Making Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) the best posture ever

Utthita trikonasana is often taught as simple posture but it can be confusing to beginners and even teachers. If done incorrectly it can be at best ineffective and at worse dangerous for your knees and lower back. In this article we present instructions that make your body ‘Firm but calm’ (sthira sukham asanam) and while creating strength without tension and flexibility without painful stretching.

Instructions in yoga postures often need to balanced by being paired instructions that create the opposing high pressure (ha) and lower pressure (tha) forces that make hatha (force) yoga actually work to move energy and information through the body).

Four pairs of useful instructions for Trikonasana (with right leg forward as shown in photo):

1. Right knee (this instruction strengthens and stabilises the right knee and prevents it from hyperextending:

  • ‘Pull up’ up right knee cap’ (activates knee extensors) and
  • ‘Press on the front of your right foot’ (activates right plantar flexors, and right knee flexors)

2. Right thigh and ankle (these instructions lengthen the right lower back around the lumbo-sacral joint, relieves lower back pain, helps create core stabilisation, ‘opens’ your hips by turning them out, stabilises your right knee, strengthens your ankles and lifts the outer arch of your right foot):

  • Try to turn your right thigh outwards(activates hip external rotators)
    • OR squeeze the right heel inwards (activates hip adductors) and push the right front foot outwards (activates hip abductors) and
  • Lift the outer arch of your right foot(activates ankle evertors)
    • (NOTE: most people need to start with their right foot slightly turned inwards in order to ‘try’ to turn the right thigh outwards

3. Left thigh and ankle: (these instructions lengthen the left lower back around the left sacro-iliac joint, relieves lower back pain, helps create core stabilisation, ‘opens’ your hips by turning them inwards, stabilises your left knee, strengthens your ankles and lifts the inner arch of your left foot):

  • Try to turn your left thigh inwards(activates hip internal rotators)
    • OR push the left heel backwards (activates hip abductors) and push the left front foot inwards (activates hip adductors) and
  • Lift the inner arch of your left foot(activates ankle evertors)
    • (NOTE: most people need to start with their right foot slightly turned inwards in order to ‘try’ to turn the right thigh outwards)

4. Left thigh and spine (these instructions lengthen the left lower back around the left sacro-iliac joint, relieves lower back pain, helps create core stabilisation, ‘opens’ your hips by turning them inwards, stabilises your left knee, strengthens your ankles and lifts the inner arch of your left foot):

  • Try to turn (rotate) your left thigh inwards (towards the floor) and
  • Turn (rotate) your spine outwards(upwards away from the floor)
    • (i.e. rotate the trunk away from the floor starting from the from the navel and ending at the neck and head. This should activate right external abdominal oblique muscles and left internal abdominal oblique muscles)

MORE INSTRUCTIONS:

Following are further more detailed instructions on how to improve your Trikonasana, and develop greater strength, greater flexibility and improve your circulation.

These notes are adapted from our book comprehensive textbook ‘Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga’ (AP). This work is also elaborated and enhanced in our two award winning fully online courses ‘Essentials of Teacher Training: Yoga Fundamentals Online Course’, and ‘Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga Online Course’.

Definitions and Introduction (APCh 1, 2,4, 7 Appendix C)

Bandha is defined as co-activation (simultaneous tensing) of antagonistic (opposing) muscle groups around a joint complex; Bandhas require multi-joint muscles and multi-joint complexes; Bandhas strengthen and stabilise joint-complexes; Bandhas help to move prana (energy) citta and (consciousness) through the nadis (subtle channels including nerves, blood vessels, lymph vessels and acupuncture meridians)

  • Ha-bandhas are compressive, create heat and increase local pressure. They push energy and blood away from their region and reduce local blood flow
  • Tha-bandhas are expansive, decrease temperature and local pressure. They pull energy and blood away from their region and increase local blood flow

There are many ways to generate bandhas at each of the nine main joint complexes. The main ways in Trikonasana are listed below with simple instructions to guide you in this posture as a follows:

Below are listed some of the instructions you can give to others as a teacher or things you can do in your own practice in the posture Utthita Trikonasana (with right leg forward)

Kulpha (ankle) bandha (APpp 178-186, 395-396)

Use ha-kulpha bandha on both feet (This bandha pushes the blood away from the feet and should mainly be used when the foot is on the floor)

  • Grip (flex) the toes (like trying to make a closed fist)
  • Lift the arches of the feet – (once kati (hip) bandhas are applied then emphasise the lift of the arch of the outer right foot and the arch of the inner left foot), i.e
    • turn the right thigh out and lift the arch of the outer right foot, and
    • turn the left thigh inwards and lift the inner arch of the left foot
  • Bring the weight of the body to the front of your feet

Janu (knee) bandha (APpp 158-163, 396-397)

Use tha-janu bandha on both knees (This bandha enhances blood flow through the knee and should mainly be used with the knee extended in a weight-bearing posture)

  • Pull up the knee caps (in order to activate muscles in front of the thighs or knee extensors)
  • Try to bend the knee with knee caps still pulled up and/or press into the front of the foot (in order to activate muscles in the rear of the thighs or knee flexors)

Kati (hip) bandha (APpp 134-142, 398-399)

RIGHT LEG (flexed hip)

Use ha-kati bandha (This bandha restricts blood flow through the hip and should mainly be used with the hip flexed, i.e. in poses with the thigh moving towards the front of the body, in standing or in the air)

  • Try to turn the right thigh outwards
  • Start with the right foot slightly turned inwards (outer foot parallel to the long side of your mat, and your inner foot slightly turning inwards (although the exact position can differ from person to person) then:
    • press your right heel inwards and 
    • press your right front foot outwards 
    • (this is like trying to turn the thigh outwards, but effectively co-activates hip abductors and adductors to create a compressive hip bandha)

LEFT LEG (extended hip)

Use tha-kati bandha (This bandha enhances blood flow through the hip and should mainly be used with hip extended, i.e. in poses with the thigh moving towards the back of the body, in standing or in the air)

  •  Try to turn the thigh inwards
  • Start with the LEFT foot turned 45-60 degrees outwards, then:
    • press your left heel outwards and 
    • press your front foot inwards 
    • (this is like trying to turn the thigh inwards, but effectively co-activates hip abductors and adductors to create an expansive hip bandha)

Mula (lower trunk) bandha (APpp 207-209, 400-401)

Tha-mula bandha:

For most people it is generally best to only use tha-mula bandha in this posture. This bandha enhances blood flow through the lower trunk while stabilising and firming the lower trunk. It is best maintained with natural diaphragmatic breathing where should feel like you are keeping your abdomen relaxed and feel comfortablly able to breathe into the abdomen (using your diaphragm) but if you were to touch your abdomen it would feel firm to touch because of the way you are doing the posture and using your postural muscles.

  • Lengthen the spine (especially by pushing the tail bone and sitting bones in the opposite direction from the first thoracic vertebrae and the collar bone)
  • Narrow and compress the waist (using the postural abdominal muscles and not the muscles of abdominal exhalation)
  • Initiate your inhale using the diaphragm (pull the diaphragm down) while not letting the abdomen puff out and this will increase intra-abdominal pressure and add to the stability of the lumbar spine
  • Keep the abdomen very firm but calm with three spinal movements:
    • Bend your spine and trunk forward (spinal flexion) to un-crease the back of your body, by moving your navel and your navel spine (L4-L5) forwards and downwards (activating spinal flexors, especially rectus abdominis)
    • Rotate your spine and trunk upwards (to the left side), by rotating your navel and your navel spine (L4-L5) to the left side
    • Lengthen the front of your body (spinal extension) by moving your navel and your navel spine (L4-L5) forwards and upwards

· AND/OR Try to push the sitting bones down and forward and while trying to pull the middle back in and up, without actually shortening the spine

· AND/OR Stretch the mat with the feet (specifically try to stretch the mat apart from the ball of the RIGHT foot to the heel of the LEFT foot)

· AND/OR Perform nauli (activate the rectus abdominis by pushing the pubis and your navel spine (L4-L5) forwards and downwards while generating tha-uddiyana bandha (see below) on exhalation retention)

Ha-mula bandha:

Only use ha-mula bandha (the compressional form of mula bandha which restricts blood flow through the lower trunk and is best used and learnt during forced abdominal exhalation) when both this posture (asana) and basic breath-control (pranayama) have been mastered separately and can now be applied at the same time. Note that most practitioners with less than 10 years or rigourous yoga are not ready for this stage and will over-tax both their physiology and anatomy by inappropriately applying this type of positive pressure core stabilisation or ha-mula bandha prematurely trying to apply it in postures.

  • Narrow and compress the waist and especially the lower abdomen (using the abdominal muscles of exhalation), but generally only hold for a few moments
    • most people can only use a combination of the external and internal abdominal oblique muscles to to do a forced abdominal exhale, but this will restrict the ability to rotate the spine and prevent a diaphragmatic inhalation. Ideally the exhalation and tha-mula bandha should be done only with the transversus abdominis muscles, and they should be able to isolated so that the lower abdominals can be constricted separately fromt the upper abdominals (most people cant do this 
  • Activate the perineum (not the anus) by learning how to draw in the lower abdomen and not the upper abdomen using the lower transverse abdminis fibres and not the external oblique muscles
    • This will cause a co-activation of the lumbar multifidus muscles and the perineum not the anus and yet still allow diaphragmatic breathing, but this is not possible for 90% of people without special training using devices such as ‘Real Time Ultrasound’
  • AND/OR contract the diaphragm with or without an inhalation

Uddiyana (chest and upper back) bandha (APpp 208, 211, 402-403)

In Utthita Trikonasana the chest can have a bandha that is intermediate between ha-uddiyana bandha and tha-uddiyana bandha (see below), or it can fully oscillate between the two opposing bandhas with or without using complete breathing (i.e. using diaphragm then chest muscles)

Ha-uddiyana bandha (This bandha restricts blood flow through the upper trunk and is good to use when the spine is being compressed or under a potentially damaging load, or when strength is required such as when lifting into a handstand, Lolasana or any arm strengthening activity)

  • Contract the front lower rib cage and the rear lower rib cage (near the kidney region) inwards towards each
  • Activate the muscles that you would use to exhale fully from the chest (ha-uddiyana bandha is easiest to feel on a safely performed forced chest exhalation)
  • Equally round out the upper back then lift the collar bones so the front and the back of the chest are equally stretched

Tha-uddiyana bandha (This bandha enhances blood flow through the upper trunk and is safest to use in postures such as Utthita Trikonasana where the spine is not compressed or under a load

  • Expand the lower rib cage
  • Inhale to the chest or expand the chest as if you are inhaling (this can be done at any time of the breath cycle)
  • Equally round out the upper back then lift the collar bones so the front and the back of the chest are equally expanded

Jalandhara (neck & head) bandha (APpp 209-211, 404)

Ha-jalandhara bandha (This bandha restricts blood flow through the neck)

  • Move the head down and move the neck back
  • If and when you rotate the head to the left (i.e. upwards) then move your left ear away from your left shoulder
  • Note that when you turn your head upwards you should turn your whole spine from the region of the naval and the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5)

Amsa (shoulder) bandha (APpp 87-92, 405-406)

Generally to create amsa (shoulder) bandha, move or push the armpits in the direction they are facing and move the elbows in the opposite direction

In Trikonasana the shoulders can have a bandha that is intermediate between ha-amsa bandha and tha-amsa bandha (see below)

Ha-amsa bandha (This bandha restricts blood flow through the shoulder and is best used when the shoulders are extended by the side of the body or abducted out to the side)

  • Push your shoulders towards your hips and push your elbows away from your hips

Tha-amsa bandha (This bandha enhances blood flow through the shoulder and is best used when the shoulders are flexed, i.e. arms above the head)

  • Push the shoulders forward towards the chest and push the elbows backwards away from the chest

Kurpara (elbow) bandha (APpp 112-113, 407)

RIGHT ARM

Tha-kurpara bandha (This bandha enhances blood flow through the elbow and is best used when the elbow is extended)

  • Gently and simultaneously tighten (bulge) the biceps brachii and triceps brachii
  • Here the arm is pulling upwards against the ankle (or the big toe or the floor), as if trying to fly up into the air
  • Try to bend (flex) your elbow, activates the elbow flexors and elbow supinators (e.g. biceps brachii), and try to rotate your forearm inwards (elbow pronation), which activates the elbow pronators, and thus creates co-activation of opposing muscles groups (bandha) around the elbow

LEFT ARM

Tha-kurpara bandha

  • Gently and simultaneously tighten (bulge) the biceps and triceps brachii
  • Here the arm is pushing to try and straighten (extend) the elbow so try to rotate the forearm outwards (elbow supination)

Mani (wrist) bandha (APpp 113-120, 408-409)

RIGHT ARM

Ha-mani bandha (This pushes the blood away from the hand and should mainly be used when the hand is weight-bearing or grabbing something)

  • Grip (flex) with your fingers and 
  • Pull the back of the hand towards the wrist (extend the wrist), as if trying to make a closed fist with the hand
  • OR in an open handed position in case the hand is on the floor then try to ‘grab the floor’ with your fingers,  or if your hand is resting by the side of the ankle in the air then make a tight closed fist with your hand

LEFT ARM

Tha-mani bandha (This pulls the blood towards the hands and should mainly be used ewhen the hand is in the air and is not weight-bearing or grabbing something)

  • Spread (extend) your fingers and
  • Pull back (flex) your wrist slightly

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