I remember very clearly, the first time I felt appreciative of this deceivingly simply looking yoga pose. I was practicing in a tiny studio, next to a boy I liked, on a little island 30 miles out to sea. Trikonasana was his favorite pose and I remember, while watching him articulate the reach of his top arm by brining his thumb and pointed finger into gyan mudra (think of the OK symbol), that he looked exquisitely good doing it.
Of course this was not the first time I had practiced triangle pose; I had been adjusted in this asana by Alan Finger in New York City, instructed in it’s alignment by Ganga White in Santa Barbara and urged to embody it’s energetic flow at Kripalu by Shiva Rea. Yet it wasn’t the sage wisdom of any of these formidable teachers that pulled the shape together for me, it was love.
As most Western practitioners know by now (regardless of whether or not they actually believe it) yoga isn’t just a physical discipline. It’s SOMAtic, as in a practice that integrates the body and mind. Symbolic, as in expressive of the emotional exploration and the creative process of the self learning about the self. And in the case of the Prana Vinyasa yogi, deeply devotional.
In my lineage, it is important that one’s physical practice of yoga has bhavana, loosely translated to mean the cultivation of a quality or feeling. I think of it as heart. Well I didn’t yet have the language to understand bhavana back in my early 30s, but as a dancer I did understand the art of self-expression. I knew what it felt like to use my body to tell a story, share a sensation, or curate a collection of complicated emotions.
In that moment, watching my beautiful friend embody whatever trikonasan meant to him, I was inspired to do the same. I lined it up like he did, and just for fun added the mudra to my own extended top hand. A flourish of passion rose from my roots all the way up to my crown, and instantaneously triangulating through my body were feelings of new love, compassion for all the lovers out there and an accompanying sense of dare I say it, divine bliss.
Horse shit you say? Maybe. Certainly my 20-year old self would agree. But I’m in my 40s now, and I’m not afraid to say things I feel anymore.
Listen, I’m not trying to sell you on the idea that I have, or you should experience ecstasy in every yoga class, let alone every yoga pose. But I will go on the record to say I truly believe that if you bring heart into your asana, you will taste the mystic now and then. That’s what these shapes are designed to do - align you with the bliss that while sometimes asleep, is already deep within you. All you have to do is stay clear about the bhav you bring into your practice.
So let’s get into the nuts and bolts of this alignment stuff:
Trikonasana aka triangle, stretches and strengthens the entire body. While no single yoga pose is a substitute for a full practice, if you’re limited on time and looking for one posture that will set you up for having great day, trikonasana might just be your jam. Benefits of triangle pose include toning the calves, quads and core and lengthening the hamstrings, groins and spine. This pose has been said to help relieve sciatica, back pain and the symptoms of menopause while also reducing stress and anxiety. Trikonasana can improve digestion and is therapeutically indicated for those suffering from flat feet and osteoporosis.
All that being said, triangle pose is more than just a shape, it’s a beautiful metaphor. Within the embodied shape is an opportunity to ground into the present moment (think through the legs), fire up our desires and goals (manifested through the core) and a chance to spread our wings (aka arms) and express ourselves.
To experience this multi-faceted pose for yourself follow these 10 steps to total trikonasana triumph:
Start standing in tadasana (mountain pose); feet together at the top of your mat.
On an exhale, take a big step back with your left foot, so that your legs span 75-85% of your mat’s length (beginners or those students who tend towards tight hamstrings, stay a little short of 75%).
Keep your right toes facing forward, turn your left toes slightly in towards the midline or keep the left foot parallel to the back edge of your mat (beginner’s can brace the left foot against a wall for additional support). Your front heel should be aligned with the instep of your back foot, or if your hips feel impinged, widen your stance a few inches.
Inhale. Draw energy up through the legs, firming the quadriceps, so that both kneecaps lift and extend both arms out parallel to the ground.
This is key: before you alter the alignment of your hips, shift your pelvis towards your back foot (think about middle school girls when they stand chatting at their lockers, weight resting more on one foot, hip pushing to the weighted side). Now on an exhale, reach the front arm as far towards your front foot as possible, creating a big stretch in the left side waist, and keeping yourself anchored through your foundation, especially the outside edge or your left heel.
Still exhaling reach your arms along this horizontal pathway, simultaneously lengthen your torso, keeping both sides long, over your right leg. Your right ribs should be gazing at the earth, your left ribs facing the sky.
On an inhale, take the arms from parallel to the grown to perpendicular, so you can reach your right hand to your shin, a block placed just inside your right arch, or if possible the floor, inside the right leg, near the instep. Reach your left arm up to the sky, so that the left hand is aligned over your heart and due north of your right hand. Think of your arms as a vertical pillar of channeled energy, like a lightening rod that runs through your heart center).
Energetically send your tailbone towards your left heel, while extending your crown towards the front of the room.
Your gaze can be directed down towards the floor, straight ahead at the left wall of your space, or you can sweep your chin across your chest to look up at your left hand), just be sure to keep your neck long and your shoulders far away from your ears.
Now, to activate all the power of trikonasana simultaneously press your feet into the earth and away from each other while also isometrically (without moving) draw them in towards one another. Pulling all that powerful energy up from the ground through your legs, in and up through the core, radiate it out through bother arms and forwards through the crown of your head. Inhale from the crown down to your pelvic floor and then exhaling visualize the breath rising up from the pelvic floor to the crown of your head. Slow your breath down as much as possible for 3-5 cycles, drinking your breath as if sipping on sweet nectar through a bamboo straw.
(( On an inhale rise back up to a vertical spin position, soften the knees and step the feet together. Repeat the journey on the second side, stepping back with your right foot.))
Modifications: for more support, beginners can do this pose with their backs against a wall, setting a block for the bottom hand, on its tallest edge, a little closer to the pelvis (as in to the rear of, not next to the instep of the front foot). Students with cervical issues should keep the gaze down at the floor or neutral.
Variations: Students with significant hamstring flexibility and core strength, for whom it is easy to keep everything in proper alignment and have their bottom hand on the floor, may enjoy taking the bottom hand to the outside of the leg. Play with taking the top arm behind the back, resting the palm of the hand on top of the bottom thigh for a half bind. Another advanced variation, which challenges the core even more involves reaching both arms towards the front of the mat, framing the face with the palms facing on another as an extension of the line of energy from tailbone to crown.
As you would after any yoga practice, please lie back in savasana (corpse pose) for a moment of relaxation before moving on with your day. Reflect on how the posture has made you feel; what is going on in your physical body and where is your attention resting? Honor the process of receiving this valuable information from your body. What was your somatic experience like? Did you feel the heart of the pose?