Swan Pose vs. Pigeon Pose: What Are They?

Given the varying types and styles of yoga, there’s no surprise that there are duplicate poses with different names. In many cases, the pose looks the same but has different intentions. Take swan pose and pigeon pose, for example. Although the poses look the same, one prioritizes a deep release, whereas the other focuses on muscle activation. 

This article explains swan pose and pigeon pose to help you understand the minor (but significant) differences between the two, so continue reading to learn more!

Swan Pose

Swan pose and sleeping swan pose are two hip-opening poses common in Yin yoga. The pose requires solid hip mobility, as participants have one leg bent underneath them with the other leg back, essentially mimicking a half split. 

Sleeping swan pose is essentially a deeper variation of swan pose, wherein individuals rest their torsos over top of their bent front legs. These poses are restful and relaxing but can be very painful without good hip mobility.  So, if you’re new to yoga and have tight hips, you might want to try training these muscles to relax and encourage hip mobility with alternative poses. 

What Muscles Does Swan Pose Stretch?

In a swan pose, most people feel the stretch the most throughout their hip flexors and psoas. However, it can also stretch the quadriceps on the back leg, providing a nice, relaxing stretch for the body. 

If you advance the pose into a sleeping swan, you might feel the stretch through various portions of the upper body, such as the spine, arm, and neck muscles. This is because this pose requires you to elongate your upper body in a forward fold over the front leg. 

How To Do Swan Pose

  1. Start on a yoga mat in a downward dog position, with your hips high in the air and your body in an upside-down “V” pose. 
  2. Raise your left leg off the ground and bring your left knee toward your left wrist. Rotate your shin so it faces forward and is parallel with the front of the mat. 
  3. Slowly lower yourself down to the mat, keeping your back leg straight behind you. 
  4. Keep your right foot flexed and move your right knee outward so the knee is further out from your body. Lower your right buttocks to the ground if you can, or place a towel underneath to relieve pressure. 
  5. Position both hands underneath your shoulders, gently pressing your palms into the mat. Sit up straight, with your spine elongated and your eyes forward. 
  6. Breathe deeply as you hold the pose for 5-10 deep, slow breaths.  
  7. To achieve a sleeping swan pose, fold your upper body over your bent leg, stretching your arms out in front of you. Feel the stretch throughout your hips and quadriceps. 

Pigeon Pose

Like swan pose, pigeon pose is designed to stretch and open your hips. The move looks identical, with the front leg bent underneath the torso and the back leg extended straight. Participants can use pigeon pose to alleviate tight hips and back pain, as it elongates these areas. 

What Is An Alternative To Pigeon Pose?

Pigeon pose can be a tricky pose for individuals with tight hips. If you have stiff hips, you’ll likely find pigeon pose challenging or undoable, so you might want to start with a simpler alternative that is easier on your hip mobility. 

Here are a few alternatives to help improve hip mobility in all directions:

  • Bound Angle Pose: In this pose (similar to the butterfly pose in elementary school), you’re seated with bent legs and the soles of your feet against each other. Your knees extend out to each side, creating a sort of butterfly-wing shape with your legs. 
  • Low Lunge Variation: This pose is an excellent way to elongate your hip flexors without overly straining them. Start in a reverse lunge position with your back knee off the ground. Next, gently tuck your pelvis forward to stretch your hip flexor slowly. 
  • Cow Face Pose: This pose can be tricky but is a great way to target hip mobility. Start in a seated pose with your legs straight in front of you. Cross your right thigh over your left, ensuring your knees are stacked on top of each other. Bring your right heel back toward your hip, then pull your left heel back as well (if you’re comfortable). 
  • Double Pigeon Pose: If pigeon pose is too much for you, try this variation. Sit on your mat with your legs crossed. Place your right shin over your left, so each foot is stacked on the opposite knee. Keep your feet flexed as you maintain the pose, then lean forward to deepen the stretch. 

How To Do Pigeon Pose

To achieve pigeon pose, follow the same steps as outlined for swan pose. However, keep your body upright with your hands on the mat underneath your shoulders instead of bending in a forward fold over your front knee. Hold it for a few minutes or 5-10 deep breaths, as long as you feel comfortable.

Yoga Pigeon Pose

What Is The Difference Between Swan Pose And Pigeon Pose?

The pigeon pose and swan pose are the same poses, just with different names based on the type of yoga you’re doing. In Yin yoga, you’ll hear the pose referred to as swan or sleeping swan, whereas other yoga types refer to it as pigeon pose. 

The difference between the two is the intention. In Yin yoga, participants use the pose to release the muscles and work into deeper tissues for a relaxing stretch. On the flip side, other types of yoga may use pigeon pose to activate and work the muscles. 

Of course, some yoga instructors may utilize either set of guidelines, but the pose remains the same; the intention separates the two. 

Benefits Of Swan And Pigeon Poses

Incorporating swan and pigeon poses into your yoga routine can offer a range of benefits. Although the moves have different intentions, many of the benefits mirror the other. For example, both poses allow you to open and stretch the hip flexors, which aids in the mobility and flexibility of that joint. 

In addition, many believe these poses can support digestion via gentle stretching and careful movement of your lower abdomen. These movements and stretches can help with peristalsis, which is the movement of digested food through the intestinal tract. 

These poses can help you relieve lower tension in your back, so if you spend a lot of time sitting, you might want to incorporate these poses into your day. While pigeon pose can require active thoughts as you challenge your muscles in the pose, swan pose (especially sleeping swan) can be very relaxing, allowing you to find calm after a long day.