Breaking Down Utkatasana: Chair Pose
When done correctly, Utkatasana (Chair Pose) is powerful and empowering. In fact, the translation of Utkatasana from Sanskrit to English literally means “powerful pose”. As we sit back in this imaginary chair, we create balance and strength in the physical body and find our power- both physically and mentally. There is a lot going on in this pose. Let’s begin by taking a look at the physical and energetic aspects of Utkatasana. Then we’ll take a peek at some common misalignments as well as correct alignment. Remember, every body is different so although alignment may be ‘correct’, all poses will look slightly different in each body. This is why I don’t want you to get hung up on how a pose ‘looks’. Focus on how it feels in your body!
- Strengthens feet, ankles, calves, and thighs
- Strengthens back and spine
- Cultivates balance
- When you bring awareness into the feet, this pose helps to reduce flat feet by lifting the arches
- Lengthens side body, shoulders, and chest
- Awaken and strengthen Mula Bandha
- Feeling of deep connection to Svadhisthana through the focusing awareness in the pelvis
- Here we find ease and strength in the midst of finding our balance and stamina
- From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), inhale sweeping both arms above your head; palms facing one another or palms together
- Be sure to engage upper back to ensure biceps are by your ears and reach through the fingertips
- MODIFICATION: when my shoulders are feeling tight, I like to keep my palms together at heart center in Utkatasana
- Exhale, bend both knees sitting back and down into your imaginary chair-ideally, thighs are parallel to the earth
- As in a previous alignment post, find your neutral pelvis by exaggerating an anterior tilt of the pelvis followed by an exaggerated posterior tilt. Then find your neutral where your pelvis feels light, centered, and almost floaty (yes…that’s a technical term 🙂 )
- Knees stacked over ankles; they may be slightly forward but make sure you can see your toes! Otherwise, you put too much pressure on the knees risking injury.
- Torso may lean slightly forward but avoid bending from your hips and leaning too far forward (see misalignment pic)
- Draw belly in toward spine; bring awareness to lower belly, it’s really important to draw this area in and up toward your spine in order to protect the sacrum and tailbone
- Feel length from the crown of your head to your tailbone as it lengthens toward the earth
- Engage Mula Bandha (that subtle lift of the pelvic floor)
- Notice where your weight is in your feet? Be sure not to put all your weight in your toes. Weight should be in the balls of your feet, outside edge and heels.
- Remember, every body is different but I tend to feel strongest when my weight is ever so slightly more in my heels. This ensures I’m using the strength of my glutes and hamstrings to hold chair.
- Be sure knees aren’t falling inward or too far out. Keep them centered.
- Hold Utkatasana for 5-7 breaths, inhale push down through feet to come up
- Leaning torso too far forward (this puts pressure on spine and knees)
- Knees over toes or falling inward
- When arms are above head, tendency to round and collapse in the upper back
- Head not in line with spine; collapsing in cervical spine
- Excessive anterior or posterior tilt of pelvis
Utkatasana is a popular pose you’ll find in classes ranging from Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and even Qigong. This is why it’s vital to not only know the alignment but more importantly, what this alignment feels like in your body. This is how we avoid injury and connect with our body. If we can’t feel, we can’t heal. Once you know the verbal cues, of any pose, I encourage you to practice with your eyes closed. When you close your eyes, you block distractions around you, allowing you to go within hearing and feeling those signals your body sends you in each and every moment. So, the next time you’re on your sacred mat, close your eyes and feel your way through your flow. Then simply observe the unfolding of your awakeneing.
What’s your favorite modification of Utkatasana? Share it with us in the comments below!