Utkata = ‘wild’, ‘frightening’, ‘fierce’, ‘furious’ Asana = ‘Posture’
Also known as ‘fierce pose’, ‘awkward pose’, ‘wild pose’, and now commonly referred to as ‘chair pose’; utkatasana is part of the traditional surya namaskar B sequence, used in Ashtanga and many other styles of vinyasa and dynamic yoga sequences.
Helping to strengthen the ankles, calves, knees and definitely the thighs, utkatasana isn’t everyone’s favourite asana, and it can be challenging to maintain the determination to stay here for any length of time. The erector spinae muscles of the back are also strengthened in this posture, as they isometrically contract to hold the position.
Many asanas are more about strength of mind than strength of body. So if you have a tendency to skip this posture, or you can’t bear to spend more than a couple of breaths here, see what happens when you bring a sense of tapas – that deep fiery energy of willpower and determination – in to your practice. As always, differentiate between pain and discomfort! If you can stay for just a few more breaths than usual, you’ll be able to show yourself you’re stronger than your mind often allows you to believe….
To prepare the body for utkatasana:
Begin sitting on your heels in vajrasana, in order to bring some awareness and circulation to the thighs.
*If Vajrasana isn’t appropriate due to problems with the knees, then start standing in Tasasana; bend one leg and hold around the ankle as you draw the heel in towards the buttocks, to lengthen the quadriceps muscle at the front of the thigh. Repeat this to both sides.
From there, come up to stand and move through a few rounds of surya namaskar A – our bodies respond better and our muscles are able to work more efficiently when we’re a little warmer. While moving through surya namaskar A, focus on opening the chest in your bhujangasana or ‘cobra’ pose, lifting with the heart and drawing the shoulderblades gently down the back.
When you’ve completed 5 rounds, come back to Tadasana.
From here, bring the feet together and focus on grounding; pressing down through the heel, little toe and big toe joints, while simultaneously lifting the inner arches up, to create pada bandha (the foot lock).
Begin to squeeze the thighs towards each other, maybe noticing how this helps to engage the lower abdominals and pelvic floor too. (And if not, then of course that doesn’t mean you’re doing it ‘wrong’!). Maintain this sense of drawing in and up through the legs as you move on to utkatasana….
- From Tadasana or mountain pose, bring the big toe joints together, allowing for a very small gap between the heels (which is often healthier for the ankles, knees and hips).
- Raise the arms up along side the ears with the palms facing towards each other, and bend the knees as you exhale.
- Lower down through the hips, bringing the thighs almost parallel to the floor – as though you were about to sit in a chair (although this chair might not be too comfortable….).
- It’s important to keep the weight back in the heels, ensuring the knees don’t project over the toes, and therefore protecting the ligaments at the front of the kneecaps. Keeping the weight in the heels also prevents the toes from gripping the floor, so you’re able to use the strength of the whole foot and the leg, rather than the toes. Again, think about lifting through the inner arches of the feet.
- Keep the thighs and knees squeezing together, which will help to bring more stability to the lower body, and aid in the feeling of maintaining balance as you hold the asana.
*Variation: If you have neck or shoulder pain, or are prone to headaches, either take the arms out to the sides, or bring the palms to the heart centre, which may help to relieve tension in the upper back and beck.
*Variation: By squeezing a block between the thighs, you’ll be able to tap into the strength of the adductor muscles – an essential part of connecting to the core.
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths, or longer if it feels comfortable…. Maybe comfortable isn’t the right word….
- Notice if tension starts to creep in to the face and jaw, and focus on deepening your breath to relax the nervous system.
- To transition out of utkatasana, press into the feet, straighten the legs and come back into Tadasana, bringing the arms down to the sides of the body.
- To counterpose utkatasana, come into prasarita padottanasana C, and then make your way to the floor for Baddha Konasana, to open out the adductors and rest the thighs.
If there’s a posture you find yourself avoiding, maybe today is the day you choose to stay there a little longer, and strengthen your mind as well as your body.