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Asana of the Month: 08
Utthita Trikonasana ~ Extended Triangle Pose

Triangle is for me the quintessential standing pose. It requires strength in the legs, openness in the hips and torso, good alignment, and the extension of energy through the spine and limbs. Consequently it strengthens the arches, ankles, legs (especially the quadriceps) and buttocks. TRIANGLE POSETrikonasana also stretches the thighs, spine and sides of the torso.

And because it releases the hips and spinal column and opens the abdominal area, this pose can relieve back pain and improve digestion and elimination. Triangle even strengthens the neck by making the muscles there work to keep the head aligned while it's in a horizontal position. Not bad at all for a single pose! Plus, because it requires a firm grounding through the feet, trikonasana builds a sense of steadfastness and fortitude you can take with you to other parts of your life. Like the pyramids that share the triangle's power, you can then remain strong, stable and tranquil no matter what happens around you.

Images by Nancy Van Kanegan
senior teacher at the Chicago Yoga Center
No use without written permission

Practice Tips:

Start by taking a wide stance - you can jump into it if you like - with the feet facing forward, roughly one leg's length apart (3 feet or so) and the arms extended horizontally to the sides. Lift your left heel and take it back so the foot turns inward a bit, without letting your left hip turn in (keep resisting it back and open). Pivoting on the right heel, lift your right toes and turn them out until the foot is facing 90 degrees to the right. As you do this, rotate the right leg out from the inner side, and make sure your right knee turns out too so it faces the middle of the foot. Your right heel should be in line with the arch of the left foot. This is the base of your triangle.

Take a big inhale and open your heart. As you exhale, soften and release your weight down through your legs into your feet. Feel the whole bottom of each foot in contact with the earth. From this base (the soles of your feet) inhale and draw the muscles gently in toward the bones and up along them into the center of the pelvis. Be sure to lift the arches, calves and kneecaps and resist the top of the right shin forward to keep from jamming into the back of the knee. (I like to think of this as a tiny two-micron bend in the knee.) With an exhale, extend energy from your pelvis down through the leg bones, rooting your feet more firmly into the earth. Press down the ball mount of the right big toe and feel the energy come out the outer edge of the left foot. Keep your legs humming with energy, but not so hard you tire out before you get into the pose.

Energize your arms by opening the hands and drawing muscle energy along the bones from your fingertips into your heart center. Then exhale energy back through the bones, expanding them and extending them through the muscles like a hand through a glove. Keep the front of the armpits and collarbones rolling up and back and your heart open and lifting. Staying open in front, take the ribs and sides of the waist back and open the heart in back as you bring the spine and tail bone in. (When you come into the pose, your ribs may want to jut forward, so keep resisting them back.)

With an inhale lift your heart and extend the spine up out of the pelvis. With an exhale pull the left hip back (I like to think of it as a hip-check to the left) and indent the right groin as you stretch sideways over the right leg. If you're flexible, bring the right fingertips or palm all the way to the floor outside your right leg, with the forearm against the shin (or loop the big toe for the Ashtanga version). Have your right arm perpendicular to the torso and in line with the left, which extends up in the opposite direction. If you're less flexible, rest the right hand on a block or on the ankle or shin. Roll the right shoulder back to stay open across the collarbones, and with the neck level (you may need to tuck the chin a bit to get it there) turn to look up at your left thumb, which should be in line with your mouth. You're now more or less into the pose.

To fine tune your alignment, make sure the shoulders are in line with your hips (not in front of them) and stacked over each other, and that your right sitting bone has not gone back out of line with the right heel. If so, root the tailbone in more and bring the shoulders back and hips forward. Keep your right ankle, knee and sitting bone in line, with the knee facing forward over the foot. Also, make sure that you have not collapsed the lower ribs and arched the top ones up in a bow shape. Keep lengthening the right side of the torso from the hips to the armpit and bring the left ribs down to keep both sides of the rib cage even.

Now go inside. Rotate the belly, heart, lungs and core to the left and upward. As you inhale draw the energy up from your base to the pelvic energy center. As you exhale, shoot it out through your spine and limbs. Press the heel and outer edge of the back foot down and extend out through the crown of your head. Push into the right hand and shoot the energy out your left fingertips. Let the breath do the pose. The more grounded and connected you become, the more open, light and peaceful you'll be.

When you're ready to come out, press into the right foot and with an inhale let your left fingers pull you up. Turn the feet to center as you exhale, lower the arms, and release. Take a breath or two, noticing how you feel. Then do the other side, reversing the instructions. For starters, 5-8 breaths in the pose will probably be enough. Eventually you'll actually want to hold trikonasana for a minute or two and enjoy how stable and free this pose makes you feel.

Text by Tim Noworyta
senior teacher at the
Chicago Yoga Center

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