Like most yoga practitioners I have had a love/hate relationship with Triangle Pose ever since I started practicing over ten years ago. The journey went as follows:
Year 1: "Oh, I get this Triangle thing. My legs create a triangle shape so I must be doing the posture."
Year 2: "What? It's not all about the triangle formed by my legs? Is anything real?"
Year 5: "Blocks are pretty cool. Why didn't I use a block five years ago?"
Year 7: "I refuse to do Triangle without a block. Those suckers without blocks don't realize what they're missing."
Year 10: "I never want to stop learning about Triangle!"
With that, let's dissect all that is Trikonasana. Full disclosure, most of these tricks are straight from my teacher, Jason Crandell. He often reminisces on when he used to teach a beginner level series and how his students' Triangles blew all other beginner yogis' Triangles out of the water. Of course, there's no competition in yoga, but dude knows his stuff and I'm happy to share his knowledge with you since it's made a huge difference in my practice and how I teach Trikonasana.
Prop It Up!
I encourage about 95% of my students to prop up their bottom hand either with a block or by lightly putting weight into the front shin. I get it. There's a lot of ego wrapped up with using props. Yes, you are strong. No, using a prop doesn't show signs of weakness. Using a prop just allows for you to settle into the shape with more ease. Who wouldn't want that?
By placing some weight in your bottom hand you're able to use leverage to lengthen the sides of the torso and feel the true expansion of the posture. I prefer the block along the small toe side of the front foot. In my practice I've noticed that placing the block along the big toe side causes my pelvis to push too far behind me and out of alignment with my spine.
Here we've got a sad Trikonasana. The right side of my ribs are collapsed and the triangle between my front thigh, bottom ribs, and bottom arm is almost nonexistent. Usually a simple propping of the bottom hand and reaching up with the top hand helps a deflated Triangle, but there's other adjustments that can help too.
Yoga teachers often assist with manual adjustments throughout class, but I find that I'm frequently giving myself adjustments in my own practice. To help with a very rounded Trikonasana play with assisting yourself. Take your top hand to your top ribs. Use your hand to cinch the top ribs and waist together. By drawing those two points closer together you'll automatically lengthen the bottom ribs and spine while minimizing roundness.
To Rotate or Not to Rotate? And What Direction?
Have you ever been told you should turn the top hip open in Triangle? Something about two panes of glass may have also been thrown in there. I have zero intention of disrespecting any teacher who uses these cues, but I encourage you to explore something a little different. These next steps changed Trikonasana for me forever and I can now happily say that I feel very free in the posture. Since slowing down and taking the time to really break down this posture isn't typical in a Vinyasa practice, but I encourage you to explore some of these tips in your own practice.
First, let's tackle the hips. Start with your feet where you'd place them for Triangle, but turn your chest down and hinge over the front leg like you're doing a modified Parsvottanasana--Pyramid Pose allowing the hips to naturally follow along.
Place your bottom hand on your shine or a block and place your top hand on your top hip point. Without cranking on the top hip, allow your top hip to roll open only as much as it will naturally and then just stop. For most people the top hip will stop while it's still rotated slightly downward.
Lastly, to create the open and expansive feeling of Triangle, place your top hand on your chest and just allow the rest of the rotation to happen from there without forcing the hips to open any further. From there reach the top hand straight up and feel all the glory that is your Trikonasana.
Triangle Pose will look different on everyone, however, I've been working with a few students on some of these tips over the last couple of months and they, just like me, have experienced more freedom in the posture. I could go on about the SI joint and why it's not best to force the top hip to rotate away from the floor, but I won't. The easy feeling of the posture when done without forcing the top hip open will speak for itself.
Yogis, I hope you take the time to explore Trikonasana in your own practice. What works? What doesn't? Don't get too wrapped up with it, but it's worth it to experiment and find where you feel the most ease.