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Pragmatic Pose of the Month: Triangle/Trikonasana

This month’s pose is Trikonasana or Triangle Pose, a wonderfully balanced standing pose. This is one of my personal favorites because it’s a great posture for both stretching and strengthening of the legs, shoulders and torso, And I also really enjoy the many variations and different intensity levels there are to explore with Triangle Pose.

The triangle shape is, and always has been a symbol of transformation and connection. So March is the perfect time to think about how triangles can help remind us of the connection of mind/body/spirit and also help frame our transition out of the winter months into the spring. As we emerge from colder and darker and perhaps lonelier days, we can see that we will soon have warmer, brighter days with more connection to others. Winter has peaked and now we transition down toward summer, transforming our energy, environments and our wardrobes! Ideally, during these times of transition, we strive to stay balanced as we adapt to the next season. I personally need vigorous outdoor exercise, vitamin D supplements and cozy socks and sweaters to thrive during the chilly, dark days of winter. And in the summer time, I need to drink more liquids, get more rest and spend time in/on the water and in the shade in order to keep my energy balanced and avoid summertime anxiety or burnout. The next time you work on trikonasana or triangle pose, after you set the physical foundation, reflect on what it is that helps you thrive at different times of your life. What will you need this spring and summer in order to feel like your best self in body, mind and spirit?

Points of Body Awareness:

*Are your legs strong and rooted?

*Press the ball of the front leg down to avoid hyperextending the knee.

*The activation of the pelvic girdle muscles will result in the front hip slightly rolling outward, the back hip rolling inward.

*Reach out over the front leg before reaching down.

*Consider placing the back hand on the hip as you reach forward. This helps focus the alignment of the pose on the spine, ribcage and shoulder blades as you set up the pose.

*Keep lengthening the spine as you reach down with the front hand.

*Can you feel a sense of mobility in the ribcage as you breathe while holding the posture?

*Open the heart by rolling the top shoulder blade back, in line with the bottom shoulder blade.

*Float the top hand up, keeping the wrist in line with the shoulder. Feel the arms reaching in opposite directions.

*Can you feel the ribcage (on the side of the forward leg) move toward the ground to allow for greater lengthening of the spine?

*Can you feel the lines of energy in the pose? Ground down through the legs, lengthen through the spine and open from the breastbone through the fingertips.

To Modify:

If you can’t reach the ground without curving the spine or if you just want to feel more spacious and open in the pose, place the bottom hand on a block, your front leg or the seat of a chair. If there is any discomfort in the neck, keep the gaze forward or down but be sure to continue lengthening through the neck.

To Challenge:

Use a wall for kinesthetic feedback to help work towards full rotation and chest opening. Feel three points of contact: the buttocks of the forward leg and both shoulder blades. If you can’t reach the wall with your top shoulder blade, use a block or chair as described above.

Try unweighting the bottom hand and hovering in the pose for a greater core strengthening challenge. This can be done regardless of the use of props but really pay attention to your ability to maintain a lengthened spine and slow, deep breaths.

Triangle lifts are a fun and challenging variation that I learned from strength-for-yoga specialist, Jenny Rawlings. It's good for working on dynamic core strength of the lateral trunk muscles as well as strength and stability of the shoulders in an overhead range. Start with a block or a book in order to practice good form and move on to holding a light dumbbell or kettlebell.

PT Notes:

This is a good pose for patients who are working on thoracic rotation and scapular coordination. One common mistake people make with this pose is that they reach too far back with the top hand (horizontal abduction) rather than increasing scapular retraction and/or thoracic rotation (intervertebral and/or costovertebral). This can place stress on the anterior capsule of the shoulder and can perpetuate dysfunction of the humeral-scapulo-thoracic complex. Using a wall as described above is helpful for cueing the patients for better alignment but they should be able to progress to pain-free, proper alignment without cues in order to demonstrate normal proprioception and scapular awareness. This is a good posture to try after doing joint mobilizations on the thoracic spine or after manual PNF for increased scapular recruitment and ROM.

Tightness of any of the pelvic girdle muscles will cause a compensation of spinal side bending. If a patient is unable to perform this posture without side bending then use a block or chair as described in modifications. Then assess which pelvic girdle muscles are tight and give the patient separate stretches to isolate those muscles. For example, if quadratus lumborum is tight, side-bending Child's pose may be a good stretch to work on. If the adductors and hamstrings are tight, reclined strap stretches are a safe and effective way to increase flexibility.

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