Tag Archives: Utthita Trikonasana

A few approaches to a hyperextended knee in Asana

hyperextended knee

II.16. heyaim dukham anagatam

The pains which are yet to come can be and are to be avoided.
—Yoga Sutras, translation by B.K.S. Iyengar

I have gotten an overwhelming response from my post about the process of straightening the legs in Iyengar Yoga. Of course there are two sides to every coin, and in this case it is the plight of the knee hyperextenders.

A hyperextended knee occurs when the knee is bent backward (see above) and can damage ligaments, cartilage and other stabilizing structures in the knee. It may sound cliche, but the statement holds true that flexible people have a much more distinct disadvantage in Asana than those of us who are naturally stiff. That is because often times knee overextending practitioners are not aware that they are pushing too hard in the back of the joint until one day they are met with severe knee pain.

As a diagnostic test, do Utthita Trikonasana in front of a mirror and look at the back of your knee on the side you are leaning toward. If it is this shape (see below) than you are overextending. There is a distinct “look” to a hyperextended knee as fellow blogger mbdyoga commented the “tibia head is way behind the lower femur.” From a distance, the leg appears as though it is caving in from the knee joint.

hyperextended knee trikonasana

Here is what the knee should look like:

arun utthita trikonasana

If you are in the hyperextending camp, here are a few exercises you can do to create awareness of what a “normal” knee should feel like.

First, place a block in the back of the calf in Utthita Trikonasana. This will allow you to press against something without hyperextending the knee.

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Next, do Upavistha Konasana (Seated Angle Pose) on the floor with no blankets underneath the buttocks. This will allow you to again press down on the floor without risk of knee hyper extension. In forward bends don’t sit on height because you will hyperextend the knee.

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Lastly, find a corner or a door jamb and extend one leg up into a modified Supta Padangushthasana (Reclined Big Toe Pose). Notice the other knee is bent to avoid hyper extending that leg too. Press the whole back of the leg against the structure to get a feel of what a “straight non-hyperextended knee leg” feels like.

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Then take the awareness gained from these exercises into you daily practice. As a warning, I have heard that it feels like you are not stretching at all if you are ultra flexible. Be okay with that.

And until you have integrated this awareness of non hyperextension into your practice, I would advise doing “bent leg” forward bends in lieu of straight leg forward bends.

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As I normally say, these exercises are only the tip of the iceberg. Fellow blogger Stephanie Tencer from Studio Po in Toronto, Ontario has further reflections on this subject from her own experience with hyperextended knees. To be safe, find a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher in your area. I hope many of you find this post helpful. As always, I am open to commentary and criticism. It only creates more awareness for my own sadhana.


Developing an eye for correct Yoga postures through drawing

vira III lior

Illustration by Lior Hikrey


I received quite a bit of response from my post “My habit of correcting bad Yoga postures in advertising.” I am not just randomly picking points of poses to criticize. It took years of training and discipline to “see” what a good posture is and what a poor posture is lacking. To fast forward this process, I would advise to do an assignment that was given to me years ago by my mentoring teachers: draw the poses then draw arrows in the direction each limb is going.

This will give you a sense of the base, direction, and correct proportion of each pose. To illustrate, I will do this with Ardha Chandrasana (half moon pose).

First, select a good specimen for a posture. I would recommend any of Bobby Clennell’s drawings. She is a long time Iyengar practitioner and teacher and has many books published with her beautiful Asana drawings.

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Then, try to recreate the drawing (sorry Bobby, I’m just a novice)

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Next, try to fill in the base of the drawing so that it is even. I inserted a “block” under the drawing’s hand.

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Then, look at the “base” of the pose. That means whatever is touching the floor or has the “earth element” which is learned later. Draw arrows of the direction the limb is pressing to get a more stable base. In this case the hand and big toe mound press.

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Next, work your self up from the base to the joints. In this case the kneecap presses back and the elbow is fully extended.

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Next, the rotation of the “top” of the limbs. In this case the thigh externally rotates and the upper arm externally rotates.

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Next, I draw the direction of the top leg and the trunk. The top thigh externally rotates and the trunk rotates toward the ceiling.

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Lastly, I draw the top arm action and put a pointy nose to indicate which way the head is turning.



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This is just a simplified version of this process, but a good way of using other parts of your brain to think about Yoga poses. Drawing the pose makes you slow down and really consider what each limb is doing to create the whole asana. It is also good to do if you are injured and want to still “practice” Yoga.

To give you an example of a more advanced execution of this exercise, practitioner Lior Hikrey offers this level of detail in Utthita Trikonasana:

lior trikonasana


I hope you find this exercise enjoyable.


Listening to your wrists


We text, type, scroll and sign our name more than any time in human history. Our wrists and hands are paying the price. Before it would be rare to have someone with carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms in yoga class, now it’s rare that you don’t find someone with those symptoms. Clutching cell phones for hours wreaks havoc on the tiny wrist joint.

During the recent Laurie Blakeney workshop, she did a few poses with a nice wrist emphasis to counteract these symptoms. I cannot recreate the sequence, but I have adapted a few of her techniques to my home practice I would like to share.

Basic wrist action in Adho Mukha Svanasana prep on hands and knees. Notice angled blocks at the wall to decrease the angle and strain on wrists.

Wrist 1


Move shoulders and torso forward to decrease the angle if wrists are too intensified.


Wrist 2

Utthita Trikonasna with hand facing backwards. Make sure the whole surface of the hand is on the block.

Wrist 3


Parivritta Trikonasana with hand backwards.

Wrist 4


Padahastasana. This puts weight onto the whole hand. You can do with bent knees if you cannot reach this far.


Bharadvajasana I with wrist emphasis. My back hand is on my hip.


Wrist 5

Paschima Namaskar

paschima namaskar

After Paschima Namaskar the wrists feel tight, DO NOT shake your hands! Blakeney warned that the tiny bones in the hands can loosen from a violent shake after maintaining it in a fixed position. Do padahastasana instead.

As a side benefit, the shoulders also feel enlivened after trying these poses because of the amplified rotation caused by the hand position. This should help with your wrist-sues!



The archetype of Utthita Trikonasana

pyra fin

Utthita Trikonasana, or Extended Triangle Pose, is fundamental standing pose for most every yoga practice session. This pose inspires not because of its complexity, but because of its simplicity. Its smooth clean lines evoke the archetypal images of the Great Pyramids or a Sri Yantra as seen below.

sri yantra

This pose is accessible to just about anyone. I have even seen this pose taught to people who do not have use of their legs. In this blog post, I will present the classic asana as it was taught to me by my teachers, and give a few variations for those who cannot attain the classic pose.

To begin, lay out a sticky mat and two blocks.


Stand in Tadasana (see last post). From here, jump the feet 4 to 4.5 feet (1.25 meters) apart. This is shockingly wide for many of my beginner students. A good measurement is to see if the wrists are above the feet. I placed straps around my wrists to demonstrate the length of the feet. Like Tadasana in my last post, the thighs press back until the kneecaps tighten. This pose is called Utthita Hasta Padasana (Extended Hand Foot Pose).


Often times students do not mind their feet, and they are rotated out like a duck’s. This is incorrect.


Incorrect feet


Correct feet, toes are pointed forward

Next, pick up the left toes leaving the heel on the ground

UT 4

And rotate the foot to the right

UT 5

Then rotate the entire right leg from the hip socket to the foot to the right. Keep the quadriceps engaged. This pose is called Parsva Hasta Padasana (Side Hand Foot Pose)

UT 6

Make sure the right heel is intersected with the left foot’s arch.

UT 7

Now you are ready to come into the pose. Keep both sides of the chest the same length as you extend the torso laterally into the pose. A common mistake here is the student droops down to touch the floor. Instead, try to touch the imaginary side wall with the crown of your head and resist taking your hand down until the last moment.

UT 8

I was not able to get into the pose in the three seconds that my computer allows me, so I will show you Iyengar’s pose which is flawless.

iyengar triangle

Like a Sri Yantra, he becomes three triangles, and his self dissipates. Now there is now only Purusha.

Back here on Earth, these are some common mistakes made by beginners. First, the buttocks stick out and the head moves forward.

UT 9


To correct, move the tailbone forward and the head back until they are on the same plane.

UT 10


If you are not able to reach the block without the buttocks sticking out, use a chair.

UT 11

Many new students are also afraid to fall backwards by taking the head back. If you are experiencing this, use a wall to lean back on. Even experienced students benefit from wall work as it gives you a very quick assessment of your back body’s alignment.

UT 12

Another mistake I commonly see is that the bottom shoulder is not rolling out and the neck is crunched.

UT 13

Incorrect bottom shoulder

This may be a symptom of having too high of a block. First try rolling your downward shoulder back. If the neck is still crunched, go lower on your block.

UT 14

Correct bottom shoulder

This is just the tip of the iceberg of this pose, but not a bad start for beginners. Prashant Iyengar, the son of BKS Iyengar, wrote The Alpha and Omega of Utthita Trikonasana a book that gives systematic instructions on how to work your physical and esoteric anatomy in this pose. As always, I would recommend you find a certified Iyengar teacher near you as this pose has many many variations. In case you are wondering how the lady was taught this pose who couldn’t walk, she was taught lying on her back working her legs and arms in the “actions” of the pose.