the above variation, we’ll use blocks, but you can also do it with your hands flat on the floor.
Begin in tadasana facing away from the wall but close enough that your butt will almost touch it when you sit back in one-legged chair. As in the previous variation, place your blocks lengthwise on their lowest setting a few inches in front of your toes.
Come into one-legged chair with your left ankle crossed over your right thigh, and then hinge forward and place your hands on the blocks; your seat will likely touch the wall at this point, which is fine.
Work to wrap your left foot around your right arm—as high up as you can. Press your left shin into your left upper arm, as close to your armpit as possible (your seat will probably move away from the wall as you do this). Keeping your left foot hooked around your right tricep and your gaze slightly forward, begin to shift forward more, coming high onto the ball of your right foot.
Then (maybe!) float the ball of your right foot off the floor and onto the wall, at about the same height as your hips. If your left foot starts slipping down your right arm significantly, come out of the pose and move a little closer to the wall. With the ball of your right foot on the wall, press your hands into the blocks for stability, as if pressing the ground away from you. Keep your shoulders higher than your elbows.
You can keep your right foot on the wall or experiment with shifting your weight forward a little more to lift your toes away from the wall. You won’t be able to extend your right leg back in this variation, but you will still get a sense of what it feels like to be airborne!
Stay for a few breaths, and then place your right foot back onto the floor, returning to one-legged chair and then tadasana.
Once you feel comfortable with variation I and can float your foot off the wall for a few breaths, try practicing farther away from the wall—far enough so you can extend your leg behind you and place that foot on the wall.
This is a particularly great variation to work with if you’re able to lift your bottom foot off the floor but have difficulty holding the pose with your leg extended.
Finding your ideal distance from the wall for this variation may require a bit of trial and error. A pretty good starting place is to sit with your back against the wall and stretch your legs out in front of you (like dandasana, or staff pose). Note where your heels land, perhaps marking that spot with a yoga strap. If you’re practicing with blocks under your hands, you could even place the blocks lengthwise on either side of your feet, with the near ends of the blocks a little bit behind your heels.
Then, come to tadasana with your toes a couple of inches behind where your heels were. (If you’re using blocks, your toes will be about an inch behind your blocks.) Personally, I’ve found that if I err on the side of being just a little closer to the wall than I think I should be, I’ll be positioned perfectly.
If you’re using blocks, stand with your right foot an inch or so behind and between them. To set up, cross your left ankle over your right thigh and sit back into one-legged chair pose. Hinge forward with a long spine, and plant your hands on the blocks or on the floor in front of you, shoulder width apart. Note that if your hands are too close to your feet, it will be difficult to get your bottom foot off the floor (so if you’re not using blocks, you’ll want to place your hands several inches in front of you).
Hook your left foot around your right upper arm and press your left shin into your left upper arm. Gaze slightly forward and, keeping your left foot wrapped high up around your right tricep, begin to shift forward more, coming high onto the ball of your right foot.
Then, float the ball of your right foot up and squeeze your right heel in toward your seat.
From there, stretch your right leg behind you and place the entire sole of your right foot on the wall with your heel at about hip height. If your entire foot doesn’t come to the wall, come down and start a little closer to the wall. If you can’t straighten your right leg when the sole of your foot is on the wall (or you feel you might face-plant if you did), or if you otherwise feel you’re being pushed too far forward, come down and start a little farther away from the wall.
Once you’ve found your ideal distance, aim to stay in the pose for a few breaths, pushing the floor away from you with your hands and maintaining your chaturanga alignment.
If comfortable, you can also work to float your back foot off the wall. Continue pushing the floor away from you and shifting forward just a little more, until your foot lifts away from the wall!
When you’re ready to come out, bend your right knee and place your right foot back on the floor, returning to one-legged chair and then tadasana.
Similar to the first wall variation, this version gives your bottom foot some extra height that might make lifting it a little easier—along with the freedom to stretch your leg back and up behind you from the get-go.
I’ve found that the trickiest aspect of this variation is figuring out how to get my standing foot onto the block. Whether you begin by standing on it or hop up onto it after setting up for the pose, it’s going to be a little awkward (perhaps that’s why so many tutorials on eka pada galavasana—including ones that I have written—simply suggest “elevating your back foot on a block” without actually explaining how to get the block underfoot!). Here are two ways to try, but you may discover something else entirely that works for you. (And if so, would you let me know in the comments?)
Option one: Hop onto the block.
Stand in tadasana with a block (on its lowest setting—lengthwise or widthwise) in front of your right foot. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh to come into one-legged chair pose. From there, lean forward and plant your hands, shoulder width apart or slightly wider, several inches or more in front of the block. (If your hands are too close to the block, it will be difficult to hop up onto it and to shift into the pose once you’re on it.)
From there, hop the ball of your right foot up onto the block.
Option two: Start standing on the block.
Place a block lengthwise on its lowest setting near the front of your mat. (This will make it easier to stand on.) Stand on the block with your right foot. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh and sit back into one-legged chair pose.
Then, lean forward and plant your hands on the floor to set up for the arm balance. Once you get into this prep position, you may also want to hop your right foot back a little so that the ball of your foot is centered on the block.
From here, begin to lean forward, coming high onto the ball of your right foot (if you’re not there already), and hooking your left foot high up onto your right upper arm. Press your left shin into your left upper arm and lean forward a bit more.
You can keep your right toes on the block for a supported variation of flying pigeon, or continue to shift forward, perhaps floating your toes off the block and squeezing your right heel in toward your seat. Continue to push the floor away with your hands. Keep your shoulders higher than your elbows and your gaze slightly forward.
Stay here or continue to shift your weight forward, more into your fingertips, and see if you can extend your right leg behind you.
Stay for three breaths if you’re able, then bend your right knee and return your foot to the block. Be sure to switch sides.
This version is also a good one if you’re struggling to lift your bottom foot. And it can be particularly useful for those who may be able lift their bottom foot but find extending the leg challenging. There’s also a pretty sweet strength drill you can explore from this position (more on that later).
Begin standing in tadasana with a yoga block, at its tallest, narrowest setting, just in front of your right toes. Come into one-legged chair pose with your left ankle crossed over your right thigh, sitting your hips back, and placing your hands on the floor in front of the block.
Hook your left foot around your right upper arm, and press your left shin against your left upper arm. Gaze slightly forward.
From here, place your right knee on the block and lift your right foot off the floor. Keep your left foot firmly hooked around your right tricep. Press your hands into the floor and maintain your chaturanga alignment.
You can stay here or, as you press into the floor, see if your can lift your right knee off the block, squeezing your right heel in toward your seat!
Stay here or extend your right leg behind you. You might find that extending your leg is a little easier from this setup because the block automatically gives you some extra lift.
Stay for a few breaths, and then come out with control—maybe even bringing your shin back onto the block before returning to one-legged chair and then tadasana.
As I alluded to earlier, there’s a useful strength drill that you can practice from this setup. It’s a particularly useful prep for flying pigeon, but also for building strength for arm balances in general:
Once your bottom knee is on the block, press into your hands and try to lift it off the block. Then lower it back down and repeat four more times. Return to one-legged chair, tadasana, and then switch sides.
After giving these variations a try, perhaps you’ll discover one that’s ideal for you. Or maybe any or all of them will serve as inspiration for you to come up with an eka pada galavasana that’s all your own—and that could even help you to soar higher than you ever imagined you could.
Photography: Andrea Killam