For Beginners: Utthita Trikonasana
In most yoga traditions, standing poses are some of the first poses taught to beginners. Even though Trikonasana is thought of as a "beginning" standing pose, it is one you will probably always include in your yoga repertoire. In my own practice, there is hardly a day that goes by when I don't practice Trikonasana. In my classes, I usually throw it into the mix no matter what our focus is—it extends the spine and opens the hips in preparation for backbends; lengthens the hamstrings and opens the hips in preparation for deeper forward bends; teaches the connection between legs, hips, and spine in preparation for inversions; and lengthens the spine and strengthens the back in preparation for deeper twists.
Have you ever noticed how much of the day you spend drawing into yourself and becoming contracted? Have you observed the effects of traffic, noise, deadlines, and fear on your physical state? In the city, where most of us live, there is often a tendency to unconsciously retract our physical selves in toward the center as a protection tactic. This is not inherently unwise, but over time it takes a toll on our psychospiritual state. I am constantly reminded of the tremendous blessing of my yoga practice, which points these habits out to me, especially when I practice a pose like Trikonasana, which deeply reverses contraction.
So I invite you to let your body learn to fly while standing clearly on the earth. To begin, stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) facing the long edge of a sticky mat. Step your feet 3 to 31é2 feet apart, turn your right foot out so it is parallel to the front of your mat, and turn your left foot in slightly. On an inhalation, raise your arms parallel to the floor. This pose (and life in general) requires some foundation and support in order to expand. To create support in your upper back, slightly retract your shoulder blades toward one another and slightly squeeze your arm bones with your muscles, while at the same time extending your arm bones away from your center with all your heart. Don't hold back—feel how liberating it is to completely extend.
Now create a similar action in your legs: Gently draw your leg muscles onto the bones, and at the same time reach your leg bones deeper into the earth. Stay here for a moment and pay attention to the undulation of your breath through bones and muscles, organs and tissues. Let these muscle actions be organic; you don't have to contract your muscles as if you are being electrocuted. Think of a powerful river that has a strong muscular quality but can flow easily over rocks and obstacles.
On an exhalation, keep these muscle actions and extensions awake, and begin to deepen the hinge of your right hip socket, bending over your right leg. Pay attention to the front of your body, especially the front of your pelvis, keeping it as wide open and smiling as possible. Place your right hand on a block or on your right leg.
Now that you are in the full pose, do you still feel expansion? There is a good chance that your front spine has shortened, your rear end is sticking out behind you, or your head has come far forward of your spine. I often ask my students to imagine that they are doing this pose between two large sheets of very delicate rice paper, one along the front plane of the body, one along the back. Have you torn this delicate paper as you've gone into the pose? Once you've established a basic shape for the pose, begin to fine-tune it, like a painter filling in subtle detail. Take a look at where your left (or back) thigh bone is located—there is a good chance that this thigh is forward of your right (or front) thigh. Let your back thigh move back through space, even if your whole pelvis has to move back, even if you stick your rear end out behind you. Then strongly take your tailbone into your body without moving your back thigh forward. This should adjust your pelvis into clearer alignment. You will probably feel more muscle work in your back thigh (this is good!) and expansion through your pelvic floor.
Now bring your awareness to your spine. In the final pose, the spine is aligned with the front leg, but most students have a tendency to push into the front of the body in this pose due to limitations in the hip and shoulder joints, and the torso is often in front of the line of the legs. I tell these students to attempt to bring the torso even farther back, behind the line of the front leg, and often this will bring the spine into better alignment. Notice whether your kidneys feel hard on your back, and if so, let them inflate like little balloons behind you. This should give you more sense of ease in your lower back. Bring the back of your skull in line with your sacrum, spin your abdominal organs up to the ceiling, and if it's acceptable for your neck, turn your head and look softly at your top hand.
Delight in the movement of opposites—reach into the ground to fly away from it, create muscle support to infinitely expand, rest into the back of your body to liberate the front, feel the expansion and slight tension in your body as you inhale, and follow each exhalation to a brighter sense of radiance in the pose. Just for a moment, don't hold anything back from this expression of the fullness of your being.
The founder of Seattle Yoga Arts, Denise Benitez has studied yoga for more than 25 years. She has studied primarily in the Iyengar tradition of hatha yoga, but is also informed by many other traditions of yoga, human movement, and spirituality.