February 8, 2012

Trigonometry Lessons: The Triangle Pose

I’ve been walking around for the past several weeks randomly practising the Triangle pose. I stop wherever I am, take a wide and strong stance, extend to one side, turn and look up. What I see is always different, breathtakingly so, as I stretch into blue sky or pine needles flashing in the sun or cloud with a crescent moon camouflaged inside. The Triangle supports me and provides a refreshing new angle on the world, a way to see beyond the usual.

There’s something powerful in receiving this kind of support, in creating a structure strong enough to carry asymmetrical movement. It’s all about balance. There’s the physical balance—the relationship between the forward and the back leg, between the lower arm pointing to earth and the upper arm extending to sky. There’s the balance of remaining integrated, all in one plane, geometrical, aligned, precise. There’s the balance of foundation supporting vision, of front and back communicating and adjusting. It’s as if my body itself is a community that requires all parts to work together in harmony and interdependence.

Mentally, the Triangle pose is also about balance. I’ve seen so many people ambitious in their intent—twisting, bending, sacrificing the process for an end goal—anything to get that hand to the ground. What is potentially a flow of breath and a new vision becomes an urge for perfection, competition, a technical feat. I feel it in myself—that edge between wanting to look good and actually being where I am. The Sanskrit words Utthita Trikonasana translate into “extended triangle.” How far to extend? How to know when it’s too far? What is the ground of my decision? What supports one thought over another? When is it ambition? When is it caution? How to be caring yet willing to enter a challenge, to know what is right in the moment?

What can be learned from the Triangle seems to extend beyond the pose itself and into the relationships I have with those I live with. If I start strong in my own foundation—my commitment to my evolution—I can reach out. There’s always the question of how to interact. When am I overextending and losing my own balance? When do I need to be straight? When am I coming from a place of wanting to look good instead of observing and caring about others? And how do I let the Divine in-turn to look up to something beyond my own little ideas?

The Triangle is a defined form, an arrow pointing to the Light. Holding the position, I look up at my hand and into the sky. How far away the blue seems, how small the hand that reaches. Yet the feeling is one of connection, of extension beyond the limits of my fingertips, beyond the confines of form. Just as trigonometry uses triangles to measure space, this Triangle pose can be used as a tool for connecting with the intangible.

The Triangle is a symbol rich in meaning. Stepping into the pose, we embody the symbol and can enter into an adventure of self-discovery. The simplicity of three intersecting lines can lead us to explore the dynamics of our interactions with others and to open ourselves to the beauty and mystery of the universe.

how to do
utthita trikonasana:
the triangle pose

  1. Start in the Mountain pose, feeling what it is to be human with this vertical axis and particular perspective.
  2. Step the feet apart to create an equilateral triangle between the ground and your two legs. Adjust your triangle to work for you—some people need their stance to be narrower and others wider. Experiment.
  3. Turn one foot out at 90 degrees and the other in to 45. Bend the forward knee to be sure it is aligned with the foot. Straighten the leg but keep the knee and foot aligned throughout the pose. Never twist the knee.
  4. Stretch your arms out to the sides, and begin to move from the hip joint, keeping the spine lengthened as you extend sideways over the front leg. Then allow the hand to rest against the leg, wherever it comes, while the other arm reaches up.
  5. Rotate your head to look up toward your upstretched hand, again adjusting so that your neck is unstrained and comfortable. Observe your new perspective.


  • Take the time to create a firm foundation, getting in touch with the base triangle first, before beginning the movement at the hips.
  • Try practising the hip movement standing upright—a sideways slide. Loosen up your hips with poses like the Cobbler or even some hula moves.
  • Notice what you need to do to keep the body almost two- dimensional, like a line with no extraneous projections, as you move sideways. Aim toward keeping the spine lengthened and aligned.
  • Bring the image of a triangle to mind and let its precision inform your position. Be aware of the framework of your bones—straightness through the spine, the legs, the arms.


  1. Think of how the triangle forms a strong structure and is used in the building industry. As you hold the Triangle pose, ask, How much can I support and how well can I resist pressure?
  2. As you do the Triangle, reflect on “interdependence.” How is it active in the pose and in your life?
  3. Practise the Triangle while reflecting on a significant three-way relationship, such as mother, father, child.

Swami Lalitananda is a teacher and author of two books, including The Inner Life of Asanas. For five years, she was the Director of Radha Yoga & Eatery in Vancouver, a space that embraces art, culture, yoga and community. She lived and studied with Swami Radha for over 20 years. Swami Lalitananda took sanyas in 1996 and is dedicated to making yoga accessible and significant in everyday life.

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