Iyengar yoga has a mistaken reputation nowadays as “the style that focuses on props.” While it is true that props were introduced to recover from and prevent injuries through proper alignment (see Shoulder Stand Done Right), a main objective for Iyengar instructors is to develop the students to rely less on the props and eventually achieve the classic asana.
Here are two examples of Utthita Trikonasana:
You can’t get any better than this. Notice how his palm is on the floor BEHIND the shin and notice what that does to his upper body. It makes his chest spacious and vital. This is the classic pose. Notice how there are many triangles in this pose emulating a sri yantra. See if you can count them all.
This is how I see a lot of beginner students doing the pose. Notice how the hand is in front of the shin and the effect on her chest. It is collapsed and not vital. Her front leg is also slightly bent diminishing the structural integrity of the pose. She clearly needs a prop.
So what should she do if she does not have any props around? Use a shin! That is your body’s natural prop for Utthita Trikonasana.
By using her shin, this woman is recreating the vital chest of the first example. For some of my students, I even have them put their hand on the thigh to get the correct chest. You want to avoid putting the hand on the knee as it is a joint and can cause injury.
For this blog, I am addressing primarily basic students. For the first five years of Iyengar yoga, students should have a strong emphasis on Utthista Stithi (standing poses) to develop a strong skeletal-muscular structure to withstand more advanced poses.
Next time you are at a park, or want to do some yoga during your lunch hour with no props around. Here is a good standing sequence:
1) Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
2) Tadasana Urdvha Baddangulyasana (Mountain pose with bound fingers over head)
Utkatasana (Fierce pose) most mistakenly call this “chair pose”
3) Utthita Trikonasna with hand on shin
4) Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)
5) Vrksasana (Tree pose)
6) Virabhadrasana I
7) Virabhadrasana III
8) Dandasana (Staff pose)
9) Upavistha Konasna (Seated angle pose)
10) Vajrasana (lightning bolt pose). If this hurts your knees, omit and do more upavistha konasna work.
11) Savasana (corpse pose) No photo needed. If you are are on a dirty floor or grassy surface, you can omit and end in Vajrasana.
The above is one of those “go to” sequences when you are away from your normal yoga practice. You could even build a practice on the above poses, but you want to eventually incorporate Viparita Stithi (inverted poses).
There are many “prop less” poses. The whole book of Light on Yoga shows asanas without props. Just remember than when Mr. Iyengar wrote and published those pictures, he was doing 4 hours of yoga daily for decades. But he started that practice with the basics of the standing poses like the ones featured above.