The number three has always been a powerful number in storytelling. Most fairy tales were part of the oral tradition and then written down by collectors such as the brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. Remember how Rumpelstiltskin gave the Queen three chances to guess his name, Aladdin makes three wishes and traditionally Cinderella goes to the ball three times? There are also three little pigs, three bears and three Billy Goats Gruff. The number three seems to be a powerful persuasive archetype commonly used in rhetoric from the times of the ancient Greeks to this day.
The 3 Gunas
In the same way, the number three seems to occur frequently in many religions. We might know of the Holy Trinity in Christianity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna about the three qualities or gunas, sattva, rajas and tamas. These are quite reminiscent of the three bears in the Goldilocks story. Rajas signifies not enough energy, a state of lethargy or dullness. Tamas is the opposite; anxiety, violence or destruction. Only sattva is ‘just right’. That said, to lead a happy, productive life, we need a balance of all three. The specific amount of each needed at any given time is based on where you are and what you are faced with. A good example of this is how much tamasic energy people who perform heavy physical labour need to do their jobs.
The mythology of Trikonasana
In Hindu mythology, there was once an evil demon called Mahishasura, wreaking havoc, distressing the gods. Time to bring in a powerful group of three gods to the rescue! Shiva aligned with Rajas, Brahma with Tamas and Vishnu with Sattva. Between them they had the power to summon up a powerful and fierce goddess warrior called Mahamaya, who rode on a lion. Their names are no coincidence, as ‘maya’ means all the chaos and destruction in the world. Mahamaya rode boldly into battle with Mahishasura, and the lion rushed at him, biting his chest brutally. Seizing the moment, as you would, Mahamaya shot a flaming arrow and promptly beheaded him with a scimitar. An example of original Girl Power! In this way Mahamaya helps us fight against illusion in the world, the power of deception and the way that sometimes we can’t see beyond the masks that people wear, beautiful façades or what seems to be on the outside, to see what is really within. Mahishasura represents the way the mind constantly seeks to distract us, creating illusions which will lead us away from the truth. Yes, you’ve heard that saying, ‘my mind is playing tricks on me.’ In this way you can see how the goddess Mahamaya works to keep us in touch with our true nature and the demon Mahishasura keeps leading us away. In this story we have our power of three but also our oppositions: good and evil, God and the Devil, the fairy god mother versus the evil witch. It seems that wherever you go and however far back in times our minds recognise the same archetypes.
So, what about Trikonasana (Triangle pose) ? The connection between this story and the pose is highlighted in “Myths of the Asanas” by Alanna Kaivalya, Arjuna van der Kooij, a very interesting read. Check it out here I also love that there are now some cards to go with this book. What a great idea! Have a look at them here.
The full name, Utthita Trikonasana, is composed of four Sanskrit words:
How to find steadiness and ease in Trikonasana
The triangle is known for its strength, able to support weight and withstand stresses, as is seen in architecture in the form of the pyramids. In the same way, all asana are structures. It is said to be a masculine shape and as a symbol has many meanings such as mountains, power, harmony and prosperity. When inverted, it becomes feminine, lunar and may represent grace or water.
The sage Patanjali, writer of the Yoga Sutras, is famous for saying that asana practice should be a combination of steadiness and ease: ‘sthiram sukham asanam’. The pose can be a combination of these two things. Steadiness arises from the placement of the feet in alignment so there is an equal balance between the weight on each foot, despite their different placement. If you can line up the front heel with the arch of the back foot you and play around with this, you can find a strong and steady foundation. Then comes the sense of ease, where you should breathe from the centre and gently tip over, without moving forward or back. As you inhale, you’ll bring some steadiness to the chest, easing off and reaching out further on the exhale as if unfurling like a five-limbed starfish (arms, legs and head).
I love this idea and was introduced to it by Donna Fahri, in her book “Yoga, Mind, Body and Spirit”. Check out her book here. Notice the powerful list of three in the title. Here’s a woman who knows how to use persuasive language! The book teaches us how to really tune into the breath and embody the poses from within. As you breathe from the centre, feeling into triangle pose, you can bring in a sense of grace, just going as far as you need to without strain, with a sense of ‘sukha’ (sweetness) to combine with the steadiness and embodiment of the legs.
As with all poses perhaps we need to let go of having an idea of how it must look, instead feeling into it with the breath, bringing a sense of compassion to any parts of the body hanging on to tension, such as tight shoulders. Keep breathing and take your time. Each time you experience it, it will feel different, until you might feel you can go further and still feel that sense of ease. It is a truly beautiful asana, representative of so many aspects of ourselves.
Trikonasana and the Menopause
If you're affected by symptoms of the menopause, the great news is that this pose really helps. It improves digestion because it stimulates the internal organs and helps relieve stress. It also stretches and strengthens the thighs, knees, ankles, hips, groins, hamstrings, calves, shoulders, chest, and spine. That's quite a few benefits from just one pose.
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