Utkatasana - TINT Yoga

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Utkatasana Chair Pose

    Quick Facts

  • Sanskrit (Original): Utkaṭāsana
  • Etymology: Intense (utkaṭa), posture (āsana)
  • Fun Fact about the pose: In some traditions the pose is called Awkward Pose or Lightning Bolt Pose.
  • Asana Type: Standing
  • Main length muscle groups: Spine: intertransversarii, interspinalis, transversospinalis, erector spinae; shoulders: upper trapezius, serratus anterior; arms: extensor digitorum
  • Main strength muscle groups: Lower body: glute muscles, hamstrings, vastii, soleus, muscles of the feet; upper body: psoas minor, abdominal muscles, triceps brachii
  • Vinyasa Breath: Inhale and exhale possible

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How to Cue the Pose: Step By Step

  • 1 Start from Tadasana, so you have your feet about hip-width apart. Press your big toe mounts and your pinky toes into the mat to activate the arches of your feet.
  • 2 Press down into your feet while you bend your knees on an inhale. Lower your hips down, as though you were sitting down into a chair, hence the name Chair Pose.
  • 3 Internally rotate your thigh bones and send your groin area backwards and into the body. This will help to soften the groins and prevent the hip flexors from gripping overly tight. Send your hips further backwards, so that the front edge of your knees roughly aligns with your toes. Note that the knees should not cross the toes.
  • 4 Press your knees outwards and away from each other to stabilize them since they are very mobile in this position.
  • 5 Suck your sacrum and lumbar spine into the body to create the gentle curve (lordosis) in your lower back. Beware to keep your pelvis rather neutral without tilting the pelvis too much forward or tucking the tailbone.
  • 6 Give your lower abdominal muscles a gentle upward lift by sucking the navel towards the spine and up.
  • 7 Lift your shoulders up and back to extend the arms along the ears or as far up as you can manage.
  • 8 Lift your ribcage away from the hips and lift your sternum forwards and up. Your upper body is now creating a backbend shape. You can even imagine the back of your head softly pressing into something to get even more front-body opening.
  • 9 Externally rotate your upper arms and have the palms of your hands facing towards each other.
  • 10 You could exit Utkatasana by folding over into Uttanasana on an exhale or simply straighten your legs into Tadasana. Of course, there are so many more options to choose from.

Working The Details: Alignment In The Pose

Learn about common mistakes and teaching perspectives of the pose in our Asana Tutorials.

  • Extend your arms into infinity: Imagine your arms spiral out of your torso. The upper arms follow an outwardly rotating spiral, so your biceps rolls out and your triceps rolls in, closer to your armpits. The forearms spiral in the opposite direction to keep the palms facing. You can visualize yourself reaching a present up to the sky and extending your arms into infinity. Gently plug your humerus back into the shoulders when you notice it moving out too much.
  • Sit yourself deeper: Imagine a chair standing behind you and sit yourself deeper into the posture and back. Even though this action is very challenging, try to create effortlessness and equanimity in your mind and facial expression.
  • Hug your bones: Imagine the muscles of your legs hugging to the relevant bones to keep them engaged. So imagine the muscles of your lower legs hugging the tibia and the fibula and the muscles of your upper legs hugging your femur (the big thigh bone).
  • Energetically lengthen your thighs: Focus your awareness on your thigh bones and imagine them extending in two directions. One direction is the extension deeper into the hip sockets, with the groin becoming softer and softer. The other direction is extending towards the knees and beyond. This way you can give the muscles and fascia surrounding your thigh bone more length and a bit of release while they are working to resist gravity in the pose.
  • Play with your pelvis alignment: The pelvis should be rather neutral in Utkatasana. To find this alignment you can play between a more anterior tilted pelvis (tilting forwards) and a more posterior tilted pelvis (tucking the coccyx) to find the middle, neutral alignment.
  • Wiggle the toes and the jaw: As Utkatasana can demand a lot of focus and effort from us, take some moments in between longer holds to check in with any tension accumulated in your feet, toes, jaw, mouth, and tongue. Wiggle the toes, open the mouth, or stick the tongue out to release excess tension.

Adapting The Pose Through Modifications

Simplify

  • Elevate your heels on a rolled mat or blanket or even blocks if your achilles tendon is giving you trouble. This way also your sit bones will get a bit more lift.
  • Give the shoulder girdle more space by bending your elbows generously. This will help if you are struggling with a lot of tension around the neck and shoulders or if your shoulders are simply tight.
  • If your shoulders are still giving you trouble, you can also practice Utkatasana with the hands on the hips. A nice modification is also to place the palms of the hands on the sacrum to really feel the lower back curvature under your hands.
  • You can create a reference for your knees with a block between your thighs if you have a hard time stabilizing the knees. Place a block lengthwise between your thighs, just above your knees and squeeze the block together.

Level Up

  • Practice a longer hold and strengthen your quads and glutes with your sacrum leaning into a wall (arms up or down), sit yourself deep and embrace the burn.
  • Transition slowly into Malasana (Squat Pose) – slowly like a snail. All the time, keep the position of your knees really accurate and stable.
  • You can use a block between your palms to increase resistance when reaching the arms up into infinity. Press into the block to increase the outwards spiral in your upper arm bones.

Benefits of Utkatasana

  • Utkatasana or Chair Pose strengthens the entire legs from the glutes and thighs to the calves and ankles.
  • The pose is great for practitioners with knee problems. By building strength in the quads, you’re strengthening the major supporters of vulnerable knee joints.
  • It also strengthens the supporting muscles around other major joints, such as the shoulders, hips, and ankles.
  • Utkatasana elongates and lengthens the back and builds vigor in the anterior and posterior spine. It also opens and stretches the shoulders and chest.
  • The yoga pose helps you develop core strength and build heat in the body. It thus stimulates the abdominal organs, the diaphragm, and the heart.
  • Chair Pose is an asana that is really balancing for the pelvis because it helps develop the awareness for the position of the pelvis with the attempt to keep it in a neutral position with the tail neither tucked or flared.
  • Chair Pose helps you to build stamina and tones the entire body – a great workout for body and mind.

TAKE YOUR YOGA CLASS PREPARATION TO THE NEXT LEVEL!

I have to admit that my relationship to Utkatasana is filled with love and hate, but I can say that once I manage to stick to the pose, surrender and create calmness in my mind, I feel a sense of power flowing through my body and also affecting my state of mind – maybe a good pose to do before important presentations?!

Stephi

Content Creator at TINT | Passionate Yoga Teacher

FAQ: Common questions about this pose

No, this is actually quite good. Because it is actually a sign that your muscles are working and active. They are building up new strength and learning new muscular patterns. All this can be quite strenuous if you haven't used these muscles a lot, so shaking is a normal sign of expanding your capacity. Even though this is a good sign, you should pay attention to your own limits and see what is tolerable for yourself. So at any point when you feel it is too much, straighten your legs more or choose to take a different pose.

The answer to this question depends on the energetics of the class that you are practicing and the outcome you want to achieve. In more dynamic classes like in Vinyasa yoga, Chair Pose is mainly a transition pose. Here, you will work with the principle of one breath, one movement. If you are practicing a therapeutic yoga class or want to spend more time working on the details, the recommendation is to hold the pose around five to ten full breath cycles (one inhale and one exhale equals one full cycle of breath).

First thing to do is to let your shoulder blade (scapula) move upwards together with your extended arms. A common cue is to draw the shoulders down, away from the ears, but in this case, this action will increase the risk of shoulder impingement – so be sure to move the scapula freely. Another action to give you more relief is to keep a small (or even bigger) bend in the elbows. This will offer more space for your shoulders and work against building up tension in your neck and shoulder area.

TAKE YOUR YOGA CLASS PREPARATION TO THE NEXT LEVEL!

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