Utkatasana or Chair Pose
There are a variety of yoga poses that you can practice that stimulate and benefit many parts of the body all at once. One of those poses is Chair Pose. In Sanskrit, the language of yoga, the pose is called Utkatasana (OOT-kah-TAH-sah-nah), but it does not translate to mean “chair pose.” It actually means “fierce pose.” Utkata means intense or powerful. We combine utkata + asana to create utkatasana. Other translations include wild, frightening and even a lightning bolt which makes a lot of sense as we make a kind of zig-zag with our bodies. In Bikram yoga, it is called ‘awkward’ pose. Awkward pose for me is probably the best way that I can relate to it.
Stability & Balance
It can look and feel awkward at times, yet develops stability and balance. A stable foundation allows us to steady our bodies and can prevent falls and injuries. My own legs are very strong, but it’s really not that awkward for me to do now but it reminded me of a time in puberty when my young once coordinated child body became awkward as I grew rapidly over a short period of time. That shattered my confidence in myself as everything that I did was awkward. It wasn’t until years later that a renewed confidence in my physical abilities evolved through persistence and perseverance. For years and even sometimes now when I undertake something new, it can be a challenge until I can get out of my headspace. That is precisely why yoga can be a powerful practice for overthinkers as we indeed only need to focus on the moment and where our corporeal body is in space in the now.
Mythology and an Empty Seat
When we explored tree pose, we learned about Sita the devoted wife of Ramachandra aka Rama. She appears again in the stories and myth behind chair pose but now Rama is the principal character of the story. You may have heard of the epic Ramayana. There are many philosophical ideas in this classic tale and although it originated in one part of India, it later became widely known throughout the country. The epic Ramayana is well…epic and this key part of the remarkable story is only a small part of it. There will be no ‘moral’ here or in-depth analysis, this is merely a telling of the tale of duty, a king, brothers, a vacant seat and a pair of sandals.
Image showing the birth of the four divine sons of King Dasaratha.
Dasharatha is seated under a white canopy. Inside the palace, on the top floor (left) is Queen Sumitra with her twins. On the top floor (right) is Queen Kausalya with Rama. On the bottom floor is Queen Kaikeyi with Bharata. In the street, the people dance and sing in the streets in celebration at the royal births.(Ramayana from Udaipur)
A Royal Family
Rama’s father was King Dasharatha (Dasarata) and was getting older, like many men his age he felt it was the right time to follow another path. That meant that it was now time for him to pass on the seat of the throne and his kingship of Ayodhyâ to his eldest son Rama. The kingdom would be well looked after as Rama was beloved by all and choosing the eldest son as successor to the throne is in accordance with dharma (duty.) The best choice was made.
Having made this choice, the king could now retreat to the forest and spend his last years in search of transcendence or spiritual liberation (moksha or mukti.) But one person, in particular, was unhappy with this choice. It was Rama’s stepmother and the king’s second wife Kaikeyi. She wanted her son, Bharata to rule.
The past came back to haunt the king as he had made a promise to his wife Kaikeyi many years before (That is one version of the story, there are other variations.) Not only did she demand that her son was to rule, according to her wishes Rama was to be banished to the forest for fourteen years. Although he begged his wife to reconsider, he did not go back on his promise and instead King Dasharatha agrees that Bharata would become king. He is beside himself and cannot bring himself to tell Rama the news. Instead, he asks Kaikeyi to inform him.
Rama the dutiful son is amenable and is just as content to go to the forest as he would’ve been to rule the kingdom. Sita forever faithful accompanies him to the forest as does his brother Lakshman who begged to come along.
Bharata his brother and the first son of Kaikeyi learns of what has happened and has no intention of breaking the rules of dharma. He is very upset when he finds out what has happened. He goes to the forest in search of Rama and implores him to return and rule the kingdom. Rama, however, refuses and says, “We must obey father.” Bharata then takes Rama’s sandals saying, “I will put these on the throne, and every day I shall place the fruits of my work at the feet on my Lord.” Embracing Rama, he takes the sandals and returns to Ayodhya where he places them on the throne as both a gesture and reminder that Rama is the true king.
Their father Dasharatha would die of a broken heart and Rama does not return until and he would become king years later. This simply one small storyline in the epic tale the Ramayana.
Take a Seat
Starting with your feet being grounded to the earth that is for most humans on this earth our bodies base – our foundation. When we build a house or home we start by laying a foundation to provide stability. Our feet and legs must be strong so they can support us as we perform a variety of physical activities. Chair pose strengthens the body and also like a building helps us to rise up and stand tall as it lengthens the body as well.
How to do Chair Pose
Remember we said that it actually means “fierce pose.” But there is no need to be afraid of this yoga posture. It is quite approachable and anyone can do it. Yes! really anyone can even if you do it using a ‘real’ chair).
Here’s is how to do it:
Start by standing nice and tall with your feet about hip distance apart and toes pointing forward. This helps to align your legs and hips as you begin the pose.
Inhale and extend your arms straight up into the air. Feel the lengthening quality down the arms and along the sides of your body.
As you exhale, draw your navel inward toward your spine to engage your abdominal muscles, then sit back as if you’re sitting into an imaginary chair behind you. The engaged belly supports your body as you move into the posture.
As you sit back, simply bend your knees and push your hips toward the wall behind you. Your upper body will be at a 45-degree angle with your arms extending alongside your ears.
Hold the posture for 5-10 breaths.
Benefits of Chair Pose
Here’s what you can gain from this yoga posture:
Because you are sitting in mid-air, your leg muscles will engage to hold you in place.
Arm & Shoulder Mobility
With your arms extending upward, you will experience greater mobility and range of motion through your arms and shoulders.
Side Body Stretch
Another advantage to extending your arms in the air is to feel a lengthening and stretch quality down the sides of your body to help gain more flexibility.
With your abdominal muscles engaged in this posture, not only will it hold you in place, but you’ll be gaining core strength.
This posture is essentially a balancing yoga pose. With your hips sitting back, your arms extending forward, and your core muscles engaged, you will be balancing your body in this chair-like pose. To challenge the balance a bit, feel free to shift the weight of your body into your heels and lift your toes.
Along with balance comes the practice of focus when you’re in this posture. Direct your eyes forward as you hold the posture and take your deep breaths. When you hold yoga postures like this, it helps you be more focused on the inner workings of your body.
Challenges and Cautions
Although the posture is called “fierce pose,” it doesn’t have to be too challenging. You can modify the posture (as with any yoga pose) to fit your body and yoga level. If it feels like you might lose your balance and fall out of this pose while sitting back, try bending your knees less. Also, there is no need to sit back too far; only move into a range that suits you the best. Another thing to be aware of is your knees. To protect your knee joints, make sure that your knees stay aligned with your ankle bones or heels rather that stacked over your toes. This will reduce any pressure to the knee joints.
Practicing a yoga pose like this one is multifaceted. That is, one single pose can have a direct and positive effect on multiple parts of the body. Try this posture to experience those benefits, and attempt some other yoga postures to continue your self-development and growth.
Learn about tree pose here.
Disclaimer: In this article, we are providing you with personal experience and information on a specific yoga posture. Please note, you and you alone are responsible for your own health and wellness, consult a doctor before trying any new exercise routine or regime.
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Ramayana, a Chamba Rumal
This is a Chamba rumal – an embroidered textile that depicts scenes from the life of Vishnu in his avatars (divine appearances on earth) as Krishna and as Rama. Here, the principal events of the Ramayana epic are presented in synoptic form. At the upper right (your left) Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana bid farewell to Rama’s mother before their exile in the forest.