Utkatasana: Maybe not the most comfortable Chair!

Utkatasana – ( pronounciation: OOT-kah-TAHS-anna)
Utkatasana is commonly referred to as “chair pose” since it resembles a person seating in an invisible chair ; however, to understand the depth of this pose, is important to understand the meaning behind the name.  “Utkatasana” is derived from the Sanskrit words: “Utkata” which means “fierce”, “powerful”, “uneven” and “Asana“, which mean “posture”. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that many people struggle to get into this pose.
To get into the pose, follow these steps:

  1. Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose).
  2. Inhale and extend the arms over the head.  Joint the palms together and make sure elbows are straight.
  3. Exhale and squad down until the thighs are parallel to the floor (the lower the squad, the harder the pose). Make sure the spine is straight.
  4. Look at your “thumbs” and hold the pose for 30 seconds.  To come out of the pose, straighten the legs and return to Tadasana.

Don’t give up:
As the Sanskrit name implies, this pose can be “fierce” for some of us, but the trick is to practice, practice, practice.
Beginners can prepare for the pose by standing with the back few inches away from a wall.  The weight of the body should be transferred to the heels and buttocks should be pushed back and down.  To straighten the spine, tuck the tailbone in. The spine should be straight at times to keep the energy flowing upwards.
Practicing this pose not only will increase the strength in the leg muscles (i.e., thights, calves, ankles) and gluts, Utkatasana will also strengthen the core area.  In addition, it also provides a good stretch to the shoulders and the chest, and as an added bonus, the heart also receive a gentle massage (diaphragm is lifted).

Utkatasana = stability!

Removing the chair

Utkatasana is known as the powerful, or fierce pose. These names are derived from the sanskrit word Utkata meaning mighty. ‘Chair pose’ is also commonly used to describe this asana as the action is similar to that of sitting on a chair, except that you have to balance yourself, without a chair! The posture may look simple for an outsider, however a student must use the power of ‘fierceness’ through every part of their body to attain the strength and stamina required. The challenge of Utkatasana is to persist without becoming rigid.
This mighty pose promotes overall body strength. In particular it is strengthening for the quadriceps, hamstrings and adductor muscles in the inner thigh; and stretches the ankles, achilles tendons and calves. The arms and shoulders are also stretched; the chest opened; and the core muscles toned. The rib cage is lifted  promoting fuller breaths, and the abdominal organs stimulated.                                                    
When practiced correctly the Muladhara ‘root’ chakra is activated, helping the student to find their own path in life and put down a strong foundation. Energy is draw from the earth providing stability and strength in all subsequent standing postures.

Correct technique and allignment
Technique– 1. begin in Tadasana, inhale and raise arms up above the head bringing the palms together and looking up at the hands. Arms should be extended alongside the ears while back remains straight. 2. Exhale, bend the knees into a squatting position, tuck the tail bone under and
Incorrect technique, overscooping of the lower back.
draw the naval towards the spine engaging the abdominal muscles (this prevents an overscooping in the lower back). The knees should be kept both inline and behind the toes as much as much as possible (to prevent knees bowing outwards inner thighs should be contracted and the femur rotated against the hip). 3. Hold pose and breath. 4. Inhale, straightening the knees. 5. Exhale, slowly lowering the arms down by the side of the body.
Possible limitations-  Tight shoulders: For this student allow them to keep hands apart and raise arms only to shoulder height. Balance difficulties: For this student advise them to have knees and feet slightly apart and hands resting on knees. Another option is to have student stand with back 25-30cms from a wall, as they bend into the squat get them to hinge forward from the hips and rest the tail bone on the wall. The wall acts as a support until students can establish balance.
A quote from BKS Iyengar, ” The right method of doing an asana brings lightness and an exhilarating feeling in the body as well as in the mind and a feeling of oneness of body, mind and soul”. Utkatasana is no exception!

The fierce chair pose

Utkatasana, which is one of the toughest standing asanas, lives up to its name. Also known as the ‘chair pose’ by virtue of its resemblance to a chair, ‘Utkata’ means powerful and fierce. This pose increases strength, balance and stability.
To get into the pose, one stands in Tadasana. Following inhalation, the arms are lifted up in a parallel fashion, the elbows supinated such that the eyes of the elbows face each other. This requires extension of the anterior deltoid muscles. The arms are lifted over the head, besides the ears. This allows muscles in the arms and shoulders to be toned and strengthened. These include the deltoid group, triceps, middle and lower Trapezius Muscles, Rhomboids and Latissimus Dorsi. At the same time, the shoulder blades are firmly retracted and firmed against the back. This enables the thoracic spine to be lengthened. This whole series of movement also involves glenohumeral movement in combination with scapulothoracic movement and thoracic extension.
Following exhalation, the knees are bent to an angle in which the thighs are as parallel to the floor as possible. The inner thighs are kept parallel to each other and the weight of the body is towards the heels. The knees will project out over the feet and the torso will lean slightly forward over the thighs. The tailbone is tucked in towards the pubis to keep the lower back long. To do this, it has to go through an anterior tilt. In this instance, the quadriceps and the adductor muscles are in concentric contraction while the hamstrings and gluteus muscles are in eccentric contraction. As one sinks into the floor, the lower leg muscles will be engaged. These include the tibialis anterior, extensor halluscis longus and extensor digitorum longus. This group of muscles primarily extends the toes and is used for balance and stability.

Utkasana is challenging also because it engages a considerable number of muscles as stabilizers. Within the trunk, there is the abdominal group, the erector spinae. In the hips, there is the gluteus medius and minimus, and the adductor group. The ankles are also engaged in the stabilizing function. While holding the pose, it is important that the lower back maintain its natural slight degree instead of being sunken. The erector muscles contract isometrically to keep the normal curvature of the spine. Such a movement permits breathing through the belly, and enables strength in the lower back to be built up.