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I remember the first time I went to a Mysore-style yoga session, which is an Ashtanga yoga self-practice class in which students practice together in the same room but at their own pace. As I tentatively rolled out my yoga mat, I watched a student gracefully and seemingly effortlessly move into an unfamiliar standing pose. The person stepped their feet apart and reached to take hold of their big toe with one hand while extending their other hand toward the ceiling, appearing simultaneously grounded and expansive.
I later learned this posture was Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose). I was determined to find these qualities in the pose for myself. But I wrongly assumed that reaching my big toe was the most essential component of the pose. Each time I pushed myself to get there, I couldn’t feel any of the expansiveness that I had witnessed in that student.
One morning during my practice, my teacher observed me struggling and quietly said, “It’s the integrity that matters, not how far you reach.”
I eventually came to understand that if I want to feel both grounded and expansive, I need to find what works for my body rather than focus on what seems to work for someone else.
Extended Triangle Pose is a standing pose in which you create two triangles with your body: one is formed when you step your feet apart and imagine a triangle between your legs and the floor, and another as you reach your front hand to your leg and imagine a triangle between your leg, arm, and lower side body.
Practicing Extended Triangle Pose helps build strength in your feet, legs, and arms. It also encourages you to find length and space along your side body and across your chest. Triangle can also increase mobility in your hip joints and spine, strengthen your core, and allow your ribcage to expand more when you breathe. The asana challenges you to practice balance, focus, and self-awareness.
The traditional version of Utthita Trikonasana can be challenging for anyone, particularly if you struggle with your balance, have tight hip muscles, limited spinal mobility, or are working with a knee or neck injury. As with any pose, there are many variations of Extended Triangle Pose that enable you to explore the pose in a way that works for your individual needs.
4 Extended Triangle Pose variations
Practicing Ardha Uttanasana (Standing Half Forward Bend), Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II), and Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend) help to prepare your legs for Extended Triangle Pose. Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose) helps prepare the sides of your body and your arms.
1. Extended Triangle Pose
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), step your left foot back 3 to 4 feet. Find a stance that allows you to feel stable. Turn your chest to face the long edge of the mat and angle your left foot in slightly. Either arrange your heels in a line with one another or step your left father out to the side for greater stability. Press down equally through the edges of your feet.
Lift your arms parallel to the mat and start to reach toward the front of the mat, leaning your right side toward the mat and placing your right hand on your shin or, if it’s available to you, your big toe. Keep both sides of your torso long as you turn the left side of your ribcage toward the ceiling to stack your shoulders. Reach your left hand toward the ceiling or place it on your left hip. Draw your shoulder blades away from your ears. Either look up toward your left hand, look straight ahead, or look down toward your right hand.
Imagine you are drawing your feet toward each other to engage your inner thigh muscles. If you struggle to find this action, shorten your stance.
2. Extended Triangle Pose with a block
If you find it challenging to reach your hand to your shin, practice as above but place a block on its tallest level along the outer edge of your right foot and rest your right hand on the block. Keep both sides of your torso long as you turn the left side of your ribcage toward the ceiling to stack your shoulders.
3. Extended Triangle Pose with a chair
If you experience limited mobility in leaning to the side, using a chair as support brings the floor even closer to you than your shin or a block. Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with a chair about one foot in front of you. The chair can either face you or face away from you, depending on whether you want to use the seat or the back for support. Which you choose depends on how far you can comfortable lean to your side.
Practice as above but rest your right hand on the back or seat of the chair. Keep both sides of your torso long as you turn the left side of your ribcage toward the ceiling to stack your shoulders.
4. Extended Triangle Pose on your back
Lie on your back with your legs extended straight out and place a block, on its lowest level, about two feet to the left of your left foot. Bring your feet 3 to 4 feet apart and place your left heel on the block. Turn your right foot toward the right and angle your left foot in slightly. Try to draw your feet toward each other without moving your legs to engage your inner thigh muscles.
Reach both arms straight out from the shoulders and start to reach toward your right, leaning your right side toward your leg and keeping both sides of your torso long as you place your right hand on your right thigh or shin. Roll the left side of your ribcage and your left shoulder back to broaden your chest, trying to rest your back on the mat. Either reach your left hand straight out from your shoulder or place your left hand on your left hip. Look wherever feels most comfortable for your neck.
About our contributor
Andrew McGonigle has studied anatomy for more than 20 years. After initially studying to become a doctor, he moved away from Western medicine to become a yoga and anatomy teacher. He shares his knowledge of the body and the ways it moves in yoga teacher training courses throughout the world and leads his own Yoga Anatomy Online Course. His second book, The Physiology of Yoga, was published in June 2022. To learn more about Andrew, check out doctor-yogi.com or follow him on Instagram @doctoryogi.