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Free Your Hips: How to Stabilize and Open Your Hips in Triangle Pose

Triangle pose or Utthita Trikonasana (pronouced “oo-TEE-tah trik-cone-AHS-anna”) is one of my favorite poses because it makes me feel grounded and connected to my body. In Sanskrit, Utthitameans extended and trikona means three angle or triangle. When in proper alignment, Triangle Pose allows my hips to open up, giving me a sense of freedom and beauty in the body.

When done properly and consistently, there are many benefits to triangle pose:

  • Stretches the legs, muscles around the knee, ankle joints, hips, groin muscles, hamstrings, calves, shoulders, chest and spine.
  • Strengthens legs, knees, ankles, abdominals, obliques and back.
  • Stimulates function of abdominal organs.
  • Relieves stress.

Getting Into Triangle Pose

To feel these benefits, we begin by getting into the form of the pose. In Triangle Pose there are three (3) triangle shapes are created in the body (see the image below). The first triangle is between the feet consisting of the 2 extended legs and floor. The second is an upside down triangle shape made by the front leg, lower arm and the torso. The third triangle consists of the upper arm, top outer edge of the torso and a connecting line from the fingertips to the outer point of the top hip.

When your feet are firmly grounded on the floor and the arms are outstretched creating the three triangles, rotate the torso upward and away from the floor, opening up the chest and creating the stretch in the hips, legs and torso. Imagine that your hips are being pulled towards the back of your mat and the crown of the head is extending towards the top of your mat, creating length in your spine.

I have noticed with newer students of yoga, Triangle pose can be difficult to get into proper alignment. Improper alignment can make you feel unstable by not being grounded in the feet due to lack of foot to floor connection. You can become “stuck in the hips” and unable to bend deeply at the front hip joint to allow the body to move into its fullest range of motion. Thus inhibiting the action of the pose. “Stuck in the hips,” means the hip joint can’t go to its fullest range of motion because the bones of the hip joint (the femur and pelvis) are actually moving toward one other, preventing the student from flexing the hip. The flexing of the hip is where the rotation of the torso is possible.

Triangle Pose or Utthita Trikonasana with a curved spine. This version of the pose is not in proper alignment.

The hip joint is compressed, resulting in the bone to bone hard end feel and making the hips feel stuck.

In the first set of photos, see that the yoga student has a curved spine and the front hip isn’t deeply flexed (flexed is where the top of the pelvis bends closer to the femur bone; bending forward at the hip joint is flexion of the hip). Without a deep flexion in the hip it can cause the spine to curve side-ways down towards the floor as you try to reach your bottom hand to the floor to create the upside down triangle shape of the pose.

Now, look at the picture of the skeleton next to it and see that the femur bone is actually coming into contact with the socket of the pelvis. This is what we call a “hard-stop” in anatomical language, where the bones run into each other preventing you from accessing the hip joint’s full range of motion. In this case, the deep flexion of the front hip allows the rotation of the joint, which then gives the torso the room to rotate upward away from the floor.

When your front hip is in a hard-end stop situation, it inhibits your ability to reach to the floor, creating a curvature of the spine and making it difficult to balance. It prevents you from being able to rotate your body open (spinning the top rib cage up and away from the floor). This action of rotating the body away from the floor is the action of the pose where the opening of the body and sense of freedom happens. When the hip socket is stuck at the hard-end, bone to bone stop, the body cannot access to the fullest expression of the pose. The action of the pose where you receive all the benefits of Trikonasana.

Here’s a simple way a you can create more space in the hip joint, enabling a deeper flexion of the front hip, with a simple small rotation of the pelvis. Spinning the back hip towards the direction of the front foot when beginning to get into the form of the pose will create space in the front hip joint, where the rotation to perform the action of the pose happens. To explain how this happens it will help to look at the second set of photos.

Triangle Pose or Utthita Trikonasana with proper alignment.

This is an image of the hips in proper alignment. Notice that the ball of the femur has more room to rotate, allowing the hips to move more freely. Also notice how the hips are facing front instead of the the side of the mat

Look at the skeleton photo and see that the hip joint is a ball and socket joint. Ball and socket joints are multi-axial joints, meaning they can move along several axis’ and perform circumduction (full range of circular movement). Circumduction gives you the ability to create circular movements in a joint, such as in the shoulder and hip joints. In order for the femur bone to move in a circular way, the head of the femur (the ball part of the ball and socket joint) needs to be placed in the center of the socket (the acetabulum/socket portion of the pelvis) to allow full range of motion. Otherwise the head of the femur may run into the socket of the pelvis creating the hard stop feeling (bone to bone contact) that inhibits the capacity for a fuller circumduction of the hip joint. Note when the back hip is slightly rotating forward towards the front foot, it creates space for the head of femur to move freely in the hip socket. By doing this small action at the very beginning when creating the form of the pose, the front hip joint can flex deeply and then you’ll have access to the action of the pose (circumduction in the front hip), which is how the body rotates upward and away from the floor.

Here’s a more in-depth explanation:

You can see this slight forward rotation of the back hip in the picture of the practitioner in this set of pictures. A lot of newer practitioners won’t try this action because it appears with more advanced practitioners that the back hip is spinning away from the front foot, which over time, is what is happening when the practitioner performs the action of the pose.

The set up, form of the pose is key for triangle pose. Also, using a prop like a yoga block is beneficial for the newer practitioner to gain access to the form of the pose. The block will take out the spinal curvature that happens as a practitioner tries to reach for the floor – however, most practitioners can achieve the form of the pose simply by creating the forward rotation of the back hip.

Now go out and experience it for yourself. Feel the amazing benefits of triangle and open yourself up to the freedom and possibility that you can get from Trikonasana!

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