This week our focus is on Utkatasana, which is sometimes called chair pose, but I prefer the translation of fierce pose. While the pose may look like sitting in a chair, it certainly does not feel like it!
In this posture, feet are together at the toes and heels, the knees are bent and the back is long. The knees should not sneak in front of the toes, rather, the focus is on keeping the knees behind the toes. Depending on the style of yoga you practice, the back might be on a diagonal or more vertical. Hands can be anywhere from on the hips to clasped over head.
Utkatasana develops strength in the lower body and adds challenge to your practice. The ankles, quads, and glutes all feel heat when the pose is held. Be sure to keep full breath moving when you are holding this pose.
Here are a few options and variations that will cultivate proper form and strength in Utkatasana.
Option 1 – Wall sits. With the feet about hips distance, press the back against the wall, then walk the feet out as you bend your knees. Go down until you find a good level of challenge, but no further than knees over ankles and the thighs parallel to the floor. Press the feet into the floor and keep your back engaged on the wall. To add challenge raise the arms over head. Work up to spending 60-120 seconds in this posture.
Option 2 – Utkatasana with hands to the heart. As you build strength in this pose work on deepening the bend in the knee and changing the arm position. Arms closer to the body will reduce the heat and challenge, while arms extended will increase heat and challenge.
Option 3 – Utkatasana with arms extended parallel to the ground. Use the extended arms to counter balance the body, this may allow you to sink deep into the pose. Be mindful as you go deeper that your are taking care of your knees.
Option 4 – Utkatasana with arms extended over head. Reach the arms parallel to one another at first, as if you are holding a block. If the shoulders allow, clasp the hands, extending the pointer finger. Arms can be extended at a diagonal or directly over head, depending on how open your shoulders feel while practicing.
Utkatasana is a great posture for cultivating uddiyana bandha, the energy flow upward from the belly to the crown of the head. This restraint or lock starts as a muscular lift of the lower abdomen and can evolve into the harnessing of prana (upward) energy. It’s the energy we tap into that gives our poses flight and lift, especially arm balancing postures which are favorites of the Monday Night Power Crew. To begin to engage uddiyana bandha, concentrate on scooping or hollowing out the belly and then lifting the low belly upward towards the belly button or low ribs. Keep the breath flowing as you find this lift and muscular engagement.
Whatever variation or focus you work on this week, be sure to work where you feel challenged, but also where you can breath and relax around the work. Follow this weekly challenge @suzannewrightyoga on Instagram or at Suzanne Wright Yoga on Facebook. If you post your pictures or share about your experience be sure to tag #PowerPose and @suzannewrightyoga.