Did you know that of the three simplest shapes, circle, square and triangle, only the triangle completely reverses its symbolic meaning when it’s turned upside-down?
Rotate a circle 90 degrees and it still means wholeness, unity, inclusion, and infinity.
A square turned on its head looks exactly the same and still means grounding, stability, balance and dependability.
But turn a triangle from point up to point down, and you’ve moved from male to female, sun to moon, up to down, mountain to cave and active to passive.
The yoga triangle, Uttitha Trikonasana (extended triangle pose) is tricky too. In most styles of hatha yoga, including Iyengar, it’s introduced to beginners in the first or second class.
Yet it’s so complex and so full of actions that Mr. Iyengar’s son Prashant has written an entire book explaining the philosophy and psychology of yoga through triangle pose, The Alpha and Omega of Trikonasana.
But there’s another layer to the trickiness of Trikonasana.
Somewhere in the evolution of yoga in North America, a potent image was set loose: triangle pose is done between panes of glass with the hipbones facing forward. Let the hips rotate and you risk shattering the imaginary glass – and we all know how disturbing that would be.
True beginners, those lucky souls, have never heard about the pelvis and the panes of glass, so they are free to focus on working their legs.
More experienced students often aren’t so fortunate.
Just last week I saw a capable student, new to the class, who seemed to be stuck part way into the pose. Her front leg was not rotated enough, she had limited action in her hip crease, and her chest wasn’t opening.
When I suggested she let go of her pelvis to let her front leg rotate, she said: “Aren’t I supposed to keep the hips square to the front of the room?”
In a word, no.
Keeping the pelvis facing forward makes it almost impossible to fully rotate the front thigh. Without that rotation, the knee can’t be aligned with the front foot, which means the knee is in danger.
Worse yet, if you work hard to get the front thigh rotating and the pelvis moving away from the front leg, you strain the sacroiliac joint.
In a workshop on Yoga and the SI joint that Judith Lasater gave in Vancouver several years ago, her mantra was: “The sacroiliac is a joint of stability, not a joint of mobility.”
We move it best when we move the pelvis as one piece. You can learn more from two excellent articles by Iyengar teacher Roger Cole, at the Yoga Journal online.
Louie Ettling, the teacher I study with, raises another point, perhaps even more interesting, at least after you’ve protected your SI joints:
“I think students should definitely not think about making the pelvis square to the room ahead. They will stop listening to themselves that way.”
“The back leg does Tadasana. The root of the front leg, at the hip, turns out as much as possible. The font pelvis lifts as in Tadasana.
The back pelvis rolls down as in Tadasana (provided the chest does not collapse!) The outer pelvis gathers as in Tadasana.
The result is different for every person.”
Well, here’s one thing that’s the same: imaginary panes of glass shatter, and the tricky triangle begins its journey from being an idea, an external geometrical shape, towards being part of the body’s conscious internal geometry. Which is a good trick.
Image courtesy of Emily Baron.
Cute cat news: Since I posted the link to the yoga kitten video, the temporarily misplaced photo of my own yoga kitten has surfaced. You can now see the electro-cat as a tiny wee thing.
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