With the approach of springtime, I have been thinking on the spring programme for the yoga classes. After a winter like no other, the words that come to mind are ‘uplifting’, and in parallel with the planned opening up of the external world once again, I am focusing on reawakening the body, choosing asanas that promote lifting of the chest, poses for the heart, to put spring into the footsteps, slowly and steadily.
One of the postures that come to mind is Triangle, or Utthita Trikoṇāsana in Sanskrit. Triangle is a parsva, a sidebend. Uttihita means extended; tri means 3 and kona means angle. In English Uttihita Trikoṇāsana means extended triangle pose as we are making the shape of a triangle.
Why choose this posture? The opening across the shoulders promotes a sense of uplifting and lightness. And it is important to think about it in these terms, instead of thinking about gravity pulling the upper body down. One of my teachers used to say, imagine that you are hanging onto a string with the upper hand. Do we think that the aim of this posture is to reach down? Think again.
In common with other asanas, foundation is key. A house needs good foundations to be habitable, support and protect those who want to live there. Having good foundations in yoga postures is no different.
Going back to Triangle, we establish good foundations by having equal weight between the feet – spreading the weight, rooting the feet down and pressing the back foot. By engaging the core, we aim to keep the spine long and in line with head and neck.
However, when there is tightness in the hamstrings or weakness in the lumbar and abdominal muscles, we tend to compensate by bending the torso to the side (making the shape of an arch). And here is the thing – if that happens, ease off, keep higher and no need to be shy in reaching for support, like a block or the seat of a chair to work with the body more efficiently and preserve the integrity of the posture, and tease the muscles, time and time again, with each repetition and with each practice.
If the full posture is not accessible, there are always options to modify it – bring the back foot more forward, microbend the front knee, rest the lower hand on the seat of a chair, bend the upper arm & tuck the hand behind the lower back. As Desikachar said: “ … it is not that the person needs to accommodate himself or herself to yoga, but rather the yoga practice must be tailored to fit each person”.
I will let you know a secret – which obviously will be no secret any more once I have told you! I spent years doing Trikoṇāsana incorrectly – the truth is that I did not like it. Why? I thought the aim was to reach down, as far as I could go. It isn’t. And now, when I do it, I do not think about the lower hand – I take my awareness to the upper arm and shoulder, and I ask myself if the spine is aligned. This week in all classes, I mentioned self-study and I invited students to take their awareness more to how the posture felt at different times of the practice. We should practice yoga with this mindset – it is part of growing your practice.
Next time you are in Trikoṇāsana, think about lightness not gravity, about opening and lengthening the spine.
How do you find Trikonasana? Let me know and leave a comment below if you want.