Utthita Trikonasana, or, Extended Triangle Pose, is one of the first asana many beginning yoga students learn. It is actually quite a complex and challenging pose! With regards to Extended Triangle Pose, good things come in three. There are three major things to consider when practicing Utthita Trikonasana: What are the lower body, hips, and trunk doing?
It isn’t unusual to get caught up in the expansion through the chest we find in this pose. After all, it just feels so good! The problem is, we get so caught up in how good it feels to stretch through our upper body, that we forget about the components that support that wonderful sensation. This is why many students lose their balance and topple forwards or backwards when practicing this pose.
Whether you are new to yoga, have been practicing for years, or are a yoga teacher in training, let’s revisit Utthita Trikonasana paying attention to all of its glorious details!
Here is one way to practice Utthita Trikonasana:
- Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Press down into the triads of the feet. The triads of the feet are the mounds below the big toe, baby toe, and the center of the heel. Lighten the load on the inner edge of the feet. This is what yoga teachers often refer to as “lifting the arches of the feet”. It is important that as the inner arch lifts, the outer edges of the feet do not carry all of the load. Think lifting straight up, not out. Draw the inner thighs back. Lengthen the sides of the waist. Soften the shoulders and stretch through the chest without pulling the shoulders down and back, which can compromise the neck.
Mountain pose is the foundational pose of all standing postures. It is important we establish these aspects of mountain pose before we increase complexity.
- Step the feet far apart. Many yoga students do not step their feet far enough apart. When practicing Utthita Trikonasana the feet are about three to four feet apart.
- Extend arms out at shoulder height. Draw the shoulder blades in and extend from the center of the chest out towards the finger tips.
- Rotate the right leg towards the right. Take care that the rotation happens from the hip socket itself. Not the knee or ankle. Let the big joints take the lead!
- Line up the middle of the left foot with the right heel and slightly spiral the left leg towards the right. Draw the left inner thigh back. Draw up through the right inner thigh as if it were a straw.
- After we have a solid foundation through our feet, ankles, and legs, we are ready to move on to the next component of safely and successfully practicing Utthita Trikonasana: opening the hips. Begin by hinging into the right hip crease. Place right hand at right shin, a block, or all the way to the floor. If the hand is on a block or the floor, make sure that it is at the outside of the right foot. At this point the left hand can be at the left hip. It is important that we are extending form the hip crease. This allows for greater extension, expansion, and optimal alignment as we move into the third component of this pose.
- Finally, we bring our attention to the trunk. We have created a firm foundation through our legs. Our hips are open. Because we are hinging into our right hip crease, we have the ability to lengthen through the bottom side of our waist, in this case the right side. The right-side waist should not be crunching. If it is, that is a sign that we are not hinging into our hip crease. Try to lengthen through both sides of the waist so they feel even. Imagine keeping the torso in Tadasana, except now being sideways.
- Now is a great time to check-in with what we have accomplished so far. Start with the feet and scan the body. Are we still in the pose?
- At this point, the left hand is still at the left hip. Slightly rotate the left side of the trunk up and back. Lengthen the spine from the tailbone through the top of the head.
- Finally, it is time to extend the left arm toward the sky! Oh, it feels so good to stretch! Do draw the shoulder blades in towards the back, but try not to squeeze them together. Think more about opening through the heart and less about squeezing the shoulders back.
- Keep the arms active. Extend through the upper and lower arms. Extend from wrists through finger tips.
- Rotate neck and turn head to gaze towards the left hand. When rotating the neck, it is important to stop when we feel some resistance. Forcing the neck to rotate past that resistance will cause more tension and tightness. We cultivate greater strength and flexibility when we respect our current limitations. Our body will open up when it learns to trust that we will not hurt it!
- At last we are practicing the fullest expression of Utthita Trikonasana! We can maintain this pose for several breaths. Generally, five to eight smooth and even breaths will do.
- When it is time to come out of the pose, it may be tempting to “just come up” and do the other side. However, just as there are methodical ways of getting into yoga asana, it is important that we come out of the poses with just as much awareness.
- Rotate neck and look down toward the right foot. Get grounded through the left foot. Inhale and come up. Exhale and bring hands to hips as the right foot turns forward.
- It is important that we practice Utthita Trikonasana on both sides of the body. This can be done one of two ways. The first is to return to Tadasana and repeat the entire sequence from the beginning. This can be very grounding and ensures we reestablish proper alignment.
- The second possibility is that we simply stay in our wide stance with our feet three to four feet apart. Begin to repeat the sequence to the left by rotating the left leg out and the right leg in.
- After we have practiced Utthita Trikonasana to both sides, return to Tadasana. From here we can continue our asana practice or rest in Savasana (Corpse Pose).
Image by Fernando Dearferdo at Unsplash.com