As a yoga teacher, I always say, “It’s not about ‘achieving’ the posture, it’s about what you learn on your way there.” Kinda like life, right? It’s good to have goals and intentions, but not everything is in your control. So can we bring meaning to life, bring meaning to practice, approach each moment as an opportunity to experience joy, peace, learning, love?
Yup, but man, does it feel good to “get” a posture for the first time!
And I know, there are an infinite number of ways to explore (rather than improve upon) a posture . . . you never just “get” it fully. I’m still exploring Virabhadrasana 1, and I reckon, so long as my yogic sensibilities are with me, I’ll always be exploring this posture, as though it were my first time.
The other day, I tried – and expressed – for the very first time: Ganda Bherundasana. Somewhere in between pose 504 and 506 (but not quite 505)
Being a complete stranger to the posture, I approached it with warmth, observing at first, then eventually jumping right in. I had no idea where to place my chin or chest relative to my arms, and the idea of kicking straight up from supine gave me flashbacks to Meryl Streep’s unfortunate spinal situation in Death Becomes Her.
(it’s an 80’s-themed blog, clearly)
I tried a few apprehensive times – FAIL and . . . FAIL. A little breathless, I looked over to the dude sitting next to me and asked him how he rocked into it. It looked like something I could physically do, having done several related postures before, but I just didn’t know what to tell my body on the way there.
Hearing dude talk about how he entered the pose, and watching him up close, I was able to get it on try three. Once I was there, it was a breeze staying in (surprise!).
So what did I learn?
When you’re stuck, turn to community.
Don’t be afraid to look like an ass trying something new (hehe).
Standing forward bend is my go-to asana for a quick boost of energy when supplies are feeling scant. Especially now, with all the celebrations and visiting taking priority over my asana practice, uttanasan provides a rejuvenating boost whenever I need it. Just a few minutes of this posture with long conscious breath is the equivalent to a 30 minute nap.
Here’s a run down on how to perform the posture safely, from
(OOT-tan-AHS-ahna) ut = intense tan = to stretch or extend
Step by Step
Stand in Tadasana, hands on hips. Exhale and bend forward from the hip joints, not from the waist. As you descend draw the front torso out of the groins and open the space between the pubis and top sternum. As in all the forward bends, the emphasis is on lengthening the front torso as you move more fully into the position.
If possible, with your knees straight, bring your palms or finger tips to the floor slightly in front of or beside your feet, or bring your palms to the backs of your ankles. If this isn’t possible, cross your forearms and hold your elbows. Press the heels firmly into the floor and lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling. Turn the top thighs slightly inward.
With each inhalation in the pose, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly; with each exhalation release a little more fully into the forward bend. In this way the torso oscillates almost imperceptibly with the breath. Let your head hang from the root of the neck, which is deep in the upper back, between the shoulder blades.
Uttanasana can be used as a resting position between the standing poses. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. It can also be practiced as a pose in itself.
Don’t roll the spine to come up. Instead bring your hands back onto your hips and reaffirm the length of the front torso. Then press your tailbone down and into the pelvis and come up on an inhalation with a long front torso.
Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
Therapeutic for asthma, high blood pressure, infertility, osteoporosis, and sinusitis
Contraindications and Cautions
Back injury: Do this pose with bent knees, or perform Ardha Uttanasana (pronounced ARE-dah, ardha= half), with your hands on the wall, legs perpendicular to your torso, and arms parallel to the floor.
To increase the stretch in the backs of your legs, bend your knees slightly. Imagine that the sacrum is sinking deeper into the back of your pelvis and bring the tailbone closer to the pubis. Then against this resistance, push the top thighs back and the heels down and straighten the knees again. Be careful not to straighten the knees by locking them back (you can press your hands against the back of each knee to provide some resistance); instead let them straighten as the two ends of each leg move farther apart.
After bending forward, slide the index and middle finger of each hand in between the big toe and second toe of each foot. Then curl the fingers under the bottom and around the big toe and wrap your thumb around your fingers. With an inhalation straighten your arms and lift your front torso away from your thighs, making your back as concave as possible. Hold for a few breaths, then exhale and lengthen down and forward, bending your elbows out to the sides.
Modifications and Props
To increase the stretch on the backs of the legs, stand in the forward bend with the balls of your feet elevated an inch or more off the floor on a sand bag or thick book.
A partner can help you encourage the backs of your legs to open. Perform Uttanasana, resting your buttocks against a wall with your heels 6 to 12 inches away from the wall. Bend your knees. Have your partner press firmly against your sacrum. Imagine that the sacrum is sinking into your pelvis and lengthening through the tailbone, which in turn is growing up the wall. Slowly straighten your knees against this resistance. Don’t simply lock the knees back to straighten them; instead, resist the back knees slightly forward as the heads of the thigh bones and heels move apart.
Standing poses, inversions, or seated forward bends.
Deepen The Pose
To increase the stretch in the backs of your legs, lean slightly forward and lift up onto the balls of your feet, pulling your heels a half-inch or so away from the floor. Draw your inner groins deep into the pelvis, and then, from the height of the groins, lengthen your heels back onto the floor.
There are an infinite number of ways to view asanas: as exercises beneficial for strength, flexibility, circulation, etc., as microcosms of challenges we face in our lives, as opportunities (or a preparation) for meditation, or even as offerings to that which find inspirational.
Listen to Dharma Mittra (my main teacher in NYC) on the purpose of asana:
One of my goals here in New York was to be able to express Scorpion pose, vrschikasana, without the use of a wall or the help of my teacher. Although I was able to perform the pose with his help at the center in Varanasi, independence is important to me, a vital ingredient for growth. So, almost every morning, I’ve been practicing. The first time I popped into the pose on my own was in Sri Dharma-ji’s class. Dharma presents many wonderful challenges in his Master classes, and as I “stood” on my forearms, legs dangling atop my head, I found myself in a mild state of shock. Am I doing this right now?!
Having asanas as “goals” is in some ways contradictory to the path of yoga. In order to be liberated from attachments we engage in a process of letting go – this includes letting go of the fruits of our efforts. Honestly, I was never really sure if I’d ever actually be able to the posture, but the process of trying really is enjoyable. Kind of like studying for my GREs. I never used to sincerely enjoy math, but now I actually look forward to the meticulous process of figuring each unique problem out – and getting a correct answer is like eating the whipped cream on my hot cocoa. I don’t need it – but it’s damn good when I get it!
So today I woke up, dedicated a few Surya Namaskars to the safety and well being of those of us on Sandy’s path, and eventually made my way to Vrschikasana. It’d been over a week since I visited the pose, but I could feel my body’s memory of the posture, despite the lapse in practice. A kind of wisdom that trumps time – now that’s an empowering feeling!
Julie Wilcox on youtube going through steps leading up to Scorpion, in case you’re feeling feisty! I don’t know this teacher at all, but the video is pretty thorough.
According to Light on Yoga, one of the seminal works on yoga asanas, the posture bears these benefits:
abdominal muscles are stretched
entire spine is vigorously toned
by stamping on his head with their feet, the yogi attempts to eradicate the self-destroying emotions of pride, anger, hatred, jealousy, intolerance and malice which exist in the mind
humility, calmness and tolerance are developed as the ego is eradicated
strengthening of the arms and shoulders, as well as the backs of the legs
But here in the big bad city . . . (and yes, it’s been a very *naughty* city, the last few weeks. Don’t get me started on evil landlords, cheeky bike thieves and dental dramas!) . . . balance don’t come so easy.
Asana to the Rescue!
As a counter to the frenetic whirlwind of the city, I serve up a hearty portion of balance postures in yoga classes I’ve been teaching. Utthita Hasta Padangustasana and all its variations, nataraj, virabhadrasana 3 with variations, eka pada utkatasana, finished off with a big juicy starfish to remind ourselves, this isn’t torture, it’s liberation!
Life on the mat, life off the mat
Sometimes, it’s as though the weight of the world is on your shoulders, and the only thing keeping you from tumbling over is this tiny little surface area you’re given to spread out. You feel like you’re extending in every direction, bowing in humility, hovering, waiting, until who-knows-when, centering with every breath, sometimes you get enough hutzpah in you to extend – all of this to backdrop of intense solid focus.
Balance techniques are always valuable, but come in especially handy for the city-dweller. Always the artistic dodger, we have to consciously take time to find stable footing, feeling internal strength in flexibility. Be the bamboo, baby!
I give New Yorkers a lot of credit. To traverse these sun-simmered streets, all grey with old gum droppings – so nasty after the rain – designer footwear buzzing on the surface, busy little bees, zig zagging to find the most efficient of routes – all of us on our way somewhere else – you need to be ultra-aware. Become a dancer on this mad stage. Fine tune the simplest of movements. Winding in and out of crowds, heaving in the mockery of wet August heat.
Until the rain comes. Mmmm, the sweet reprieve of rain. Yeah, better yet, be like water. Flow around the hard times, crap dissipating in your wake.
Balance in the Now
Moving to New York after my studies in India was something akin to being woken from savasana to a radio on full blast – speakers thumping with numbing white noise. White, black, yellow, with spots of attention-seeking neon.
So, urban life. Nice to meet you again. Here are a few ways I’ve been reintegrating, finding a balance between practice and living, love and career, friends and responsibilities. Santosha? Yes. Balanced? Precariously ;o)
Yin to the yang, good with the bad, right brain / left brain, and all those other dichotomies we get to have fun with. Cheers, New York, I hope this proves some semblance of agility when you’re hurling poop at my head. And yes, my beloved yoga crew, I promise we’ll lay off the arduous standing balance sequences next week! 😉
(still very behind on this series, but always fun to take a look back at where I was four months ago …)
Oh, New York. America’s bridge to her slightly more sophisticated sister (if only due to age), Europa. Where the weak and weary masses were once so welcome, they came by the boatful to build themselves a shiny new American life. Boasting over 800 spoken languages, it’s the most linguistically diverse city in the world. The selection of gustatory delights is pretty impressive as well . . .
Where you can catch a subway 24 hours a day, where countless authors and musicians have sojourned for inspiration, and you can bet money you won’t be disappointed with your bagel or pizza order. 8 million people living in 305 square miles of sea-side urban sprawl If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
My favorite personal New York story (so far) was the time my best friend and I went to see a free showing at Showtime at the Apollo. I’ll preface the whole thing by noting we were 17 years old at the time!
We arrived in Queens when it was already dark and the line to get in went for blocks and blocks and blocks. Blocks of chicken joints and pawn shops. And we were the only non-African-Americans in sight. We felt pretty cool.
As we stood in line, taking it all in, this little Puerto Rican chic comes up to us and asks if we wanna get into to see the show early. At first we thought she was trying to steal our spot, but then her camera crew caught up with her and we decided it was worth a shot. So she takes us back to the venue, snaking in and out of massive crowds, leads us over to the entrance in the back and straight into the building. We were in!
Alright ladies, we’re gonna sit you down, and after the amateur show we’re gonna bring the cameras round and ask ya’ll what you thought. Sound good?
Totally in awe, we were taken to our ninth row seats and enjoyed an hour of the worst dancing, singing and standup we’d ever seen. Oh, the hilarious things we wanted to say!
That ventriloquist guy should see if he could maybe switch positions with his dummy, cuz it could hardly get any worse!
Was that a song she was singing or an imitation of a woe-struck chicken?
But when the big cameras and lights caught up with us after the evenings (rather embarrassing) performances, we could hardly muster, “Yeah man, that was cool.”
Ah, to be 17in the Big Apple. So much sass and so little sophistication!
Thankfully, after the embarassing encounter with the bright lights of entertainment, we were treated to Montel Jordan’s dancer being taken away in an ambulance from an asthma attack . . .
. . . and Lord Tariq and Peter Guns getting one better than a standing ovation: the in-house impromptu partay. Everyone in the joint got up, rushed the stage and got down to their anthem . . .
This leg of the Friends and Family Tour takes me back to the world’s culture capital to visit the very same friend – as well as a former colleague and soul sister from Japan. I actually ended up re-connecting with a surprising number of old friends and acquaintances, part of the reason why I chose to explore bridge pose (setu bandhasana) just under the Manhattan Bridge.
In its basic form, bridge, Setu Bandhasana (or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), can be done by any beginner who isn’t suffering from a major neck concern or back issue. Start with the feet hip distance apart, knees bent, hands just a few inches from the heels of the feet, arms parallel to the torso. Tuck the tailbone and press the lowerback into the earth to start feeling your core muscles. This also helps to protect your lower back further into the pose.
On an inhale, lift the hips and press the feet into the earth, as if you’re trying to straighten the knees. To bind in the pose (the ‘bandha’ part of the Sanskrit name) shimmy the shoulders down until you can grab onto the ankles. Hold here for as long as it’s comfortable.
For intermediate practitioners, the pose can be explored more deeply with all sorts of variations and props.
Try lifting one leg perpendicular to the earth. Press the foundation foot evenly through the ball and heel. The raised leg is straight, hips square – and you can play around with pointing the toes, balls, and heel of the feet to see which position feels best.
Shift the direction of the toes and heels clockwise and counter clockwise to experience how that affects the physical sensations in the pose.
If your balance is feeling solid, bring the lifted leg out to the side of the body until it’s parallel to the earth. This should work the inner thigh and core, as well as your overall sense of balance.
This pose is great for the thighs and core, but you can also engage the arms and shoulders by actively pressing the palms into the earth as you lift the hips. You may even opt to interlace the fingers and press both hands firmly down, walking the shoulders closer together.
For a more dynamic vinyasa version, inhale as you raise the hips up and arms up and behind the head. On the exhale, bring the hips and hands back to their original positions. Continue with your own rhythm to your heart’s content!
It sounds kinda cheesy, but sometimes a yoga practice can really act as a bridge over troubled waters, so I couldn’t resist adding this song to the post. Enjoy . . .
A few shots from around what could possibly be the next place I call ‘home’ . . .
It’s not the first city on most people’s “must see in America” list, but Baltimore has a lot more to offer than whatever you’ve seen on The Wire. No, it’s not all drug deals and corrupt cops up in here, despite the series’ realistic aesthetic and gritty dialogue (gotta love it).
Baltimore’s undergone a major evolution in the last ten years, and most of the city has a surprising charm, in architecture, quirkiness and down-to-earth vibe of the people. Not to mention America’s biggest free art festival – Artscape!
Two of my dearest friends are currently calling this city their home, so it was a definitely a “must see” on my Friends and Family Tour list. I spent the week visiting my host’s favorite munching spot and taking in some local Bikram (in the white-trash-funky Hapden) and Hatha (both of excellent quality, though the receptionist at Charm City Yoga was so uptight, I wondered how accurate the name of the studio really was . . . ).
In the featured image, we’re perusing the free art outside one of the many art schools in the city . . .
When I found this odd little dog statue, I couldn’t help but bust out in a downdog myself (I assure you, the postures in this article series become a lot less literal in future!).
Since I’m writing this article from my second go at a yoga teacher training, I’ll share with you a report on the posture I did in my first teacher training course in 2007 at The Yoga Connection in Tucson, Arizona. It may be far too much detail for the non-yogi reader, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!
(AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna) adho = downward mukha = face svana = dog
A stabilizing inversion, downdog balances all 7 chakras and all 5 ayurvedic elements.
Ask if anyone has migraines or high blood pressure; ask if anyone has wrist pain or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Come onto the floor in Table Pose (on your hands and knees). Set your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders; they should be about shoulder-width apart or wider.
Stretch out as though you were going into child’s pose and pause before your tailbone touches your heels. Feel that stretch from the palms of your hands, up your arms, down your back and to your tail bone.
Now, back into table, spread your palms, index fingers parallel or slightly turned out, and turn your toes under.
Draw the upper arm bones more deeply into the shoulder sockets and spread the shoulders apart as you press the lower arms toward each other.
Curl the toes under and on the exhale, slowly lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor.
Lengthen through the arms and spine, creating a straight line of energy from the wrists to the pelvis. Press into the earth, engaging the hands. You will feel your triceps contract, and a stretch in your latissimus dorsi.
Firm the outer arms and press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. From these two points lift along your inner arms from the wrists to the tops of the shoulders. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone, creating space between your blades and your neck.
Keep the head between the upper arms, or let it hang like a fruit, gaze toward your navel.
Do a few small cat-cow sequences to find the perfect balance in your neutral back line. If you have tight hamstrings, please keep your knees bent and your pelvis tilted slightly toward the navel.
As necessary, start to “yoga walk” or “walk the dog,” knees bending with the breath.
Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis and press it lightly toward the pubis. Against this resistance, lift the sitting bones toard the ceiling, and from your inner ankles draw the inner legs up into the groins. Really feel that lift of your sitting bones to the ceiling. You should be feeling a deep extension and lengthening through your body’s V-shape.
Breathe into the pose.
Now, if you’d like to move into full extension of the pose, with an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees if you can, but be sure not to lock them. Firm the outer thighs and roll the upper thighs inward slightly. Narrow the front of the pelvis.
You will be feeling a stretch in your hamstrings and the biceps femoris.
If you like, activate the chakras at the balls of the feet by spreading the feet wide and drawing energy up from the earth.
(With each inhalation, envision the pranic energy entering your Chandra chakra and spiraling down into your Vishuddha, Anahata, Manipura, Swadhistana and Muladhara chakras, pausing at the kriya center, then spiraling back up.)
Allow any sound to emerge as the throat opens, releasing energy from the neck and head and relaxing the nervous system.
Allow deep stillness to spread throughout the nervous system even as the body remains active, and know this place of balance and integration is a part of the process.
At this point, you have three options. Option one, if you are ready to release from the pose, please do so slowly and mindfully, dropping your knees to the ground and moving into child’s pose. Option two, you may stay in the pose, breathing deep into all the corners of your body. Option three, if you’d like more of a challenge, step your right foot closer to the center of the mat, in alignment with your head, and lift your left leg, engaging the gluts, keeping your hip square with the earth. It doesn’t matter how high you get here, but feel the energy shooting out of your body from your tailbone, energizing your gluts, hamstrings and ankle, and shooting outward at the ball of your feet. When you are ready, slowly release the left leg (same on other side).
The pose is sometimes entered into from supine pose, and calls for the crown of the head to touch the earth.
Modifications & Props
Arm Prop: To get a feel for the work of the outer arms, loop and secure a strap around your arms just above your elbows. Imagine that the strap is tightening inward, pressing the outer arms in against the bones. Against this resistance, push the inner shoulder blades outward.
Shoulder Prep: If you have difficulty releasing and opening your shoulders in this pose, raise your hands off the floor on a pair of blocks or the seat of a metal folding chair.
Dolphin Variation: practice with the forearms on the floor, parallel to each other.
Eka Pada: To challenge yourself in this pose, inhale and raise your right leg parallel to the line of your torso, and hold for 30 seconds, keeping the hips level and pressing through the heel. Release with an exhalation and repeat on the left for the same length of time.
Deepen the Pose
To increase the stretch in the backs of your legs, lift slightly up onto the balls of your feet, pulling your heels a half-inch or so away from the floor. Then draw your inner groins deep into the pelvis, lifting actively from the inner heels. Finally, from the height of the groins, lengthen the heels back onto the floor, allowing the outer heels to touch the ground first, then the inner heels last.
A partner can help you learn how to work the top thighs in this pose. First perform Adho Mukha Svanasana. Have your partner stand behind and loop a strap around your front groins (or they can use their hands), snuggling the strap into the crease between your top thighs and front pelvis. Your partner can pull on the strap parallel to the line of your spine (remind him/her to extend the arms fully, and keep the knees bent and chest lifted). Release the heads of your thigh bones deeper into your pelvis and lengthen your front torso away from the strap.
A partner may also stand in front of your back and press down (gently at first) onto the hips, ground your feet deeper into the earth.
For a more intimate adjustment, have your partner lie down onto your back.
Concentrating on straightening the legs too much
Not engaging back muscles
Wrenching of the neck
Rounded lumbar area
Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands
Strengthens the arms and legs
Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
Relieves menstrual discomfort when done with head supported
Helps prevent osteoporosis
Relieves headache, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
Therapeutic for high blood pressure, asthma, flat feet, sciatica, sinusitis
Calms the brain and nervous system
Helps relieve stress and mild depression
Creates integration and balance between the upper and lower body
Energizes all seven chakras
Carpal tunnel syndrome or any wrist/shoulder pain, start with modifications
Pregnancy: Do not do this pose late-term.
High blood pressure or headache: Support your head on a bolster or block, ears level between the arms.
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.