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Extended Triangle Pose: The Complete Guide

Utthita Trikonasana is a classic standing pose with a reach and rootedness that stretches and strengthens the whole body.


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Extended Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana) is a posture that gives you a lot to think about. The pose requires you to ground down into your legs while also stretching them wide. In the pose you are reaching down and upward at the same time to create a heart-opening stance. It’s a bit of a balance and a bit of a twist. And with your legs stretched beneath you, your torso coming horizontal, and your arm extended upward, your body creates the triangles the pose is named after.

Yoga teacher Jason Crandell says that he used to despise Utthita Trikonasana. “Just thinking about it made me feel frustrated, vulnerable, and irritated,” he says. “Every time I did it, I felt it exposed my physical restrictions, imbalances, and weaknesses. But once I figured out that Trikonasana teaches the three physical principles in hatha yoga I cherish the most—stability, expansion, and evenness—I fell in love with it.”

Whether you feel deeply compelled by Utthita Trikonasana or some resistance to it, approach the posture each time by engaging with it as if it’s the first time. Play with the distance between your feet, stack your hips to add a bit more torque to your pelvis, or lengthen through your arms to create a deeper chest opening. Keep your breath steady and consistent throughout the pose. That’s what will drive your energy and focus.

Above all, enjoy the spaciousness Trikonasana invites—the feeling of stretching out large, expanding to greater and greater magnitudes, and growing in all directions.

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Extended Triangle Pose basics

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

utthita = extended

trikona = three angle or triangle

Pose type: Standing

Target area: Hips

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Benefits

Extended Triangle Pose improves balance, posture, and body awareness, and counteracts the effects of prolonged sitting. It can boost energy and fight fatigue, as well as build confidence and empowerment.

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)
  • Improves digestion
  • Relieves stress
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Step-by-step instructions

  1. Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), facing the long side of the mat. Step or lightly jump your feet 3 to 4 feet apart. Check that your feet are parallel, toes facing forward.
  2. Raise your arms straight out to the sides, parallel to the floor, rotating your arms back, so that your palms face forward. Adjust your stance so that your wrists and feet are aligned,
  3. From deep within your right hip socket, externally rotate your right thigh and pivot on your heel to bring your foot parallel to the long side of the mat.
  4. Turn your left toes in slightly toward your right foot. Line up your right heel with your left inner arch. Pull the left hip back if necessary to ensure that both hip points continue to face the long side of the mat.
  5. Engage your quadriceps without locking your knees; your kneecaps should align with the second toe of each foot.
  6. Use an inhalation to lengthen your spine. On an exhalation, reach out to the right to lengthen your right waist, allowing your torso to lean to the right.
  7. 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.
  8. Keep the sides of your neck equally long as you turn your head and take your gaze up to your left thumb.
  9. Rooting down with your right big toe mound, direct your right sitting bone toward your left heel to lengthen your right waist and side.
  10. Simultaneously firm your left outer hip into your midline and press your left femur back.
  11. Firm your right buttock forward and under while pressing your left thighbone back.
  12. With each inhalation, find more length along your spine; with each exhalation, revolve around that length, rotating your right ribs forward and your left ribs back.
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Explore the pose

Beginner’s 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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Extended Triangle Pose variations

If it isn’t possible to comfortably settle into the pose, there are ways that you can make the pose more accessible:

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Extended Triangle Pose with a block

Place a block on the inside of your foot beneath your shoulder. Adjust the height of the block to whatever level feels comfortable for you.

 

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Triangle Pose using a chair

Rest your hand on the seat of a chair rather than the floor 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: Christopher Dougherty

Seated Triangle Pose

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

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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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Your body in Extended Triangle Pose | 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.

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Put Extended Triangle Pose into practice

10 Yoga Poses to Build Better Balance

7 Poses to Release Those Tight Hamstrings


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.