HOW TO PRACTICE Chair Pose IN YOGA (Utkatasana)
Benefits, How to Instructions, Modifications, and Common Alignment Mistakes for Chair Pose
The Sanskrit name for this pose, Utkatasana, has nothing to do with what it is commonly called in yoga classes: Chair Pose. From YogaUOnline’s Charlotte Bell:
“Utkatasana’s root word, utkata, actually means “wild,” “fierce,” “frightening,” “furious,” or “intense,”—words that, for me at least, do not conjure up the image of someone lounging in an easy chair, or even sitting in an office chair.”
Utkatasana is one of the more heating and strengthening poses in yoga. The experience of this asana is, for most students, fierce, furious and intense. Utkatasana is recommended for morning or early afternoon yoga practice, as it stimulates and enlivens energy levels throughout the body and mind.
Benefits of Chair Pose
Chair Pose is one that many yogis love to hate. Like any move that challenges major muscles to defy the pull of gravity, this yoga pose requires a full-body effort. But once you’ve committed fully to it, the strengthening, invigorating, and confidence boosting benefits make it well worth the effort. It’s not called Fierce Pose for nothing!
Practicing Utkatasana strengthens your thighs, hip flexors, calves, ankles, and back muscles; stimulates your abdominal organs, heart, and diaphragm; stretches your shoulders and chest, and can help build arches in flat feet. As its name implies, Fierce Pose is one of the most effective yoga postures to strengthen and stabilize the whole body from the inside out, as virtually every major skeletal muscle, including the deltoids, serratus anterior, spinal erectors, gluteus medius, quadriceps, hamstrings, soleus, and tibialis anterior must work in coordination against gravity.
Depending on the arm variation you choose, Fierce Pose can also engage the upper trapezius, rotator cuff muscles, extensor muscles in the arms and pectoralis major. For many people, the classic yoga pose with arms held overhead is inhibited by tightness in the latissimus dorsi muscle or by the construction of their shoulder joints. Luckily, there are endless possibilities of arm variations—cactus arms, for example—that you can choose to both create more upper body strength and mobility and work your way toward holding your arms aloft.
Looking at the shape of the yoga posture, it’s easy to see why, in addition to creating postural support and core strength, regular practice of Chair Pose can prepare your legs for any activity that challenges functional weight bearing. It can also teach you how to lower your center of gravity for stability in athletic activities that require a strong, reactive kinetic chain in the lower body, such as downhill skiing.
Popular yoga practice places an enormous emphasis on “hip opening,” often to the detriment of hip stability. Too much hip flexibility is not a state of balance. Instead of focusing solely on hip flexibility, it’s important to balance flexibility with strength. Utkatasana—along with the many one-leg balancing yoga poses—is one of the most effective asanas for strengthening the muscles that stabilize the hips.
Basic Chair Pose
- Stand with your feet hips-width apart on a non-skid yoga mat.
- Tune into the bottoms of your feet. Locate the four corners of your feet: the inner and outer balls of your feet and your inner and outer heels. How is your weight distributed among these four corners? Take a moment to explore the weight-distribution between these areas. Find a way of standing so that your weight feels equally balanced among the four corners.
- Extend your arms up alongside your ears, taking care to lift your back ribcage as well as your front ribcage. When many of us raise our arms overhead, the tendency is to raise our front ribs and let our back ribs collapse downward, compressing the low back.
- Elongate your low back by lifting your back ribs, lowering your pelvic rim and grounding your heels as you raise your arms.
- Now tilt your pelvis forward, extending your tailbone back. This will cause your knees to bend. Continue bending your knees to lower your torso, as if you’re about to sit down. Feed the weight of your pelvis into your legs.
- Now check the four corners of your feet again. In Utkatasana, because our torso is angling forward, our weight tends to shift forward onto the balls of our feet. Actively root your heels to balance your weight and activate your hamstrings and gluteal muscles.
- Without tightening your abdominal muscles, keeping them free and mobile to receive your inhalations, draw the lower abdominal muscles gently upward—millimeters, not inches.
- Allow your torso to slant forward so that you can keep your natural spinal curves intact. Lengthen the back of your neck so that your head and neck follow the natural trajectory of the rest of your spine.
- As you feed the weight of your pelvis into your legs and feet, allow your torso, from the waist up, to rise. In this action, explore the dynamic relationship between grounding (lower body) and rebounding (upper body).
- Take 5 to 10 breaths. Return to standing. Take a moment to feel the effects of Utkatasana.
- Repeat one or more times if you like, taking time after each repetition to feel what happened.