Poses by Anatomy

Yoga for Back Health: 3 Ways to Modify Trikonasana for Any Back Condition

Whether you have chronic low back pain, herniation, osteoporosis, or trouble with your SI joints, these supported variations will help you enjoy the benefits of Triangle Pose with ease.

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While having a back condition should not preclude you from enjoying a yoga practice, you must modify your poses intelligently according to your particular physical makeup and the injury you have sustained or the condition you have. Trikonasana is a wonderful example of a healing pose that will strengthen and release your legs and core without taxing the tissues of the spine and back unduly. Philosophically speaking, lateral poses deflect the ordinary forward and backward movements of life, whether they are emotional, mental, or physical. It’s as though we cause time to stand still, which offers a profound sense of well-being. The supported variations that follow will help you experience the benefits of Trikonasana with ease and introspection. 

3 Ways to Modify Triangle Pose for Any Back Condition

Chair Trikonasana with Bolsters

Yoga for back health
Zev Starr-Tambor

This pose is helpful for a variety of back conditions, including cervical or lumbar herniation, lumbar strain, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis.

Anyone can enjoy this variation. It is deeply restful and safe, provided you have the range of motion in the hip and back of the front leg. The head is supported so the neck is able to release. The calf is also supported, removing strain from the back of the leg, so you can pay attention to lengthening the spine, rolling the chest open, and moving the outer hip away from the front foot. Because of the support, tension abates in the body and helps relax the central nervous system, which will cause the stress cycle that may accompany pain to abate. 

How to Prepare for the Pose

Place a chair at one end of the mat. If you’re tall, you may need to use another mat so neither you nor the chair slides. Set 2 bolsters on the chair, and depending on your height, add 1-3 blankets. You may even need to add another bolster or place blocks underneath the bolsters. (Play around with this; it’s worth the effort!)

Determine your foot position in relation to where your head needs to be while maintaining a neutral spine. Have a stance that’s at least one leg’s length wide, if not more. (Widening your legs can further release the lower back and outer hip and bring your head further down; however, it will increase the stretch of the front hamstring.)

Once you have determined your foot position, bend your front knee a little and place the short end of the block flush with your front calf. The block will rest on an angle on the floor.

As you straighten the leg, you should feel the calf supported by the block. Your knee may very slightly bend while in the pose. You can fine-tune the block placement a bit to have a completely straight leg, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.

Look for the front chair leg with your lower hand as you crease at the hip, and support yourself in such a way that you maintain a neutral spine while respecting the range of motion of your front leg. The range of motion in your outer hip will also dictate how far you can come into this pose. By no means does the pelvis have to be completely in line with the shoulders, but you want to maintain as much external rotation on the front leg as you can without compromising the knee.

Rest your head on the support and look straight out. You can place your other hand at your low hip.

Take 10 deep breaths; stay longer if you’re happy in the pose.

Additional Variations

If you have added more support for the head, take the hand higher on the chair. At this point it could be useful to move your setup alongside the wall so your props are also supported. 

You may also set up the short end of the mat against the wall and press the outer edge of your back foot into the wall for more feedback in the leg and hip and for more support. 

If you don’t have an appropriate chair, you may use a table. Make sure that you have support for your lower hand, such as a block or two.

See also Got Computer Neck? 3 Poses for Pain Relief

High Trikonasana

Yoga for back health
Zev Starr-Tambor

This pose is helpful for a variety of back conditions, including hyperkyphosis, hyperlordosis, herniation, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and spondylolisthesis. It is safe for the SI joints.

By reaching up rather than down, the spine remains high, light, and neutral, reducing the chance for injury or reinjury, while still allowing for the essential qualities of Trikonasana. For example, in the case of herniation, side bending—most particularly to the side of the herniation—can put pressure on the site of injury and cause pain.

In addition, This pose frees you from the pressure of touching the floor. The dowel on the block encourages lift and length and avoids the lateral spinal flexion that that often occurs when reaching down with the hand. The dowel also performs double duty by holding the block in place for your foot. This variation prepares you to come further into Trikonasana with a strong understanding of a neutral spine.

How to Prepare for the Pose

Maintaining a neutral spine and carefully bending the knees to protect the back, place one block near the end of the mat.

Estimate the length of your pose, with both feet on the floor. 

Using the dowel for support, place the ball of the front foot on the block. (As you do this, you may find yourself bending your back knee to take weight off the front foot to place it on the block, which is completely natural and safe.)

Anchor the dowel into the block near the toes.

In this position, reach your hand high and grip the dowel. Allow the shoulder blade to move organically with the arm, rather than trying to pull it down the back, as this can create shoulder impingement and lower back compression.

Keep the thumb of the opposite arm at the low sacrum, which will help to open the front of the shoulder as your elbow moves back.

Exhale to prepare. Inhale and reach the hips away into your High Trikonasana.

Increase range of motion by bending your elbow and resting your forearm on the dowel as you slide the hand down slightly (not pictured).

If you are hypermobile, you must exercise particular care to not collapse in the upper waist.

Take 5 deep breaths; repeat on the opposite side. Doing both sides one more time will help you to further understand the actions and enjoy the pose.

Additional Variations

For stronger support, High Trikonasana can be done at the wall. The toes lift up the wall and the hand reaches high. Proceed as above, moving the hips away from the wall as you crease at the hip.

See also 5 Simple Poses to Relieve Back Pain

Diagonal Trikonasana

Alison West in Diagonal Trikonasana in Yoga for Back Health
Zev Starr-Tambor

This pose is helpful for cervical spine issues, hyperkyphosis, hyperlordosis, compression of the lower back, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and spondylolisthesis. It is safe for the SI joints.

This pose addresses the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine, and keeps the SI joints very quiet. The external rotation of the supporting hand on the chair allows the neck to be long and quiet while anchoring the shoulder blade on the back. The outstretched arm creates expansion across the upper body. The offset foot position allows for two important actions: The front of the back thigh moves in readily while the outer hip of the front leg is able to release down more easily and create length in the lower back. This is facilitated by the placement of the supporting hand at the original midline of the classical pose, shown by the black belt on the mat.

How to Prepare for the Pose

To help with midline awareness, lay a belt down the middle of your mat.

Position your chair on a diagonal: place the front chair leg nearest to you on or slightly over the midline with the chair seat facing you.

Stand in the middle of the mat, and taking small steps, walk your front foot between the chair legs to the front wide edge of the mat and your back foot to the back wide edge of the mat on either side of the midline.

Perform a test to make sure you have the range of motion to place your hand on the chair. If not, place a block (or as much support as you need) on the chair.

Crease at the hip, maintaining a neutral spine as you bring your hand to the chair with the arm in external rotation (elbow crease facing out). The heel of the hand rests on the chair or block edge. Make sure that your chair position allows your hand to be close to the original midline.

To avoid collapsing in the front of the back hip, move the front of the back thigh in without hyperextending at the knee. At the same time, roll the outer front hip down.

Once you have established the foundation of the pose, take the upper arm out in line with your collarbone to expand the chest. Do not attempt to over-rotate the trunk. If you are comfortable, turn your head to look up at your hand.

Take 5 deep breaths; repeat on the opposite side. If you have more stamina, you can repeat the pose on each side and stay longer. This will allow you to refine actions such as lifting the lower abdomen, working with the pyramidalis muscles, lengthening both sides of the spine evenly, connecting the legs to the spine, and more.

See also 3 Ways to Improve Posture with Your Breath (Right Now)

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Join Alison for her upcoming online course, Yoga for Back Health. You will explore different conditions of the spine as well as the asana practices that will help reduce pain  and discomfort. Learn more and sign up today!