Three is the Magic Number
It’s one of the most popular poses found in Western yoga studios, appropriate for all levels, energizing, balancing, and it sure does look pretty!
There are an infinite number of ways to teach Trikonasana (a.k.a. Triangle Pose) and just as many interpretations of what the pose “means.” Of course, it’ll be something quite unique to each practitioner, but here are a few perspectives …
Trinities are prevalent in all manner of systems: the mind-body-soul of modern yoga practice, the maiden-mother-crone in paganism, pitta-kapha-vata in ayurveda, the father-son-holy spirit in Catholicism, Vishnu-Brahma-Shiva of Hinduism, the id-ego-superego in psychoanalysis, the list goes on and on.
Drawing from the pose itself, rather than from a subscribed discipline, Trikonasana can be seen as the balancing of strength, alignment, and expansion on both the physiological and psychological levels.
Ideally, the practitioner finds a certain harmony between these three elements – too much muscular contraction in the legs could misalign the hips, too much expansion in the arms may compromise the foundations of the legs. Similarly, if we’re overly dogmatic about the way we live our lives, we could easily miss out on an opportunity to learn something new and grow.
Location Inspiration: Washington, DC
In America’s political capital, three bodies of government cone together to uphold checks and balances: the judicial, the federal and legislative. In theory, power is better distributed this way, ensuring the masses are properly represented. In practice, it’s an imperfect system, bereft with corruption fueled by greed, but it does allow for certain freedoms and comforts unheard of in many other countries.
Before this turns into a lefty-leaning political rant about Wall Street marches and the growing gap between the rich and poor (oops, a rant within a segue!) . . .
DC is also home to 19 Smithsonian Museums, most of which are free and located in The Mall which, thankfully, is not a mall at all! It’s a massive lawn between the Washington Monument and Congress where you could spend weeks checking out the 137 million pieces of art from ancient to modern, Native American to outer space. I spent just a day tripping around The Mall’s many splendors and meeting Madeline for the best Ethiopian food ever (incidentally, it came from a truck!).
If you have only one day in DC, The Mall is, without a doubt, the only place to be. I set out with nothing but a jar of home-brewed coffee and my camera and left full of inspiration (and damn sweaty from traversing this monstrosity under the Mid-Atlantic sun!). What actually inspired Trikonasana were the triangular shaped objects just behind me in the picture (below).
The gorgeous National Gallery of Art was designed by I.M. Pei and Earl A. Powell III, two legends in the world of modern aesthetic. The triangles you see actually make up part of the ceiling of the gallery restaurant space below ground. So depending on your perspective, the shapes could either appear to be independent sculptures, or the top of a roof. It’s all about perspective!
Triangles appear all over the galleries. According to the NGA website,
“Bridges and mezzanines create a vertical orientation throughout the East Building. When visitors leave one exhibition, they return to the atrium before entering another one. The triangular layout of the floor plan generates a sense of exploration: one must choose to turn left or right, go up or down.”
Now, to explore your own triangle …
You can see there are two triangles in this pose. The first triangle is made up of the ground and your two legs. Here we see the foundation of the pose, where we cultivate stability and strength.
The power center of the pose, however, is in the lower belly. The pose feels best if all movement originates here (the “tanden” in Japanese healing arts, “dantien” in Chinese, corresponds to the svadhistana chakra in yoga and ayurveda), and you’ll likely go much deeper into the pose if you keep this in mind during the adjustments stage.
To Get Into the Pose
Stand with your feet wide enough apart so that you need to engage your inner thighs to feel solid on the earth. Turn one foot 90 degrees and the back foot to about 45 degrees. Ensure the hips remain facing forward, extend both arms out, parallel to the ground.
Before bringing your front hand down, tip your back hip out and reach forward, over the front toes, as far as the arm can reach. Then slowly reach down to wherever it’s most comfortable for you.
Move from your center, elongate the spine from the lower belly through to the top of your head, and you’ll create a lovely line for the second triangle: your upper torso, lower arm, and front leg. It’s not necessary to connect your fingertips to your toes, as taught in Ashtanga, though this expression of the pose does feel quite complete. You may also choose to have your hand on the ground, shin, or a block to ensure safety and comfort.
Remember: the strength of a triangle is in the distribution of pressure across all three supports.
But you don’t want too much pressure on the lower hand – this way you’re strengthening your core muscles, working away at keeping the heaviest part of your body hovering above ground. Check in with your legs and be sure the first triangle is well-balanced: muscles of both legs are engaged, front foot rotating out so that the inner thigh remains engaged. Imagine drawing strength from the third part of this triangle, the earth.
Bring your gaze up to the top hand, if that’s comfy for your neck.
If you’ve practiced this pose before and are looking for something new, bring your top arm around to your lower back to open the chest upward, and possibly hook the hand around the top of your front upper thigh. Perhaps consider placing the bottom hand on the ground next to the arch of your foot and raising the arm up and behind you, creating a curvature in the lower back, opening the chest even further and adding a backbend/twist to the otherwise linear pose.
Remember to be safe! Only extend as far as is comfortable, and if you have any lower back or neck concerns, pay special attention while coming into the pose. Begin slowly, with focused awareness. If your ego starts comparing your pose to your neighbor’s pose, acknowledge the thought, then hush it up by reminding yourself that yoga isn’t a competitive practice. Use props if it feels good – blocks work magic in this pose!
It is What You Make of It
A pose could be nothing more than an isometric exercise, but one thing that makes yoga unique is the vastness of meanings assigned to these asanas. Rich mythologies bring life lessons to the mat, the resonance of Sanskrit infiltrates practice space with a divine frequency (some believe), and in these modern times, scientific research adds to yoga’s flavor a distinctly academic (and reassuring) twist.
Arithmetic! Algebra! Geometry! Grandiose trinity! Luminous triangle! Whoever has not known you is without sense! ~ Comte de Lautreamont
Trikonasana reminds us that meaning is always assigned, and we are the ones doing the assigning. If this is true, then perception is no one’s responsibility but our own. A death in the family could mean great heartache and loss. Or, we can take a step back from our own emotional attachments, and see that it could also signify a passage, a universal truth, an opportunity to celebrate the commencement of a beautiful life, and perhaps the beginning of something else entirely.
So here’s to creating a perception that allows us to hear our strength within, that helps us see where we are best aligned, and to finding inspiration in life that fosters expansion and growth.