Utthita Trikonasana/ Triangle pose (pic above) has a reputation that is arguably of such popularity in the modern Yoga world, that it is only preceded by the fame of “Downward Dog.” It’s anatomical and traditional specifications have a broad enough range, that it earns some commentary, in the service of safety.
It’s benefits are on par with any standing posture, whose profit is measured in the provision of strength and stability to the legs and feet. Collectively referred to as the “lower extremity,” which spans everything from the toes to the hip joint, this family of limbs is the essential base of support to the spine, and therefore everything in our lives made possible by its existence. From the function of sight, to the complex movement patterns found in Yoga, the experiences that we enjoy are processed by the ineffable depth of the Central Nervous System, which is housed within the musculoskeletal matrix of the torso. The health and integrity of the upper body are in exact proportion to that of the legs. Where our legs are unable to perform the duties required of them, either due to their overuse, or underuse, the upper body has to work harder to mitigate the effects of the extra burden that is thereby placed on them.
As mentioned in previous posts, the movement of the legs is inseparable from the hips, and Triangle pose has its own set of anatomical parameters that can be helpful to review.
Most of the complexity of this pose’s foundation lies within the setup of the front leg. In the variation of Trikonasana where the front leg is required to be straight, one of its primary functions is to allow a lengthening of the muscles that permit better abduction and flexion of the hip.
At a more granular look, there are 2 main points that seem to be more elusive in the performance of this pose. One is the quality of action in the quadriceps, and the other is the rotation required to allow better joint congruence in the hip.
These are nuanced skills that take some time to develop. The ability to attend to different, and often times counter movements in Yoga, is at the very heart of the kinesthetic intelligence that the practice is meant to impart. The trouble that is therefore taken to establish these skills, is in direct proportion to the health troubles we can avoid in the future, if these skills are neglected. This goes to a larger point about the necessity of laboring to preserve one’s health. The body that we have inherited from birth, comes with many of its own requirements that allow it to perform and thus survive. As the state of our health is integral to our survival, and the quality of life that we aim for, our ability to uphold the body’s performance requirements depends on our understanding of how the individual systems function. Unlike the domain of our endocrine or lymphatic system, the musculoskeletal system not only gives us more tangible levers to pull on, but permits influence over virtually every other system.
It comes as no surprise that most of the common methods of Yoga practice begin with standing poses. The wisdom in this approach has been corroborated prominent research, such as a landmark study called the “Health ABC Study.” Conducted on over 3,000 participants, with follow-ups and check-ins that spanned 17 years, the researchers of this study concluded that the retention of leg strength had undeniable associations to decreases in mortality (pics below). The remarkable feature of this study was that the participants were selected to be no less than 70 years old, which brought the measures of mortality to a more realistic time frame, since the average life expectancy at the time was around 76 years old.
The benefits of leg strength range from its impact on everything from skeletal integrity to endocrine health, not to mention the physical safety afforded by a well functioning lower extremity. Testosterone is a hormone that is not only important for males, but offers both genders benefits without which essential biological functions become threatened. Levels of testosterone for example, have been shown to increase when targeting bigger muscles, as is the case with the legs. This relationship has also been validated in the opposite direction, where lower testosterone levels exert a certain mechanism of action on muscle mass, which can affect their reduction (sarcopenia), and therefore strength (pic below).
Perhaps from more of an evolutionary glance at the development of bodily structures, we get a picture of an adaptive reason for this relationship being the case. As with any organism, and the structures intrinsic to it, current evolutionary theory shows that it is environmental pressures that dictate the production or elimination of any one of its capacities/attributes. As giraffes have evolved long legs and necks to be able to reach the high branches of the trees that hold their food, as posited by Charles Darwin himself, it’s conceivable that an environment where the only source of locomotion were the legs, would have provided obvious pressures that would have selected for a functional relationship between the health of the legs, and the overall health of the individual. As structures evolve to serve external reasons, such as covering physical distances by foot, they simultaneously evolve to become integrated in the internal structures of our own biology. These adaptations thus become essential to not just the former function, but the latter also. In this way, the legs evolved to provide us with locomotive ability, as well as cardiovascular among others, in the way that the Soleus muscles of the lower leg are essential to assisting the heart with circulation.
The systems of the body that scientific methodology categorizes into distinct parts, are only done so for a clearer understanding from the vantage point of scientists. It is helpful to not lose sight of the fact that organisms are completely inseparable from, and ineffectual without, the function of any one of its subsystems, nor its environment. There is no need for a human respiratory system to exist separately from the musculoskeletal system. Likewise, there is no need for a human musculoskeletal system to exist separately from the field of gravity that the environment of the planet provides. There is an elegance that is preserved by the relationship between not just one part of the body and another, but between body and matter, and even mind and matter itself.