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Extended Triangle Pose

Extended Triangle Pose is a quintessential standing pose that stretches and strengthens the whole body.


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When you’re undertaking the challenging Extended Triangle Pose, it’s helpful to remember that there’s a reason for the name of the pose: In it, your body forms various-sized triangles—the larger triangle between your front and back legs and the floor as well as the smaller triangle between your arm, front leg or the mat, and side body.

Utthita Trikonasana brings about grounded stability and a heart-opening expansion of the chest. It stretches the hamstrings and back muscles while activating the abdominal muscles. It’s a pose that requires concentration, body awareness, balance, and a steady breath, which can help focus a wandering mind and bring you back to what’s happening on your mat.

It doesn’t appear, at first glance to be a challenging pose. But it is incredibly easy to practice it in a way that’s unsafely or suboptimally aligned.  “When I first attempted Triangle, I thought that if I could reach my hand to the floor—voila!—I was done,” says senior Iyengar instructor Marla Apt. “I was not yet aware that in reaching to the floor, I had sacrificed the alignment of other body parts. I had yet to learn to use my muscles to support me so that I had a strong foundation from which to extend.”

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Sanskrit

Utthita Trikonasana (oo-TEE-tah trik-cone-AHS-ah-nah)

utthita = extended

trikona = three angle or triangle

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Extended Triangle Pose basics

Pose type: Standing

Target area: Hips

Benefits: Extended Triangle Pose improves balance, posture, and body awareness. It counteracts the effects of prolonged sitting.

Other Extended Triangle perks:

  • Strengthens your thighs, hips, core, back, and side body on the bottom side (including the abdominal obliques)
  • Stretches your chest, back of thigh (hamstring), and side body on the top side (including the abdominal obliques)
  • Enhances digestion and relieves stress, according to some traditional yoga lineages
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How to

  1. From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), step your feet 3 to 4 feet apart. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and reach them actively to the sides, shoulder blades wide, palms down.
  2. Turn your left foot in slightly and your right foot forward to face the front of the mat. Align your right heel with your left heel if that’s comfortable for you. Engage your quads.
  3. Exhale and extend your torso forward—bending from your hip joint, not the waist—to reach your side body directly over your front leg. Counter the reach by anchoring your left hip to the left. (Imagine someone is trying to pull your hips to the left.) Ground this movement by strengthening the left leg and pressing the outer heel firmly to the floor.
  4. When you have reached as far as you are able, hinge at the hip and bring the torso to the right, moving toward your upper body being parallel to the floor. Reach your right hand down toward the floor and stretch your left arm toward the ceiling, in line with the tops of your shoulders. Your hands, arms and shoulders will form a  straight line, perpendicular to your mat.
  5. Open your torso to the left, keeping the left and right sides of the torso equally long. Let the left hip come slightly forward and lengthen the tailbone toward the back heel.
  6. Rest your right hand on your shin, ankle, or the floor outside your right foot—whatever is possible without distorting the sides of the torso. Keep your head in a neutral position or turn to look up at your hand or down at the ground.
  7. Stay in this pose for 30 to 60 seconds. Inhale to come up, strongly pressing the back heel into the floor and reaching the top arm toward the ceiling. Recenter, then reverse the feet and repeat for the same length of time on the other side.
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Beginner tips

  • If your legs are too close together, you won’t feel the full benefit of the pose. If your legs are too far apart, you’ll feel unbalanced. The length is unique to you and your legs, so explore the stance to find the foot position that is best for you. You should feel a pleasant stretch, but you shouldn’t feel strained.
  • If you feel unsteady in the pose, brace your back heel against a wall.
  • To keep the back of your body aligned, pretend that you are pressing your head, shoulders, and buttocks against a wall. Or practice alongside an actual wall and press your back body against it.
  • Try to keep your arms in one long line from the floor to the ceiling.
  • If turning your head to face the ceiling is not comfortable on your neck, look straight ahead or down at the mat.

Deepen the pose

  • Try a half bind. Bend your left elbow and wrap your arm around your back, reaching toward your right hip with your left hand. Continue to rotate the torso so that the heart opens and turns upward.
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Teacher tips

These tips will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:

  • Remind your students to open their chests as they gaze upward, creating space and a heart-opening energetic movement in the pose while rolling shoulders back toward the spine.
  • Advise students to activate their obliques in order to remain balanced and stable as they turn their torsos upward.
  • Tell your students to activate their tricep muscles in order to lengthen their arms to create the shape of a triangle.
  • Advise them to reach with the head and lengthen through all sides of the neck and spine.
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Variations

If it isn’t possible to comfortably settle into the traditional version of Extended Triangle Pose, there are ways that you can make the pose more accessible:

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Extended Triangle Pose with a block

If you can’t reach the floor without twisting or rounding your back, place a block beneath your shoulder inside your front ankle. Adjust the height of the block to whatever level feels comfortable for you.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Extended Triangle Pose using a chair

Rest your bottomo hand on the seat of a chair rather than your shin or the gr0und for added stability and better balance. Or, flip the chair around and rest your hand on the back of the chair rather than the seat.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Extended Triangle Pose seated in a chair

Sit toward the edge of a chair. Carefully move one leg out to the side and straighten your knee. Rotate that thigh externally so your knee faces the ceiling and bring that side hand onto your shin or thigh. Reach up with your other arm. You can look up toward your fingers if that is comfortable for your neck.

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Why we love this pose

“When I realized I was actually creating a series of small triangles with my body when I engaged in this pose, I became much more deeply attuned to it,” says Yoga Journal contributing editor Gina Tomaine. “I found this concept charming and appealing. Those tiny triangles were something pleasant and simple for my mind to focus on—which made the physical challenge feel easier.”

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Preparatory and counter poses

Preparatory poses

Ardha Uttanasana (Standing Half Forward Bend)

Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend)

Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)

Counter poses

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Viparita Virabhadrasana (Reverse Warrior)

Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)

Anjaneyasana (High Lunge)

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Anatomy

In Trikonasana, the front leg hamstrings and the gluteal maximus are the focal point and receive a powerful stretch, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga instructor. The pose also stretches the upper-side abdominal and back muscles, as well as the back leg gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

An anatomy illustration shows the body in Extended Triangle Pose
(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Notice how straightening the curve of the upper-side back increases the stretch of the front-leg hamstrings. This is because engaging the upper-side quadratus lumborum muscle tilts the pelvis slightly forward, lifting the ischial tuberosities. You can see the connection of the rotation of the trunk upward and the movement to the hamstring muscles.

(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Activating the quadriceps straightens the knees. Contracting the buttocks opens the front of the pelvis. The front of the pelvis also opens as the back hip externally rotates. You can activate the gluteal muscles and the quadriceps of the back leg by attempting to drag the back foot away from the front but without actually making any visible movement. Because the foot remains fixed on the mat and cannot move, the force of this action is transmitted to the back of the knee on the rear leg, opening this region.

The tendency is for the front knee to turn in as the body turns up. Counter this tendency by externally rotating the hip to keep the knee facing forward. Press the ball of the foot into the floor to create a helical force up the leg. This illustrates the principle of co-activating muscles to create stability.

(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

The lower hand is fixed on the floor or leg, giving leverage to open the chest. The engagement of the upper side shoulder and upper arms create proprioceptive awareness of the arm in space. The cervical spine rotates the head to face upward.

Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses by Ray Long.

Put Extended Triangle Pose into practice

10 Yoga Poses to Build Better Balance

7 Poses to Release Those Tight Hamstrings


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About our contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.