Trikonasana, or triangle pose, can be tricky. Where does the bottom hand go? How do the hips open—should you really be able to fit between two panes of glass? And hey, in what direction are you supposed to look?
Let’s answer those questions, along with a few others frequently asked about this deceptively challenging asana, so that you can reap maximum benefit from your triangle pose practice.
1. How wide should my stance be?
We’re often asked to just step our feet out “wide” for triangle pose. But exactly how wide is “wide”?
Here’s a tip for finding your ideal triangle stance. Begin by taking a stance that feels reasonably wide to you, and then extend your arms out to a “T” shape. If you were to drop a plumb line down from each wrist, you would want your ankles to be at the bottom of those plumb lines. With that in mind, walk your feet in or out accordingly. If you find that you’re losing your balance, shorten your stance and work toward widening it over time.
From here, simply turn out what will now become your front foot. Then turn your back toes in a little, aligning your feet so that an imaginary line running from your front heel bisects the inner arch of your back foot.
2. How do I keep my front knee from hyperextending?
Before you move into trikonasana, try this trick for preventing hyperextension. Beginning in the stance described above, bend your front knee a little, lift up the heel, and engage your calf. Then slowly lower your heel while keeping your calf engaged—don’t let those muscles release! Now push your right foot down into the floor (as if you’re trying to push the floor away from you), straightening your right leg. As long as your calf remains engaged, your leg can be straight—but your knee won’t be able to push back into its most extreme position (hyperextension).
3. How do I get into the pose?
From your starting position—with legs your ideal distance apart, front heel aligned with back arch, front leg active with calf engaged to prevent hyperextension, and arms extended out to a “T” at shoulder height—lengthen up through the sides of your waist (especially the front leg side, which for now we’ll assume is the right side). You want to feel as though you’re lifting the right side of your rib cage up away from the right side of your pelvis. Then, as you reach out to the side to move into triangle, retain as much length in the right side of the body as you possibly can. When you feel that you can no longer maintain that length, stop bending to the side and place your right hand either wherever it lands on your leg (but not directly on your knee), or on a block (more on hand/block placement later).
Make a mental comparison of your right and left sides, aiming to keep them both the same length (even if that’s challenging to do on your right side, as it likely will be). Don’t sacrifice that length in order to get your hand closer to the floor. While there are triangle variations with the hand touching the floor, reaching the floor often compromises the “triangle” aspect of the shape and shortens the right-side waist.
4. What do I do with my bottom hand?
It’s fine to place your hand on your leg (instead of on a block or the floor), as long as it’s above or below the knee rather than on it—and make sure you’re not supporting your weight by pushing your hand into your leg (which puts too much pressure on the front leg). You want to be able to lift your hand off your leg at any point and still remain in the pose.
Open the palm of the hand so that the thumb points in the same direction as your right foot. Opening the palm in this way encourages the upper chest and shoulder area to open as well. If you turn the hand so that the thumb faces inward toward the right leg, it could lead you to unintentionally rotate the shoulder inward.
You can also put your hand on a block. I like my block to be placed behind my front shin, halfway between my ankle and my knee. I find that using a block helps me avoid hyperextension as it allows me to better manage the distribution of weight between my front and back leg. I feel almost like a tripod: with a third of the weight in the back leg, a third in the front, and a third in the bottom hand that’s pressing into the block.
5. Does my block/bottom hand go behind or in front of my front leg? Does it matter?
Placing the block in front of the leg (again about halfway between the foot and the knee) can be useful, although I find that this placement can send the torso a little askew from the right leg. Remember, we are striving for the essence of a “triangle” shape—even while remembering that we are three-dimensional beings! Aim to align yourself so that the side seam of your shirt hovers over the midline of your front leg. Placing the block in front of the leg isn’t wrong or bad, but when the upper body is not aligned with the right leg, we may inadvertently swing the right hip out behind us—bypassing some of the wonderful inner leg and hip opening that this pose can offer.
6. Where does my head go?
When discussing head placement in trikonasana, it’s always a good idea to first consider our head placement in tadasana (mountain pose). Observe there the line running from your sternum (breastbone) through the center of your chin, the center of your nose, and the center of your forehead. You can then refer back to that alignment in your triangle pose.
When you’re in triangle, begin by looking straight ahead and finding that same alignment between the center of your face and the center of your sternum. That’s your starting point. From there, if you’d like to turn your head to look up, imagine your head as a planet and the axis of rotation as straight down the middle—then rotate your head to look up. If you don’t have that starting place (the center of the face in line with the center of the sternum), the chin may jut forward or move into another less-than-ideal alignment. Looking up at your hand with your chin misaligned puts unnecessary strain on your neck muscles, which can cause discomfort both while in the pose and afterward.
Remember: Turning your head in triangle pose should create no extra tension. Finding and maintaining that imaginary axis—from the center of your face down to the center of your sternum—and then turning your head, can make looking up toward your hand in triangle a lot more comfortable.
7. What are the hips doing?
If only I had a dime for each time I was asked this question! And if only I had the one true answer.
As is often the case with such things, the answer is rarely black and white. When we’re in the pose, we often hear instructions like “Open both hips to face the wall in front of you,” “Roll your top hip back so it’s stacked directly over your bottom hip,” or “Feel like you’re practicing between two panes of glass”— implying that trikonasana should be a two-dimensional shape. Realistically, however, most of us are not able to open our hips to such a degree—we would need magical hips! That’s because, physiologically, it’s pretty much impossible to completely “stack” the hips when both legs are extended without negatively affecting other structures of the body (such as the knee). If you attempt to roll your top hip directly over your bottom hip, you’re likely to immediately feel a little pressure in your front inner knee.
If you both maintain length on the right (bottom) side of your waist and protect the structure of your front knee, you probably won’t be able to roll your top hip all the way back. The top hip will naturally roll forward a tiny bit. Triangle pose is about the feeling of opening the hips—energetically, not necessarily literally. Instead of trying to perfectly stack your hips, focus more on the relationship between the left (top) hip and your front inner leg.
Try this: Once you’re in the pose, bend your front knee for a moment. Then with equal effort, simultaneously straighten your right/front leg again AND open your left hip, returning to your triangle shape. Use as much energy to open the hip as you do to extend your leg (to the extent that you can do so comfortably without disturbing the alignment of your front knee). If the front knee experiences discomfort or confusion, don’t open the left/top hip so much!
Now you know just what to do with your stance, your head, your hips, and your bottom hand—all of which should make trikonasana a little less tricky.
As you incorporate these tips into your practice, finding length and strength in your triangle pose, you’ll likely find greater steadiness and ease on the mat overall. Enjoy!