Your Yoga asana practice doesn’t have to be complex to have an impact. Some of the most powerful poses are the ones that challenge your body and mind in the simplest ways.
Utkatasana, or chair pose, is one of these. It may look easy, but the simplicity of this pose is its true power. This pose engages muscles from your feet through your arms, all the while allowing you to practice mastering your mind. As you hold still for 15 to 20 breaths, you calm the mind’s desire to move, the urge to walk away from the challenge, or the chatter that tells you that you should be doing a pose that is more flamboyant. Who knew that the process of sitting down could make you so strong?
Utkatasana is great to incorporate at the beginning of your standing poses. The energy of your feet firmly on the earth will provide grounding, and as you extend through your spine, you’ll enjoy the light lift of the subtle, cosmic energy. Practiced over time, utkatasana will strengthen the muscles in your legs, buttocks, back and arms and it will become much easier to hold. You’ll also build strength and flexibility in your hips (pair it with sit down/stand up for even more hip help).
This pose will change the way you think about your practice. It will challenge you to do less and get more out of every part of life, on the mat and off.
Here at Hale Pule, we talk about asana with three designations: essence, anchor and strength. This is a simple tool to remember the intention of the pose, where your body is grounded and the muscles you engage for proper alignment. These components will support optimal energy flow and a sustainable practice throughout your life.
Utkatasana from the ground up
There are many variations of this pose, but we’ve found that the technique we have outlined below (hands and knees apart, pelvis neutral) is the most effective in the short and long-term.
1. Stand in tadasana, feet hip-width distance apart and facing straight ahead. (If you are used to walking with splayed feet, be sure that your second toe is aligned to the long edge of your mat. It might feel a little pigeon toed at first, but this alignment will improve your balance and stability.)
2. Bend your knees and move your bottom back and down, as if you were to sit in a chair. At the same time, move your torso forward one-quarter of the way. Keep your pelvis neutral, not tucked or tilted. It is a natural movement.
3. Breathe and lift your arms while rotating your upper arm bones out, away from the midline of the body, to allow your shoulder blades to move down your back. Your arms will be slightly in front of your body. With your hands shoulder-width distance apart, extend through your fingers. Gaze up between your hands and ease into a gentle backbend. Hold for 15 to 20 breaths.
If you have tight shoulders, open your arms wider than shoulder-width into a V shape.
If you have a shoulder injury, keep your hands in anjali mudra.
Common trouble spots
Knees splayed. This disrupts the natural alignment of your hips, knees and feet and feeds imbalance in the muscles. If you have a tendency to open your knees too far, try placing a block between them to retrain your mind. You may not go down as far at first, but over time the muscles will adjust and balance out.
Knees knocked together. Keep your knees one fist-width apart. This is a simple way to be sure they are lined up properly under your hips. You could hold a thin block or pillow between your legs as a guide.
Knees beyond toes. This strains your knees. Be sure you can see the tips of your toes as you bend down.
Shoulders up. Release the illusion that you have control over this pose and over life in general. Rotate your upper arm bones away from your ears to move your shoulder blades down your back. Or, work with the modifications listed above until your shoulders are neutral and your elbows are straight.
Straight torso. As you bend your knees to come into utkatasana, lean your torso forward one-quarter of the way to avoid strain on your low back and sacrum.