The Swan and Sleeping Swan Poses in Yin Yoga

Swan and Sleeping Swan Pose in Yin Yoga

The Swan and Sleeping Swan are two very prominent poses in Yin yoga. Learn about these two powerful poses are and how you can add them to your yoga sequence.

Intro to Swan and Sleeping Swan Pose

Swan and Sleeping Swan are asanas (poses/postures) in Yin yoga that are similar to the Hatha yoga poses Kapotasana (pigeon) and Raja Kapotasana (sleeping pigeon). Practicing these postures helps improve the external rotation of the front leg and lengthens the hip flexors and hamstrings of the back leg.

In the case of the Swan pose, a bonus is improving the extension of the lumbar spine thereby improving the overall function of the lower body.

Swan and Sleeping Swan Pose in Yin Yoga

In Yin yoga, many asanas are similar to Hatha Yoga. The difference is that in Yin, the poses are done passively and held for a longer duration of time. It means you don’t contract your muscles to get into a pose. Instead, you relax your muscles and rely on gravity.

Doing this stretches not just the superficial muscles but also the tendons, ligaments, and fascia. Additionally, the names of the postures are intentionally different to avoid confusion.

Practicing the Swan and Sleeping Swan asanas in Yin yoga unclogs the kidney, liver, stomach, spleen, and gall bladder meridians. Clearing these meridians can improve a person’s health by allowing the Qi (energy) to flow freely.

Top Swan and Sleeping Swan Pose Mistakes and how to Avoid them

The Swan and Sleeping Swan poses are not easy to execute, especially for beginners. Because of that, mistakes can happen. Here are some of the common mistakes.

Putting Too Much Pressure on the Back Knee

Beginner yoga practitioners tend to put too much pressure on the back knee when practicing the Swan and Sleeping Swan. However, doing so may cause strain and injury to your joints.

To avoid this, tuck the toes of the back foot and lift the knee off the ground. Then press the heel to the back, move the hips slightly forward and gently bring the leg down.

Putting Most of the Weight on One Side of The Hip

Another common mistake beginners make is letting one side of the hip take all the weight. You will notice this as you lean on one side of the hip and your shoulder on that side is elevating.

To avoid this, put a prop (a rolled-up towel or a block) under the front thigh.

Hyper-extending the Lower Back

In the Swan pose, the lumbar spine extends to keep the chest open. However, many people hyper-extend their lower back. Going beyond the normal range of motion of the lumbar spine, which is 25 to 30 degrees, can lead to compression.

To avoid this, put a block or a rolled-up blanket under the front thigh or come into a Sleeping Swan position.

Folding Far Too Forward Too Fast

You fold forward from the Swan Pose into a Sleeping Swan pose. It takes the backbend off the asana. However, most people fold too far forward and too fast when their bodies are not ready for it yet.

Remember that in Yin yoga, you hold your poses for at least three minutes.

Take your time in getting into a pose. Don’t put your forehead down right away. Instead, rest your forearms on the ground in front of you.

Once you feel more comfortable in this variation of Sleeping Swan, you can remove the blocks, extend your arms, and rest your head on top of a block. Later on, try removing the block and relaxing your forehead directly on the ground.

How to do Swan and Sleeping Swan Pose?

You can get into the Swan and Sleeping Swan poses in many ways. The most common and beginner-friendly entry points are the Tabletop and Downward Facing Dog.

To do the Swan pose:

  • From your chosen entry point, either a Tabletop or a Downdog, bring the right knee towards the right tricep or elbow. Then externally rotate the right hip by opening the right knee to the side.
  • Bring the right knee and the right foot down to the mat.
  • Gently straighten the left leg and rest the leg and right sitting bone on the ground.
  • Stay in this position for at least 3 minutes.

Variations:

You can vary the Swan pose, or any yoga pose, to accommodate your body’s unique biomechanics. Here are some modifications you can do:

  • If your sitting bones don’t reach the floor when your back leg extends, put a block or anything that will prop you up under your front glute.
  • If your chest leans too far forward, use your fingertips to push the ground away. Another option is to rest your palms on top of some yoga blocks or any prop.

How to Do the Sleeping Swan Pose

To do the Sleeping Swan pose:

  • Start by doing the Swan pose as instructed above.
  • Once you feel stable in your pose, lean forward, extend your arms, and bring your forehead and arms down to the mat.
  • Stay in this pose for three minutes or longer.

Variations:

  • Bring your forearms down if your forehead and arms don’t reach the mat.
  • Rest your palms or forearms on top of blocks if they don’t come down the mat.

Caution:

People with hip and knee injuries should avoid doing these poses.

Benefits of Swan and Sleeping Swan Pose

Greater Hip Mobility

In the Swan and Sleeping Swan poses, the front hip’s external rotation increases, while the hip flexor of the back leg lengthens. Therefore, practicing these asanas regularly can improve the mobility of your hips. In addition, these poses are great for people who sit for a long period.

Healthier Lumbar Spine

The Swan pose requires you to extend your low back. Extending the low back improves its range of motion. It lowers the risk of lumbar spine injury and relieves pain.

Release of Negative Emotions

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the inspiration behind Yin Yoga’s philosophy. Thus, this style of yoga emphasizes the meridian lines or your Qi. The Swan and Sleeping swan poses improve the flow of Qi in your liver, kidney, lungs, and spleen meridian lines.

When the Qi cannot flow freely in these meridian lines, TCM believes it can cause feelings such as sadness, anger, and grief. Therefore, stimulating these lines will release the said emotions.

Incorporating the Swan Pose and Sleeping Swan Pose into Sequences

There is no perfect yoga sequence. However, there are two ways to incorporate these poses:

  • Use Swan and Sleeping Swan as the peak poses.

If you choose this option:

  • Practice the Swan pose first as it’s the more active because of the backbend.
  • Don’t forget to warm up first. Do at least three rounds of Sun Salutations and some gentle hip openers to prepare.

Gentle Hip Prep Poses

Sukhasana/Easy Pose

This seated yoga asana is a simple yet effective posture to practice before doing other asanas. It prepares the spine and the hip joints and also your mind for yoga practice.

How to get into the pose:

  • Sit down with your legs fully extended and your spine straight and tall.
  • Then cross your ankles or shins and place your hands on your lap.
  • Stay in this pose for 2 to 5 mins, or longer if you are a seasoned yoga practitioner.
  • Once done, lean back and straighten your legs, shaking them gently if they feel numb.

Variations:

  • If you cannot keep your spine straight, sit on a cushion or pillow to elevate the hips.
  • If you feel the tension in your groins, put a prop under your knees to elevate them.

Baddha Konasana/Supta Baddha Konasana

The Baddha Konasana pose externally rotates your hips. Thus, it’s an excellent preparatory pose for Swan and Sleeping Swan.

How to get into the pose:

  • Sit on the mat or top of a cushion or block.
  • Extend both your legs forward.
  • Then gently bring the soles of your feet together close to your groin.
  • Stay in this pose for three to five minutes.

 Variations:

  • Do the pose in a reclined position if you cannot keep your back straight.

Utthan Prithasana

Also known as Dragon Pose, Utthan Prithasana is another asana that will prepare the hips for practicing the Swan or Sleeping Swan Pose.

How to get into this pose:

  • You can enter into the Dragon Pose from Downward Facing or Tabletop. Step the right foot outside your right hand from any of these poses.
  • Bring your left knee down while keeping the hips in a neutral position.
  • Next, bring the forearms down to the mat.
  • Stay in this asana for 3 to 5 mins. Then do it on the other side.

Variations:

  • If the knee hurts, place a blanket or towel under it.
  • If the hands or forearms cannot reach the mat, put them on top of some yoga blocks or books.

Salamba Bhujangasana

Sphinx pose or Salamba Bhujangasana is a gentle backbend. Practice this pose to prepare the lumbar spine before doing the Swan pose.

How to get into the pose:

  • Lay down on your belly with the arms and legs fully extended.
  • Bend the elbows and bring them under the shoulders to lift the chest. Keep your collar bones broad as you stay in this pose.
  • Stay in this posture for three to five minutes.

Variations:

  • If the Sphinx pose feels uncomfortable on the lower back area, slide the forearms forward and rest on your ribs.
  • If the head feels too heavy to hold up, place it on a block.

Anahatasana

The Swan pose requires back bending. Thus it’s best to warm up the back before attempting this pose. Anahatasana will help you prepare your back for this pose.

How to get into the pose:

  • Start with the tabletop position with your knees and hands on the mat.
  • Walk your hands forward until the forehead reaches down to the ground. Keep the knees on top of your hips.
  • Stay in this posture for 3 to 5 mins.

Variations:

  • If your forehead cannot reach the mat, put a block under it.
  • If you feel a compression in your shoulders, open the arms wider.
  • If your knees hurt, put a blanket or a towel under them.
  • If the chest can’t reach the ground, place a bolster or pillow under it.
  • Use Swan and Sleeping Swan poses to work your way to a deeper hip-opening pose.

As established, the Swan and Sleeping Swan poses are hip openers. Thus, you can incorporate it in a sequence that focuses only on increasing the flexibility of your hips. In addition, you can use it to prepare the body for deeper hip opening asanas, such as:

Square Pose/Double Pigeon Asana

The Square pose, also known as Double Pigeon, is an intense hip opener. As the name suggests, it’s similar to a pigeon pose, which is the counterpart of Swan pose in Hatha Yoga. So you can sequence your yoga practice to use Swan and Sleeping Swan to prepare for Double Pigeon.

How to get into this pose:

  • Sit down on the ground with your legs fully outstretched. Make sure your weight is distributed evenly on both your sitting bones.
  • Bend the right knee and bring your right ankle on top of the left knee.
  • Then bend the left knee and bring the left ankle under the right knee.
  • Stay in this asana for three to five mins. Repeat with the right shin under the left.

Variations:

  • If the knee can’t come down your ankle, rest it on top of a block or some rolled-up towels.

 Mandukasana

You can also use the Swan and Sleeping Swan poses to prepare the lower body for an intense external hip rotation movement, like the Mandukasana.

How to get into this pose:

  • Start with the Tabletop position.
  • Open the knees as wide as possible, making sure the knees and ankles are in a parallel position. You can stay in this position or bring your forearms down.
  • Stay in this position for three to five minutes.

Variations:

  • Put blankets under the knees if they hurt.
  • Put blocks or books under if you cannot bring the forearms or palms on the mat.

Bottom Line

Both Swan and Sleeping Swan are powerful asanas to incorporate into your Yin yoga sequences. Regular practice of these postures can help you improve your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. To gain deeper insights to these poses, you should see our Online Yin Yoga Course here.

4 sources
  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2005290110600143
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/ways-to-balance-qi-for-health
  3. https://www.parkhillchiro.com/post/55176-what-is-normal-range-of-motion-in-the-neck-and-low-back
  4. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/traditional-chinese-medicine-what-you-need-to-know
Meera Watts
Meera Watts is the owner and founder of Siddhi Yoga. She is known around the world for her thought leadership in the wellness industry and was also recognized as a Top 20 International Yoga Blogger. Her writing on holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes and other international magazines. Meera is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist, though now she focuses primarily on leading Siddhi Yoga, blogging and spending time with her family in Singapore.

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