Yoga Tip Tuesdays: Utkatasana (Chair Pose)

I have always found chair pose (utkatasana, or "fierce pose") to be a challenging posture for me, and every couple of years I realise that I have been doing different elements of the pose incorrectly. In my recent YTT, I worked on this pose quite a bit, and here is what I have come up with.

First, start working your alignment from the foundation.
  • Your feet should either be together, or a small distance apart (i.e. aligned underneath the sitting bones);
  • Your weight should be evenly distributed between the heels and balls of the feet - don't rock back onto your heels or lean too much into your toes;
  • When you bend your knees, look down along your nose: you should be able to see your toes over your knees.
Once the foundation is set up, move your focus to the pelvis and lower back.  Here we continue in the spirit of my post about pelvic alignment in the transition from plank to upward dog, and apply the same fundamental principles.

Remember that a lot depends on the natural alignment of your spine, in this case of your lower back and pelvis.  There is no one-size-fits-all rule for spinal alignment because we are all starting from very different places! So:
  • If you naturally have a pronounced lumbar curve, you will probably need to tuck your pelvis and reduce that curve; 
  • If you naturally have a very flat lumbar spine, you will want to encourage your pelvis to tilt forward a bit and allow your back to retain some curve;
  • If you have a pretty "neutral" spine and pelvis, then you don't need to do much except maintain that neutrality.
Next, move upwards from the pelvis:
  • Engage the abdominals and draw the belly button towards the spine;
  • Lengthen the sides of the torso and lift the collarbones;
  • Drop the shoulders back and down;
  • Engage the arms as if they could lift you higher in the pose! I have tight shoulders so I keep my hands shoulder-width apart. If even this causes too much tightness, you can also practice the pose with your hands in prayer
Finally, bring your attention to the top of the spine:
  • Keep your neck and head in line with your spine (it feels like you are tucking your chin slightly, instead of craning your neck forward);
  • Keep your gaze (drishti) straight down along your nose.
  • Smile!

I'd love to hear if anyone has tips or stories to share about this pose. :)