Utkatasana, or chair pose, is a standing forward bend that lowers the hips toward the heels into a low squat. This pose asks for a lot of strength and flexibility, which makes it challenging for most students.
Stretch the Lower Back and Hips
This low squat pairs gravity with full hip flexion to completely lengthen the lower back, especially in the classical form of the pose, in which the legs are together and the arms are extended overhead, which prevents the legs and upper back from compensating for any stiffness in the lower back.
Strengthen the Legs
The legs, especially the gluteal muscles, use a lot of power to press the body back up to standing. This makes utkatasana a good choice for building strength to prepare for staying in difficult standing poses.
Finding the Pose
- Begin standing in samasthiti, with legs together and hands by your side. Set jalamdhara bandha.
- Interlace the fingers and turn the palms out, away from your body.
- Inhale and raise the linked arms overhead so that arms are outside ears and the palms are facing the ceiling.
- Exhale and begin to sit hips down toward heels, maintaining jalamdhara bandha and keeping spine as vertical as possible. Arms remain extended overhead.
- Inhale and extend upper back and arms as you return to standing.
- Exhale and lower arms. Release hands.
Tips and Modifications
Utkatāsana is very physically demanding. Most students won't be able to begin to lower the hips into a squat without bringing the feet wider (up to hip-width apart) and having the arms either in a wide "V" shape or lowering the arms as they exhale and lower the hips.
Many students will also need a folded or rolled blanket under their heels to compensate for lower back tension, especially in the beginning.
If students are straining in this posture, I often give them uttanāsana or vajrasana forward bend as an alternative that will lengthen the lower back and still build some leg strength without being quite so demanding.
In Ashtanga yoga, utkatāsana is often practiced with a back arch and on an inhale. This is referred to as ardha utkatāsana and considered a backward bending posture in the Krishnamacharya/Desikachar tradition.
Primary Muscle Actions
- Erector Spinae, Gluteal and Leg Muscles are strengthened.
- Lower Back erector spinae and gluteal muscles are lengthened.
- Depending on arm movement chosen, arm and shoulder muscles may be strengthened to maintain extended position.
- Lengthens lower back.
- Strengthens entire back and legs.
- Compresses abdominal area (apana region) and can help balance this region if not too intense.
For students who have knee, hip or lower back injuries, and especially if these joints are inflamed, stiff or causing pain, utkatāsana is too intense. I suggest uttanāsana, vajrāsana forward bend (child's pose) or apānāsana as a safer option. For pregnant and menstruating students, I would suggest the same alternative.
Ankle injuries seem to be aggravated by this posture as well. Proceed slowly and with caution.