Chair Pose — Utkatasana (OOT-kuh-TAHS-uh-nuh) — is a standing yoga posture that tones the entire body, particularly the thighs! Utkatasana is also sometimes referred to as “Awkward Chair Pose,” “Thunderbolt Pose,” or “Powerful Pose.” Its Sanskrit name comes from the words “utkata” (meaning “powerful” or “fierce”) and “asana” (meaning “pose”). It can be a fierce pose for your thighs and it gets your heart pumping quickly.
Utkatasana is an essential component of Sun Salutations and is often used as a transitional pose. It can also be practiced on its own to build strength and stamina throughout the whole body.
Benefits of Chair Pose
Utkatasana strengthens the thighs and ankles, while toning the shoulders, butt, hips, and back. It stretches the Achilles tendons and shins, and is known to be therapeutic for flat feet. Utkatasana also stretches the shoulders and opens the chest. It tones your digestive organs and heart. Holding this pose for several breaths increases the heart rate, stimulating the circulatory and metabolic systems. It builds a lot of heat in the body, and fast!
Willing your way toward success in this pose or in anything in life will almost always create suffering. Stay with the moment-by-moment calm determination and you will signal the unseen and mysterious forces that you are serious about growth.
Practicing Utkatasana builds endurance and stamina, while toning the nervous system. As part of the Sun Salutation sequence, it is often practiced many times during Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga classes.
Do not practice Utkatasana if you are currently experiencing headaches, low blood pressure, or insomnia. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Stand with your feet together, with your big toes touching. Beginners can stand with their feet hip-distance apart.
- Inhale and raise your arms above your head, perpendicular to the floor.
- Exhale as you bend your knees, bringing your thighs as parallel to the floor as they can get. Your knees will project out slightly over your feet and your torso will form approximately a right angle over your thighs.
- Draw your shoulder blades into your upper back ribs as you reach your elbows back towards your ears. Do not puff your ribcage forward. Draw your tailbone down to the floor, keeping your lower back long.
- Bring your hips down even lower and lift through your heart. There will be a slight bend in your upper back.
- Shift your weight into your heels. Enough weight — approximately 80 percent — should be transferred to your heels so that you could lift your toes off the mat if you wanted to.
- Keep your breath smooth, even, and deep. If your breath becomes shallow or strained, back off a bit in the pose until breathing becomes easier.
- Spread your shoulder blades apart. Spin your pinky fingers toward each other so your palms face each other, rotating your arms outward through your thumbs.
- Gaze directly forward. For a deeper pose, tilt your head slightly and gaze at a point between your hands.
- Hold for up to one minute. Then, inhale as you straighten your legs, lifting through your arms. Exhale and release back to Tadasana. Those practicing Sun Salutations should move directly from Utkatasana into Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana).
Modifications & Variations
Utkatasana can be an excellent full-body strengthener when practiced correctly. It can take some time to build up enough strength to hold the pose for more than a breath or two. Take it slowly and be careful not to over-stress your knees or shoulders. To deepen or lighten the pose, try these simple changes to find a variation that works best for you:
- If you're having trouble balancing, stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Work toward standing with your feet together and thighs firmly pressing each other.
- Women who are pregnant should stand with their feet as far apart as necessary for balance.
- If you have more shoulder flexibility, press your palms together overhead.
- If your arms are not yet strong enough to maintain an overhead hold, extend your arms forward at shoulder-height instead. Reach directly forward through your fingertips. Practice this way until you can straighten both arms and extend them overhead.
- If you have shoulder pain in this pose, bring your palms together in prayer position, resting your thumbs at your sternum. Press firmly across your palms and broaden across your collar bones.
- It can be challenging to bring weight into the heels at first. To help learn this weight distribution, practice the pose near a wall. Stand with your back a few inches away from the wall. As you bend into the pose, your tailbone should be only slightly supported by the wall.
- For a deeper challenge, lift onto the balls of your feet with your knees bent. Extend your arms straight forward and sit your butt even lower toward your heels.
- To increase your thigh strength and body awareness in the pose, squeeze a yoga block between your upper thighs.
Utkatasana can build a lot of strength and stamina throughout the body when it's done with correct alignment. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Maintain a slight arch in your back.
- Squeeze your thighs as close together as possible.
- Bring your thighs as parallel to the floor as possible.
- Draw your chest back and up, instead of reaching your torso forward.
- Keep your weight in your heels. Shifting the weight forward can over-stress your knees and fatigue you quickly.
- Remember to breathe smoothly and evenly throughout the pose! Your heart rate will increase, but if your breath becomes strained, ease up until you can breathe deeply again.
Power It Up
Practicing Utkatasana will strengthen your legs, torso, and arms in a flash. Holding it for extended periods will build stamina, endurance, and mental determination. Take it slowly, maintain your correct alignment, and be sure to find a variation or modification that works best for you. Then, enjoy the benefits as your yoga practice becomes fierce and powerful!