Extended Triangle Pose is one of my favorites. It’s so dynamic — twisting, stretching, balancing — it’s akin to that first fabulous stretch you experience when you wake up or come out of savasana..
I mean, think about what’s happening in your body: the hamstrings and the psoas are stretching, the external and internal oblique muscles are both activating and lengthening, and the shoulders are coming into alignment as you’re engaging and strengthening the rhomboids (those muscles between the scapulae). Plus, you’re aiding in digestion, toning the pelvis, the belly, and the nervous system as you realign the spine
But! This is also a pose in which we can push too hard, becoming too obsessed with getting the bottom hand lower and the top one higher. I’ve also noticed that students tend to hunch and round through the back here.
What needs to happen is contraction of the rhomboids, drawing the scapulae together (just as you do in Chaturanga Dandasana). Keep yourself honest, patient, and in alignment. The flexibility will come, but not if you become injured in the process.
Let’s hop down to the feet. The back toes are turning to face the long edge of your mat.
They can also be slightly turned toward you as well, depending on how your knee feels.
The front foot is facing the short side of your mat.
Many teachers like to use the cue heel-to-arch alignment, so you can do this if that feels right — but don’t worry too much about it if your stance is wider than that.
Now, engage the inner thighs — as if you could pull your mat together between your feet. Draw up on the pelvic floor and simultaneously draw in and spin the bottom low belly toward the ceiling. Corset the ribs together and spin the entire rib cage up as well.
OK, so ideally, the hips are square to the long side of your mat, with the top hip point (the iliac crest) rolling up and open to the ceiling, the bottom hip rolling under. This will help to square the hips, but if the psoas is tight (and you may feel that tightness in the hamstrings, as the contraction of the psoas here draws on the hamstrings’ origin point), it may take time.
Use a block under your hand, don’t hurt your knees, adjust your stance as needed, and do the best you can. Be sure you have space in the lower-side oblique muscles — that you’re not collapsing through that lower side waist; keep it long and engaged.
Traditionally, your gaze is up at the hand. But, if that doesn’t make your neck happy, you can look out into space or down at your foot. Keep the neck long, engaging the sternocleidomastoid muscles (those long muscles which run along the sides of the neck, beginning at the sternum and clavicle, and attaching to the skull, right behind the ear).
If your head is facing up, then the lower muscle is stretching while the top contracts.
Oh, and breathe. Breathing should really be the first, last, and most continuous process in any asana. Keep that breath long and deep, pulling it in and expanding through the diaphragm. This is what contracts and tones all of the digestive organs, giving them a good wringing out.
Be sure to come out of this pose on the inhale, engaging the abdominals to help you rise without stressing the lumbar spine. Use muscle, not momentum here and then switch to the other side.
Graphic: Liang Shi