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Tri = three
Kona = angle
Three angled asana/posture

Trikonasana cannot be traced back further than the mid 1930's. It appears to have been formulated by Krisnamacharya's work at Mysore Palace around 1935, where he experimented with wide legged standing postures, using gymnasts.

It is interesting to note that at the time most gymnasts had a ballet training background and they were influenced by the turned out leg, especially in the splits and standing. It took the introduction of modern dance to correct the leg position in the 1960's, as it was felt that the turned out leg put strain on the body.

A second explanation for the wide legged trikonasana may be that it started out as a simple step forward or back into a spinal rotation. In rotating the body, if the back heel was turned in the rotation would rotate the hip on that side and turn the position into a side stretch. This would also relate to the Warrior asana of Virabhadrasana 1

There is no mention of the asana in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, in fact the HYP mentions only 15 postures, of which none are standing. Three hundred years later the Gheranda Samhita adds another 17 asanas, only three of which are standing and all are balance postures.

Trikonasana is performed in various ways depending on the school/type of yoga. Some early schools taught it as a rotation with the legs wide and feet pointing forward, with trunk forward bending and rotating. Others such as Iyengar and Sivananda have taught it as a side stretch, with the feet wide and back heel turned in and the body facing front. Scaravelli inspired yoga has moved to a small space between the feet which are pointed forward hip width apart.

There is no right or wrong way of doing Trikonasana. The student just needs to know what they wish to achieve. The legs have to work hard in each version. The Scaravelli way allows for a great sense of grounding with the short space, so the weight can gravitate down into the ground. The spine can then lengthen and rotate, freeing up the shoulder.

The wide legged Trikonasana allows for a great side stretch provided that it is grounded. So many look very unstable because of the back foot. Even with a big space between them, the legs have to be grounded. If the student can’t move fast forward from the back foot, there is no medial arch support and hence hip and spinal connection. This is particularly evident in Virabhadrasana II, where the warrior is throwing a spear or projectile in battle. A warrior has to be balanced and be able to move fast.