Brad's Iyengar Yoga Notebook
"Crooked body, crooked mind."   -- B.K.S. Iyengar
Preparing for Trikonasana
From Tadasana, you jump your feet apart and take your arms out to the sides into Utthita Hasta Padasana (the "starfish" posture).   The distance you take between your feet will be a matter of experience.   If your feet are too far apart, the energy of the outside of your legs escapes.   If they are too close, the energy if your inner legs is lost.   If your stance is too wide, you can't engage your quadriceps muscles well.   If your stance is too narrow, you will have decreased mobility in your hips and spine.   You will learn to judge a good distance based on how much leverage you feel in your legs.
When you are jumping into and out of the standing poses, first bend your knees before you jump.   Make sure you are jumping on an inhalation.   Also try to focus on making your jumping action come from the back of your body.   This requires a real traveling of your intelligence to the back body.   Much of the time, in fact most of the time, our expressions are from the front of our body.   That is where most of our intelligence is and that is where we move from.   When you talk to people, when you're expressing yourself, it is more from the front.   The front you can see and adjust with your eyes but the back you can't see to adjust.   Often we neglect the back sides of our bodies completely.   It is only in yoga that the back of the body is considered just as important as the front, almost as the main body.   When you jump in the standing poses, try to feel as if you are jumping from the back of your body, though this is a more subtle consciousness.
In Utthita Hasta Padasana, pause for a moment and re-examine what has taken place in your body.   Our tendency even after spending some time in Tadasana before jumping the feet apart is to forget the actions of Tadasana in the change.   Even after jumping your feet apart, seek Tadasana in each body part.   Is one hip now higher than the other?   Level your hips.   Is one foot more turned outward than the other?   Try to maintain Tadasana even during the transitions between asanas.   In Utthita Hasta Padasana, squeeze your outer legs strongly inward and lift your inner legs upward toward your pelvis and outward.   Lift your kneecaps and thighs.   Tuck your tailbone underneath just as in Tadasana.   Lengthen and broaden the soles of your feet and spread your toes.   Draw up your inner and outer ankles evenly.   Seek Tadasana in your torso.   Lengthen from the center of your chest out through your thumbs fully.   Lift the skin of your anterior chest upward and over your shoulders and down your back like a waterfall.   This is one of many ways of visualizing the "circularizing of the armpit chest," and lifting of the chest.   Do these actions every time you come into this transitional posture.
In Utthita Hasta Padasana, and other standing poses, when you are holding your arms out to your sides for long periods of time, make sure you engage your triceps upward into your humerus bones so you are lifting from underneath your arms rather than pulling upward so much with your deltoid muscles.   Your trapezius muscles should be descending.   This will increase your stamina and allow you to hold your arms up longer.   You should press your elbows downward to help open your chest.   If your palms are closed and not stretched your chest drops.   If you extend through your thumbs a bit, you will feel the front of your chest open.   Your little finger is connected with the back of your chest, your middle finger with your middle chest, and your thumb with the frontal/armpit side of your chest.
Next, you turn your feet to the side into the transitional posture called Parsva Hasta Padasana.   When you turn your front foot outward ninety degrees to the side, do not turn just your foot and lower leg to the side; turn your entire leg to the side from deep in your hip as a whole "Tadasana" unit.   (The same guideline applies when turning your rear foot and leg slightly inward.)   See that you turn your front leg so that the skin of your thigh is completely turning to the side to face your foot.   Keep the center of your front heel aligned with your ipsilateral sitting bone.
The second toe of your front foot should point ninety degrees to the side.   If you have any knee problem, when that knee is your front knee in this pose, you can turn your front foot outward more so your knee can also turn out.   Eventually, you want your feet alignment to be so that a line drawn back from your front heel intersects the middle of the arch of your rear foot.   In the early stages of working on this asana, it is OK to have your heels aligned on the same line which will help in maintaining balance and keeping the inner ball of your front foot pressing down on the floor strongly.   Also note that in all of the standing poses in general, individuals with wide hips may need to have heel to heel alignment rather than classical heel to arch alignment.   For pregnant women more space is required and the stance needs to be wider also.   As in Tadasana, lengthen and broaden the soles of both feet.   Spread all of your toes wide and lengthen them, but do not grip the floor with them.
Now that you are in Parsva Hasta Padasana, a whole new set of problems faces you that you must overcome to seek Tadasana.   Notice that your front-leg knee (the one turned out ninety degrees) now tends to sag inward, the result of it's thigh sagging inward.   Put a lot of effort into turning your front thigh outward strongly by drawing your inner knee toward your outer thigh.   Notice that you almost can't do this action enough.   Even with a lot of effort, it is difficult for many of us to turn the knee and especially the upper thigh to get it absolutely ninety degrees to the side to face the direction of the foot.   Try to keep turning it outward until it appears perfect to you.   Since you are turning this thigh and knee outward so much, you will need to cut your outer ankle inward toward your inner ankle to stay on the inner side of your front foot since you will have the tendency to roll onto the outer edge.   Move your front outer thigh inward so your body weight is more on the inner edge of your front foot.   Don't fall onto the outer edge of your front foot.   Bring your outer calf and your outer thigh inwards toward your midline to help you stay in the inner edge of your front foot.   You should feel that you adjust your whole front leg by the bones of your leg to come to the inner edge of your front foot.   It should not go leaning out -- come onto your inner heel.   As for your rear foot, the outer edge of your foot presses down to the mat.   Don't come onto the inner edge of your rear foot.
Also in Parsva Hasta Padasana, the turning of your feet and legs (and the work you are doing in your front leg) has now created a tendency for your pelvis to tilt toward your front leg.   Even in this transitional posture, seek Tadasana in your pelvis and torso.   Level your pelvis from side to side.   Continue to raise your side ribs up and lift your chest.   You will find you need to twist your torso back away from your front foot to keep your torso squared to the front wall.   A more coarse or beginning type of action is to twist from your shoulders back away from your front foot.   A more intermediate action is to twist from your floating ribs back and your front knee outward.   The more advanced twisting action is to try to take your rear side abdominal muscles (and your navel area) back and your upper front thigh outwards.   That is to say, turn from your abdomen until your torso is facing square forward as close as you can achieve.   Don't proceed into Trikonasana until you have established these actions.
When you are ready to lower your torso into Trikonasana, create an anchor in the outer edge of your rear foot before you move into the pose and keep it there as you take the pose.   As with any standing pose, exhale as you go down; (inhale as you come up).
Actions of the legs and feet
In Trikonasana, your weight should be evenly distributed between the inside edge of your front foot and the outside edge of your rear foot.   Have your weight exactly divided between your two feet.   As in all standing poses, both of your feet should bear equal weight on the front of the heel and the rear of the ball of the foot.   Use the entire weight of your back leg and hip to push into the outside of your back foot.   Pay attention to pressing the base of your front foot great toe down to the floor since there is a tendency to roll to the outside edge of the front foot.   You may turn your front foot outward very slightly if it is more comfortable.   Also, if you need to make a stance correction while in this pose (if you need to move a foot) always move the rear foot because it's harder to move the front one.   Sometimes turning your rear foot a little more inward than you usually do can assist you in maintaining balance in the pose if that is a problem.
This is one of the three main asymmetric wide-legged standing poses in which the pelvis is rotated to the side to approximate the plane of the legs.   (The other two are Parsvakonasana and Virabhadrasana II).   In these poses, there is a tendency to allow the rear hip to fall inward and the rear thigh and knee to roll forward.   Resist this by a strong backward action in your rear hip, thigh, and knee in all these poses so that your entire back leg is rotating away from your front one, your rear knee rotating upward toward the ceiling.   Take your rear thigh skin and bone (femur) deeply into the back of your leg, so your rear groin moves away from your front one.   Keep your rear hip, inner thigh, and knee drawing strongly back throughout the pose.   Don't let the outer edge of your back foot come off the floor.   Press it down strongly.   Establish and maintain the Tadasana of your rear leg.   While you are pressing the outer edge of your rear foot down, still have the feeling of drawing up on your rear outer ankle.
The most important 3 actions of the rear leg in Trikonasana (as well as in Parsvakonasana and Virabhadrasana II) are (1) the inner ankle moves toward outer ankle and presses the outer edge of the foot down, (2) the thigh rotates outward and upward, and (3) the inner thigh hits outward towards the outer thigh, lifting it away from the floor.   All three of these actions participate in pressing the rear foot down flat on the mat.
Remember the tendency for the front thigh to rotate inward if it is relaxed.   Counteract this tendency with a strong contraction of your front buttock and external hip rotators to externally rotate your front thigh so that you center your thigh, knee, and shin directly in line with the center of your front foot (not your great toe).   Even though you are turning your front leg outward, keep your weight even across the sole of your front foot -- don't let your foot be rolling outward on its edge.   Don't let the outer ankle of your front foot fall down.   Lift it upward toward your front hip and cut it inward toward your inner ankle.   As you stay firm, pressing your front inner foot down, lengthen and pull up along the long diagonal from your front big toe all the way up into your outer front hip.   This action helps the outer rotation of your front thigh.
As a result of doing the essential actions of the previous paragraph, more subtly, you may find that your intelligence is only in the outer side of your front leg -- you have to bring that intelligence in to touch your inner front leg.   You want to lengthen your inner front leg.   Feel as though you touch your inner front thigh with your outer thigh and lift your inner thigh up.   This will be clearer after reading about the actions of the hips and pelvis below.
You should be turning both knees and thighs outward away from each other to feel as though you are opening from your pelvis outward through your legs.   Broadening your pelvis as wide as possible will help this action and this action will help you broaden your pelvis.
As in all standing poses, it is especially important to engage your leg muscles strongly to your bones, hugging in from all sides.   Tighten the skin and muscles (quadriceps) of both your thighs to lift your kneecaps toward your groins.   You may find that you have to keep "recharging" this action, pulling up your kneecaps each time they fall.   Especially drawing the skin of your forward thigh strongly up into your hip on that side will assist you in getting a good flexion of your torso forward at that groin.
In addition to lifting your kneecaps, draw them into your knees strongly.   Have the feeling of drawing the skin of your thighs into your quadriceps, into your thighbones, and all the way into the backs of your legs strongly on both sides.   Allow this action to broaden the backs of your legs.   Spread the skin at the back of your knees.   This pose should stretch your front hamstring muscles strongly.   If you can't feel every part of your legs in the standing poses, you're not engaging your muscles enough.   Extend consciousness into every inch of the pose so that you have awareness there.   Even though you are drawing your thighs into the backs of your legs strongly, tuck your sacrum underneath.   This is a common theme in the standing poses beginning with Tadasana.
Don't "hang out" in your front leg, just resting on it.   Lift your entire leg up into your hip socket.   As in almost all standing poses, lift the skin on the backs of your thighs and hamstrings toward your buttocks.   Raise the inside and outside of your knees equally.   Although all of your leg muscles are drawing in and upward, have the feeling of lengthening and extending your bones outward.   This applies to your arms as well.
You should take care not to hyperextend your knees in Trikonasana, just as in Tadasana and Uttanasana.   Learn to straighten your knees with full extension of your legs but without hyperextension.   Maintain some weight toward the ball of your front foot and use your front thigh to pull your thighbone upward out of your front knee, allowing your front shin some slight forward movement.   As in Tadasana, your calves should be engaging into your shins, pressing forward not bowing back.   In these straight-legged poses, though your knees are straight, you will bend them slightly in your mind.   Take your upper thighbones (femurs) back, but resist this action with the heads of your shins (tibias) moving slightly forward.   Don't push your knee itself back, even though you are drawing your kneecap inward.   This is "Uttanasana legs" or "Trikonasana legs."   One way to get a feeling for the non-hyper-extending knee is to place a block under the top of your front calf so that area of your leg does not tend to sag.
Actions of the torso, hips, and pelvis
As you take your torso to the side, strive for the feeling of moving from deep within your front groin and hip area like a hinge.   You want the "bowl" of your pelvis to tilt toward your front leg like a pitcher pouring water.   Trikonasana is not a side stretch, at least not in the Iyengar method.   You want to minimize pure lateral spine flexion in Trikonasana by bending from your hips, not the side of your body, though there will inevitably be some small amount of lateral spine flexion in a deep Trikonasana.   Lengthen your torso.   Try to lengthen the sides of your torso from your hips to your armpits an equal amount on each side.   It is easy to expand and lengthen the upper side of your body -- also work on the lower side, expanding and lengthening it as much as the upper side.   Let each rib separate from the one next to it as in pranayama, especially on your lower side.   Avoid the tendency to squeeze the lower side and overstretch the upper side.   Pay attention to the sensation of your skin on the upper side of your torso between your lower ribs and your hip.   If you have a strong feeling of stretch in the skin there, you probably have too much lateral flexion in your spine and torso.   Feel as though your torso is lifting straight out of your pelvis an equal amount on both sides.   Elongate your spine out of your pelvis, moving your tailbone and the crown of your head away from each other maximally.
As an aid to getting your torso straight and flat, take the area of your upper ribs near your axilla (armpit) down diagonally toward your front foot.   Contraction of the flank muscles of the upper side of your torso will help to keep it flat.   Also focus on length in the lower side of your body.   Keep your lower armpit chest open.   Take your lower kidney toward the floor and also toward your head.   Take your upper kidney into your body.   Try to make both your left and right side ribs feel exactly even when you are in the pose.
Soften and release your groins.   Do not hold any tension in them.   Deepen your front groin (hip crease) by pulling your front hip and groin back away from your front foot as much as possible.   Tuck your front buttock bone forward toward the front wall to help turn your pelvis more into the plane of your legs.   Tuck your tailbone under just as in Tadasana, moving it forward away from your lower spine.   If you are in Trikonasana to the left, the action you want is to take the left side of your sacrum forward (the lower side) as you take your inner right groin back.   Draw your upper (rear) hip backward toward the wall behind you which will help you draw your pelvis more into the plane of your legs.   As your front sitting bone is drawing forward and your rear sitting bone is drawing back, seek unity in this opposition.   Have the feeling of broadening the front of your pelvis.   This is an important action for Trikonasana.
Your front buttock both pushes forward to the wall in front of you (one of the most essential actions of this pose) and also rotates in a circular way underneath toward your front leg.   Your rear buttock pulls back toward the wall behind you, while at the same time your inner rear thigh and groin also pulls back from underneath -- these two subtle dual actions in the buttocks help bring light to the inner thigh area which is a particularly dark area of the body where we tend not to extend our intelligence.
It is not necessary to try to have your hips on top of one another as is done in Ardha Chandrasana.   That position is not anatomically possible in Trikonasana.
There is a tendency in this pose, especially for beginners, to have the weight shifted inward inside of the front leg due to the natural fear of falling backward.   Resist this tendency by keeping your torso turned completely to the side and in the same plane as your legs.   Though your upper side ribs should be directly over your lower side ribs and your shoulders perpendicular to the floor, you will need to have the feeling of drawing your underside ribs forward and your upper side ribs backward and pulling your upper shoulder back.   Have a feeling of turning rearward with your upper body as if to reach back to place your back onto an imaginary wall just behind you.   Have the sensation of leaning back very slightly with your torso, though that is more of a sensation than a true action.   Rotate your torso upward toward the ceiling.   One way of thinking about this pose is to rotate your rear thigh, your pelvis, your abdomen, and your chest, all upward toward the ceiling as a unit.   Try to rotate even your navel upward toward the ceiling just as you do your face.
Have a feeling of arching your back slightly in the pose.   Have the skin of your back moving toward your pelvis, while the skin of your front torso moves away from your pelvis toward your head.   Stretch your front torso skin toward your chin.   Even as you tuck your pubic bone forward, draw your sternum away from your pubic bone to lengthen the front of your torso.   As in all poses, your sternum should have an uplifting feeling to open the front of your torso and your shoulder blades should be drawn into and down your back to assist with this opening.   Press the skin of your back in toward your sternum.   Broaden your chest and collar bones apart.   "Circularize your armpit chest" as previously discussed in the Tadasana section.   As you inhale, expand and lift your chest.   As you exhale turn your whole torso more toward the ceiling.
One way to practice the coordination of your leg and torso actions in Trikonasana is to press your rear heel into a wall with your front foot pointing straight away from the wall.   As you come into the pose and extend your lower side ribs, move your outer front thigh back toward the wall and your front femur deeply into its socket -- that is take the bone straight into the socket.   Press both of your legs back toward the wall and lengthen everything from your waist up to the crown of your head away from the wall.   Another way to use the wall to help you get the feeling for the front femur moving deeply into its socket, is to place that front foot higher than your rear foot, for instance on a block or a quarter-round up against the wall, and then come into the pose, paying particular attention to the sensation this creates in your front hip.
Actions of the hands, arms, and shoulders
When moving into the pose keep your arms and elbows firm.
Broaden and separate your shoulders away from each other.   Broaden your collar bones and move your shoulders back toward the wall behind you.   Separate your arms apart maximally to help open and broaden your chest.   Use your upper arm in particular to help lift and open your chest.   Extend through the thumb of your lower hand and the little finger of your upper hand.   Draw your triceps muscles in toward your armpits, especially the lower one, but as your muscles are drawing in, keep feeling your bones extending outward.   Charging outward through your arms lightens the feeling of your torso.   Your upper hand does not have a floor or a prop to hold onto so your upper hand has to be charged doubly more than your bottom one.
All four of your limbs should be outwardly turning.   Turn the inner elbow crease of your lower arm to face the direction your front foot is pointing.   Rotate both of your biceps to face in the direction of your head.   The bottom shoulder tends to internally rotate as you revolve the chest upward so focus on turning it out to resist that tendency.   Engage your inner shoulder blades and roll your shoulders back.   Hug your shoulder blades into your back body, and move your trapezius muscles down your back while you lengthen your neck away from your shoulders.
Keep striving to align your arms, legs, and torso together in one vertical plane.   Everything should be directly over an imaginary line drawn between your two feet.   Draw your upper shoulder back (not just your upper arm) to help achieve this alignment.
Lengthen and broaden both of your hands (note that you can do this while keeping your fingers lightly touching together).   Spread and elongate your fingers and open the skin at the base of your palm.   Then when you join your fingers, take care that the skin of your palm does not contract.   Can you maintain the openness when you join your fingers?   The palm skin should move toward your fingers.
If you use a block for your lower hand in Trikonasana, or for poses like Virasana where you sit on the block, you can use the "phone book" method to approach a lower height gradually.   Each day you tear off one page of the book and lessen the height.   You can take this literally or figuratively.
Actions of the head and face
For your head, first look at the front wall with your face, then take your head back toward the wall behind you, and only then turn it upward to face the ceiling.   This sequence sets your neck much better.   So you take the top of your head back toward the wall behind you before turning it to look up (study the photo of Mr. Iyengar in Light on Yoga).
Look toward your upper hand with your entire face, not just out of the corner of your eyes.   This action requires pulling your upper shoulder back.   Gaze at the thumb of your upper hand with your lower eye as much as the upper one.   Point your nose to the ceiling as long as it does not strain your neck.
As in all asanas, soften your face, tongue, eyes, and throat areas.   Relax your face.   Let your eyes relax back into their sockets.   Hold no tension at all there.