Utthita Trikonasana is often considered an easy pose and is taught in a beginner's class as a matter of routine. Pshaw, you might be saying to yourself (and I really hope you are because it's a much underused expression), I can do Triangle Pose with ease. If anything, I'm overqualified. I should probably leave it to toddlers and/or people with bits missing.
Triangle is easy. Easy to get wrong and easy to hurt yourself. B&BY Yogis are sick of hearing me say this. You guys go put the kettle on; come back when I've given these nice people a talking to.
Here's a picture of Trikonasana done wrong:
And here's a picture of Trikonasana done right:
Because of the strong lateral spinal extension involved it's important we get the alignment right for our body, otherwise our lower back ~ and the SI joint in particular ~ is going to take the strain. The type of injuries caused by executing an over-enthusiastic Trikonasana has a tendency to niggle and overstay their welcome. If you have sciatica or a twisted pelvis, proceed with caution (further contraindications below).
Now I've scared you enough to respect this pose, here's how we get our shit together to master this gloriously expansive pose.
Warm up, as suggested below. You know the drill, yogis:
Lie on your back, legs straight out, inhaling arms overhead and exhaling them back down to your sides. Repeat x 5. Take your time opening those shoulders.
Bananasana. Lying on your back with hands down by your sides, lift the hips and place them a few inches to the left. Keeping the hips square to the ceiling, walk your legs as far over to the right as you can, then shift your upper body as far over to the right as you can taking your arms overhead making the shape of a *drum roll* banana! 5 slow breaths. Return to centre, realigning the hips. Repeat on other side.
Apanasana (Wind Relieving Pose). Gently draw your knees into your chest keeping the shoulders and sacrum on the floor. If your neck is happy, on an exhalation bring your nose towards your knees. Hold for 3 slow breaths, focusing on breathing through the back ribs. Gently lower.
Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II). I'm assuming you know what you're about here. Hold for 3 slow breaths before repeating on other side.
How to do Trikonasana
You will need: a chunky block (optional)
Enjoy the slide show above. Hover on each picture for a brief explanation.
1. Jump or step your legs wide apart facing the long edge of your mat (leg-length stride is ideal).
2. Turn your right foot a quarter-turn outwards so your toes face the short edge of your mat.
Turn the left foot slightly inwards. This is important. If the foot remains turned away from the direction of travel, you'll lose the ability to anchor the pose and laterally extend. Try lining up the front heel with the back instep but if this feels too wobbly move the back foot out to the side a little.
3. Place your block on its shortest end on the inside of your right foot (as you become more flexible you may be able to move it to the outside). You may or may not need it.
4. With curiosity, try to square the hips to the long edge of your mat. Avoid wrenching the hips around. Explore what space is available for this move and what impact it has on the front groin, inner knee and ankle. If there is any sense of torque in these joints, try lifting the front toes and resetting the foot. If there is still a pulling sensation, leave the hips unsquared.
5. Introduce a micro-bend in to the front knee. It's easy to strain a hamstring in this pose so focus on keeping the quads slightly engaged.
6. Inhaling, gently engage mula bandha as you take your arms out to shoulder height, feeling the spine lengthen upwards, opening the chest and extending through the crown. If you can, broaden the back waist, drawing in the front ribs and allowing the tailbone to lengthen down. Exhale, relax your shoulders away from your ears and feel open and light across the chest from fingertip to fingertip. Inhale.
7. Exhale, leading with your right hand extend over the right leg without rotating the pelvis down towards the mat. You'll feel a delicious stretch in your outer left hip. Ensure the right trunk remains long and unsquashed (tech term). Traditionally, we're trying to achieve and maintain length in both sides of the body. However, this isn't always possible so you may find your right side contracting and your spine side-flexing from the waist. That's fine.
8. Place your right hand lightly on your thigh or shin (avoid the knee), wherever is easiest to reach without losing the wonderful lateral extension you've created.
9. Inhale, place your left hand on your left hip. Root further into the left foot, opening the left hip a little more if available. Allow the left shoulder to follow this rotation, creating space around the neck.
10. If, and only if, the shoulder is rolled back, happy and open, try taking the arm up to 12 o'clock, palm facing forward. Rest your gaze lightly on your left thumb. Keeping the weight even between your feet and your legs engaged, the mula bandha lifted and the chest open, breathe easily and deeply for 3 breaths.
11. Ensuring that your core muscles are engaged, inhale back upright, exhale the arms down and shake out the legs ready to repeat on the other side. (Don't forget to swap the block over!)
1. Legs closer together. If you have very tight hamstrings you may want to practise this pose initially with a slightly shorter stride, focusing on lifting the thigh muscles to relax the hamstrings and maintaining a micro-bend in that front knee.
2. Leave the hips unsquared if it feels that you need to force them round. Look, it's not the end of the world after all ~ you will still be getting a lovely stretch just with a bit more twist from the waist. Remember, you'll have the added bonus of remaining injury free. If you force the hips square before the body is ready (and it may never be), this will place a horrible amount of pressure on the hips and SI joints ~ those two knobbly protusions either side of the spine where the sacrum joins the pelvis.
3. If you find your upper torso turning towards the floor, reengage through the outer edge of the back foot and/or place the lower hand higher up your leg. Don't let that flirty floor seduce you lower before you're ready.
4. If, even when your hip and chest is fully open, you find it uncomfortable to lift the arm, place your top hand on your hip instead. Don't leave your hand bobbing around like an injured crane fly. Let's respect those shoulders!
5. Look straight ahead or down rather than at the thumb if you have neck or inner ear issues.
You're ready for a progression when you are able to maintain a beautifully extended spine without the shoulder collapsing forward, when there is ease around the neck and the breath can come and go easily. Always be honest with yourself.
Here are some options:
1. Move the hand from the thigh onto the shin, or from the shin onto the block.
2. If the above is comfortable, try resting your fingertips or palm on the floor.
3. If that is comfortable, strongly engage the legs and mula bandha and find a sense of lift, internal support and lightness so that your bottom hand floats from the floor, palm facing forward. You should feel your torso lift enabling the top hip and chest to open more. Be warned ~ this is strong.
4. Bring the top arm overhead so it is in alignment with the ear, palm facing down. As above, this is strong and requires good grounding through the feet, internal lift from the mula bandha and open shoulders.
Lower back, sciatica, SI joint, shoulder and neck issues
High or low blood pressure, heart conditions
Inner ear issues
This isn't to say you should necessarily avoid Trikonasana all together. As always, play sensibly and modify as advised above, stopping immediately if there is pain or dizziness.
Have fun, fabulous yogis!