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Trikonasana ( Triangle Pose ) - Issues and solutions

Some General Comments :- Different schools of yoga have different views about what Trikonasana is and the different versions of this pose vary quite a bit with respect to the body positioning and the effects (and potential problems) of the pose. Here we are looking at Trikonasana as a simple side bend with feet wide and both feet forwards (i.e. feet, hips and shoulders point/face forwards).


List of some of the issues that can be relevant for practising this pose:

Trikonasana Pose Potential Problem Areas Image
            · Neck

            · Shoulder Joints

            · Chest/Breathing

            · Lumbar Spine

            Pregnancy



Neck

If one’s neck is already feeling uncomfortable (with muscle strain such as one can get from lying badly when sleeping) – then tilting the head sideways can aggravate the problem. Obviously, a practice should be discontinued if it causes discomfort (and even more so if it causes pain). However, taking care not to tilt the head sideways relative to the shoulders or turning the head (to look along a shoulder) can be helpful options. Another thing to consider is practising supine side-bending instead of standing side-bending as the weight of the head is then supported by the floor and so there is less risk of strain to the neck.


Shoulder Joints

Some people find that lifting the arm into the overhead position is uncomfortable, or indeed impossible – cf. “frozen”-shoulder type issues. If this is the case, the arm can be left by one’s side or lifted to a position as far towards the overhead position as feels comfortable.


Chest/Breathing

In side bends in general, one side of the chest is held in a very open, expanded form while the other side is squeezed into a closed and contracted form. The net effect is that breathing via the expansion and contraction of the rib-cage is very restricted. This is not normally a problem but those who are used to primarily breathing via the expansion and contraction of the rib-cage (rather than “abdominally”) may well find the experience uncomfortable or even distressing - although it is very unlikely to do any physical harm. If one does experience some discomfort with regard to breathing then one should simply go a little less far into the side-bend or move in and out of the side-bend with the breath. The degree of side bend with which one feels comfortable will increase with practice. If controlling the amount of a standing side bend (to a degree that is sufficient to be comfortable) proves difficult, a helpful alternative option is supine side bending.


Lumbar Spine

Side bends are often said to be a bad idea for those with lower back problems. The reason for this is that most of the side bending of the trunk occurs in the lumbar region, with one side of the spinal discs of this area being squeezed/compressed, potentially to a high degree – this is not usually a problem but can be if the spinal alignment is poor or there is a high degree of damage to the spinal discs.

Those with significant lower-back problems may well do better to practise supine side-bends rather than standing side-bends – or, at the very least, take special care over the spinal alignment and to avoid moving so far into the pose as to feel discomfort. Using a wall to give extra feedback over the shape of the spine and to help discourage a tendency to twist the spine can be very helpful.

Those who have a lot of lumbar lordosis (concave lower back) also should take extra care of the spinal alignment in the lumbar spine. When the legs are straight and wide, the ilio-psoas muscles (which attach to both the front of the lumbar spine, the top front of the pelvic girdle and to the top of the femur) will tend to pull the lumbar spine forwards and thus put the back of the lumbar discs into compression before one moves into the side bend. A solution is to bend the legs a little or perhaps have the legs a little less wide apart.

The lumbar spine position is strongly affected by what one does with the feet and legs (before moving into the side-bend) – “well rooted” feet and active legs do much to give good alignment and stability to the lumbar spine. For example, being conscious of the pad of the big toe joint, the pad of the little toe joint and the heel pressing downwards will tend to activate the legs and give good alignment and stability to the lumbar spine. Another approach is to contract leg muscles as though trying to draw the feet together (without actually moving the legs) and pressing the outside edges of the feet downwards. Another thing to try is to bend the knees slightly and consciously press / sink the heels until the legs are straight.

Using “base support” ideas and mula bandha are also protective of the lumbar spine.


Pregnancy

Practising yoga in the first trimester is considered by most yoga teachers to be contra-indicated. The only explanation I have heard for this is that in the first trimester there is a fairly high tendency for spontaneous miscarriage and this could in principle be exacerbated by yoga (although, as far as I know, there is no evidence for this). Possibly a mid-wife or an expert pregnancy yoga teacher might be able to give a better explanation.

In the later stages of pregnancy, one of the issues that needs to be borne in mind is that the womb starts to press against the inferior vena cava (main vein in the trunk) and the aorta (main artery). This has implications for blood circulation to and from the legs. It is thus unwise to hold the leg part of standing postures for any duration - with risks of discomfort, tiredness (in legs) and an increased likelihood, over the long term, of getting varicose veins or tissue fluid issues (oedema) in the legs. With regard to standing side bends this means that one should go for dynamic versions that involve leg movement. Similarly, static side-bending is unhelpful from a breathing point of view – with abdominal breathing restricted by the growing womb, one does not want to further restrict the breath by holding the upper trunk in a position that will restrict breathing in chest.

Another issue to consider is that, as the womb becomes bigger, one’s ability to bend sideways in the lumbar area becomes restricted – thus one should start to aim for side-stretches or side-bends that focus more on opening the chest than on bending in the lumbar spine.

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