Utthita Trikonasana (extended triangle pose) is often the first place where many of us feel the inner geometry of yoga – the understanding that as we align ourselves physically, we also somehow bring our minds and emotions into alignment as well.
When we learn to balance the strength and stretch of the legs in triangle pose with the lightness and freedom of the arms and upper body, we become firmer on our feet, and more capable of balance off the mat too.
But tight hips and hamstrings can keep us away from true balance, at least until we learn where it lies. In the beginning, we tend to let the buttocks drop to the back body, while the upper body swings forward in compensation. This can feel like a safer position. In fact it restricts our spinal movement and keeps us trapped in a counter-balance.
Here’s one way to feel the correct action of the front buttock in triangle pose – an awareness that will also be helpful in Warrior II and extended side angle pose.
Stand with your back to the wall, heels two inches away from the wall. Have a chip foam block nearby. Take a wide stride. Check that your feet are still parallel. Rotate the left foot slightly in, right foot and thigh all the way around. Check that your front heel intersects with the middle of your back arch, and your front knee points straight ahead over the centre of your ankle and foot.
Now insert the chip foam block between your right buttock and the wall.
Firm both legs. Press into your left outer heel and your right big toe. Pull your right thigh muscles toward your hip crease, moving your thighbone deeper into your hip socket.
As you begin to hinge toward triangle pose, lift your buttock away from the chip foam block. Press it toward the front of your body. You’ve succeeded when the chip foam block drops to the floor.
Keep the buttock drawn in.
Now check that your head is in line with your front foot. Roll your shoulders back and rotate from your right ribcage toward the ceiling. Notice how having the buttock in the correct position frees your upper body.
Stay for two or three long, soft breaths. Come up on an inhalation.
Repeat on the left side.
Benefits: Triangle pose stretches and strengthens the legs and ankles, while it stretches the hips and groins. It also expands the ribcage and can bring relief to sore backs.
Working with a block at the wall teaches the sensation of moving the front-leg buttock forward. Once we find true balance and stretch inside it, the inner nature of the balance can reveal itself.
Sequence: Try Triangle pose first in the centre of the room, then take it to the wall. Return to the centre, and duplicate the feeling of moving your front-leg buttock forward as you hinge sideways.
Ouch: If you feel the stretch largely in your front knee, make sure that you have adequately rotated your front thigh. The knee should face squarely over the ankle. Then bend your front knee, and focus on bringing it back to straightness by firming and lifting the quadriceps muscles.
If knee pain persists, check with your teacher.
Sanskrit Corner: Say oo-TEE-tah trik-cone-AH-sanna. Utthita means extended. Tri means three. Kona means angle. Asana means pose.
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What a great way to teach Triangle! I have been teaching basic poses again, especially against the wall (LOVE that wall)… allowing us to reconnect to the fundamentals of that pose and realign ourselves as we settle into it. Thanks for this tip!
Interesting use of the green chip-foam block, which I see only in Canada (is it a native species?).
Re trikonasana: Over time, the limiting factor for me is the outer hip of the back leg (tensor fasciae latae? gluteus minimus?), rather than the inner groin of the front leg. I must plant the outer edge of the back foot very firmly to maintain a straight leg. Have you experienced this, too?
Can’t say I’ve encountered problems keeping the front leg straight. More often the issue I see is about pulling the head of the femur deep into the hip crease, both straight up, from the quads, and towards the median line, from the buttock side.
When I started taking yoga classes in the ’80s, chip foam blocks were already flourishing here. I didn’t know they weren’t everywhere.
There’s a pink subspecies, rarely seen, and one that’s more yellow than green. Chip foams became briefly endangered after Katrina, because the biggest supplier in the US was in New Orleans, but they seem to have bounced back.