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Angle of Repose

You don't have to be Pythagoras to enjoy a great Triangle—and get the health benefits of this valuable standing pose.

By Julie Gudmestad

Stability in Motion

Once you've tipped your pelvis and lengthened your hamstrings and adductors, focus on lengthening your spine. Even with your pelvis tipped fully, the weight of your head and shoulder girdle will tempt you to flex your spine laterally so it bows up toward the ceiling, lengthening the left side of your torso and shortening the right. To avoid this, contract your left flank muscles: the deep lower-back muscle quadratus lumborum and the lateral (closest to the side) fibers of the abdominal obliques. These muscles support most of your torso in Trikonasana; when they contract, they pull the left ribs and pelvis closer together, thus lengthening the right side of your torso. The obliques also help rotate your spine and torso, so your navel and breastbone face straight out into the room, not toward the floor.

Now that your right leg and spine are straight and strong, you can focus on your right arm. When you're standing upright with your legs wide, your arms should create roughly 90-degree angles with your torso. As you lift your arms, try not to lift your shoulder blades; that adds a lot of unnecessary tension to your neck muscles. (Those muscles work hard enough to hold up your head and turn it toward the ceiling once in the pose.) To keep your shoulder blades from rising, turn your palms and elbow creases straight up. When you do this, you engage your lower trapezius muscles and release the upper trapezius—actions that help move your shoulder blades away from your ears and onto your back ribs. Now, holding that scapula position and keeping your elbow creases turned up, turn your palms back down to face the floor.

It's important, though challenging, to maintain this scapula position and the 90-degree angle at your right shoulder. If you pull your right hand back too far toward your right knee, you'll close the angle—and probably shorten your right waist. Also, if you lean on your hand, you'll compress your shoulder toward your spine and create congestion in your neck.

Watch your left arm position, too. That shoulder should also be at 90 degrees, so don't lift your arm up to the ceiling unless you're very flexible in your hamstrings and adductors and can put your hand on the floor with your spine parallel to the floor.

When you combine a long torso with proper shoulder positioning, the line of your spine and the line through your arms form a cross. One way to move into the pose is to maintain that shape as you tip your pelvis sideways and move your spine from vertical to horizontal. Transitioning into Trikonasana in this way helps you practice stability (in the torso, arms, and legs) within movement (of the hips and pelvis). Along with enjoying all the benefits of healthy alignment, you get to taste what it's like to flow through the outer currents of time and change while staying stable and centered on the inside.

A physical therapist and Iyengar Yoga teacher, Julie Gudmestad runs a physical therapy practice and yoga studio in Portland, Oregon. She cannot respond to requests for personal health advice.

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Reader Comments

Bill

My guru says that we connect the index finger and middle finger to the big toe to complete the internal energy circuit. We assume our personal expression of the pose with the body we have and breath ujayi breathing method. After 1000 daily repetitions the posture is perfect!

Arugularose

I had a similar experience in an Iyengar class. Years of yoga and I had never injured myself on my own or in a class, but my third Iyengar I injured myself trying to get the exact right alignment. I wish we had had some instruction about that possibility.

As for the article-- I love how this pose opens up my body and makes it feel so spacious inside!

PS Since starting regular yoga my joints feel more healthy, but they are also a lot more noisy. Is that normal?

cathy geier

I often fear iyengar teachers because my shoulder was cranked into position to complete the perfection of an isoceles triangle.
peoples' bodies are different. perfection is not as important as injury free.

That said, I don't see the 90 degree angle espoused in thi sarticle between the spine and the arm.

I don't usually like to use blocks, bu ton this pose I believe that they are very important touse to help create that angle and to keep from having a smaller than 90 degree agle between spine and hip, thus potentially crunching at lower spine and side.

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