Utkatasana, commonly known as chair pose, is a squat-like position that engages the hips and quads. Chair pose is a popular pose in yoga. It is one of the poses in Surya Namaskara two (sun salutation 2) in the Ashtanga Yoga primary series and is a great pose to add to a yoga flow sequence. You are sure to do this pose if you attend a yoga class.
Holding a pose for one minute (or longer) makes these poses an effective strength exercise. It is where the benefits of yoga mirror those of a strength training class. Yoga works by strengthening muscles through isometric movement, which means holding still for a specific amount of time anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute or more. Joints are stationary but you are loading your muscles and stressing them to be static. This improves both strength and also joint stability.
Chair pose is a great example of this type of strengthening. Here are some benefits of practice Utkatasana.
- Strengthens the quadriceps and hips by holding a squat-like position
- Strengthens your core, lower back and upper back
- Can improve incontinence which affects lots of women over the age of 40.
- Creates focus and concentration
- Stimulates diaphragm with deep breathing.
To do this pose, have bare feet on a firm surface.
- Press your feet together and squeeze your thighs together. NOTE: This is an Ashtanga method, you can also do this pose with your feet hip distance apart. Be sure to have your feet parallel to each other.
- Bend your knees and draw your hips back like sitting down into a chair.
- To know how low your chest should be, bring your hands to your knees and straighten your arms and lift your chest.
- Without moving your legs or chest, bring your arms overhead like a diver jumping to a pool. Press your palms together. If your shoulders are tight, you can have your arms shoulder distance apart. Be sure to engage your arms and reach through your fingers. Think strong arms. Allow space in your neck by sliding your shoulder blades down your back and lock them there.
- The core … this is a key component. Your lower back is going to have a natural curve, but be sure to draw the belly toward your spine and make your waist long.
- The drishti or gaze is at your thumbs. If you have any neck issues or it doesn’t feel right, keep your gaze straight ahead.
- Stay here for 5 long ujjayi breaths, or a minute.
Yoga teacher tips –
- After you set up your feet, look down and make sure you can see the tips of your toes. If you can’t, shift your weight toward your heels.
- Squeeze your inner thighs, knees, and ankle bones together firmly. Engage your mula bandha (pelvic floor) and uddiyana bandha to keep your core ground.
- Sink your hips down and slightly tuck your tailbone under.
There are some variations to add a fun twist (pun intended), improve your own yoga practice or to do with a buddy. I particularly love this pose when I teach because I can go almost anywhere with this pose — into arm balance, into a leg balance, into warrior I or warrior III. I’m coo coo for Utkatasana.
- Add a twist – from chair pose, bring your palms together to your chest and elbows in the same plane as your wrists. Twist to the right by bringing your LEFT elbow to your RIGHT knee. Think of hips low and chest high as you twist. Stay for 3-5 breaths. To come out, untwist and go into a forward bend. Switch sides by starting in chair pose and then twist to the left.
- Diving to Airplane – from chair pose, inhale with your arms shooting up by your ears. Exhale and drive your arms back to your hips and chest lifted like an airplane or bird. Do a few rounds of that breathing with the arms sequence.
- Do it with a friend. This one will surely bring some good laughs too. Make sure you don’t have socks on and you’re not on carpet. You need some good grip under your feet. Stand with your backs to each other and hook your elbows. Lean your upper and lower backs into each other. SLOWLYYYYY walk your feet away and lower your hips so you are both sitting in a chair. Remember to keep your back tall and long and draw your core in. Hold for an agreed upon time and then slowly walk back toward each other. When I did this, we plopped down and laughed hard. It was as effective as it was fun.
Additional links for chair pose