Want to learn more about Utkatasana, aka Chair Pose? In this post, I share the benefits of Utkatasana, a complete pose breakdown, contraindications, myths, modifications and more.
I used to think I was special. I used to swear that it was impossible for me to flex my ankles enough to get lower in Utkatasana. I was sure there was a limitation in the front of my ankle where there was bone on bone compression that prevented me from going further. I mean, it is possible. We are all a little different on the inside, just like on the outside. Our bones don’t all look exactly the same and the differences can create different ranges of possibilities in poses for people.
And I used to tell myself that my bones didn’t allow me to go deeper in Utkatasana.
Oh ego, hello. There you are. How are you?
Turns out, the Achilles tendon, combined with a super tight calf muscle, can create such an extreme feeling of rigidity in the ankle that it can feel like it must be a structural limitation. For me, the reality was, I just needed more flexibility in my calf muscles.
Once I started walking less on the balls of my feet (a trait I learned from my father) and started stretching out my calf muscles on a regular basis, amazingly I was able to get much deeper dorsiflexion in my ankles. It transformed my Utkatasana.
Yoga has a lot to teach us about our bodies. The more we pay attention to what is going on, and the less we make assumptions about our unique limitations, the more possibilities open up for us.
So what is really limiting you? A story you are telling yourself, or something else?
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Utkatasana Quick Facts
|English||Chair Pose or Fierce Pose|
|Meaning||Utkata means fierce, difficult, or powerful. |
It has nothing to do with a chair.
I tend to use the more accurate name Fierce Pose in class because if you sit in it for any length of time, well, just try it and tell me this isn’t a fierce and powerful pose!
Note: I only include the scientifically supported benefits of Utkatasana here. Plenty of claims about other supposed benefits (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) have been made. To me, pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community, so I choose not to give them airtime here.
The main physical benefits of Utkatasana include:
- Lifting your torso and arms builds strength in arms, shoulders, and back.
- Strengthens the lower body while stretching the upper back.
- Strengthens biceps and triceps.
- Helps open and create strength and stability in the shoulder joints.
- Tones abdomen and outer hips (gluteus medius and minimus).
- Strengthens inner thighs (adductor muscles).
- Strengthens the posterior chain (back muscles, butt, hamstrings).
- Strengthens hip flexors.
- Strengthens the quadriceps
- Strengthens and stretches gluteus maximus.
- Stretches calf muscles.
- Builds strength for the muscles that support the knee.
- Engages the deep core muscles.
Also, in case any of you reading this are part of the horsey set, Mr. Iyengar says in Light on Yoga, “It is a beneficial pose for horsemen.”
If you want more on the benefits of yoga, see our complete guide to the benefits of yoga, which includes a history of yoga plus the origins of our modern yoga practice and much more.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people! If your body requires some extra support in this pose, see the Modifications section below for ideas on how to do this pose safely.
- Students with a neck injury are advised to keep their gaze forward.
- If you have high blood pressure, keep your arms down or in Anjali Mudra (Prayer Position).
- Those with tight or injured shoulders can practice Utkatasana with their arms shoulder distance apart or wider.
- If you have a weak or hypermobile lower back, be sure to keep your belly toned.
- If you have a hip injury or recently had hip surgery, you may want to bend your knees less, use a chair for support, or skip the pose entirely.
- If you have a spinal injury, this pose can exacerbate the injury, in which case come out of the pose.
- With a sprained ankle or other ankle injury, it is best to avoid this pose until your injury heals fully.
- If you have chronic knee pain or a knee injury, you can make this pose less intense by bending your knees less than indicated in the pose breakdown.
Misconceptions & Myths About Chair Pose
In Light on Yoga, when detailing Utkatasana, Mr. Iyengar wrote, “This asana is like sitting on an imaginary chair.” And just like that it became known as Chair Pose.
In my classes I sometimes refer to it as Chair Pose because it’s what people are used to hearing it called. However, I prefer calling it Fierce Pose because it is more evocative of how the pose feels.
Often Utkatasana is taught as thighs parallel to the ground and torso upright. However, the two actions are contradictory and can’t both be fully performed at the same time.
If you have ever practiced Ashtanga Yoga, they tend to prioritize the torso being upright and it is therefore generally practiced with just a slight bend in the knees.
In some other styles, the focus is on getting your thighs parallel to the ground. Since, you can’t do this and keep your torso upright, students are allowed to lean forward.
I prefer students to find a balance between bending your knees deeply and having your torso as upright as possible. I find that this maximizes the benefits of Utkatasana.
Too much focus on thighs parallel to the ground can lead to students bending very far forward. Too much focus on torso vertical can lead to overarching in the lower back. That’s why a balance is needed between these actions.
This shouldn’t be surprising, since this is a yoga pose and yoga is all about finding balance.
Utkatasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Utkatasana / Chair Pose
- Stand in Tadasana with your feet together and knees together.
- Bend your knees and fold forward. Bend your knees enough so that you can touch the ground with your fingertips.
- Bend your knees more deeply and walk your hands beside your feet. Lower your hips until they are roughly as high as your knees (thighs parallel to the ground). To help keep your balance while you do this, slide your fingers back beside, or even behind, your feet.
- Squeeze your legs together, look forward, tone your pelvic floor (Mula Bandha) and stretch your arms straight out in front of you.
- Tone your belly (Uddiyana Bandha) and engage your back as you stretch your arms up and overhead, inline with your ears.
- When you lift your torso and arms, your hips will lift up a bit and your knees will unbend a bit. Work to limit how much your straighten your knees. Find a balance between lifting your torso and keeping your knees bent.
- The final form of Utkatasana is done with your gaze up and hands together. This can strain your neck and is difficult for people with tight or strong shoulders. See Modifications below.
- Breathe. This is Utkatasana.
- To come out, fold forward, and come into Uttanasana with your feet still together. Or, separate your feet some to give your lower back a little self-care.
Note: You can also enter Utkatasana from Tadasana by stretching your arms up and bending your knees deeply. This is the common entry when practicing Surya Namaskar B.
Modifications & Variations
If you are new to practicing Utkatasana
If this pose is new to you, or you find it difficult to keep your legs squeezing together in the pose, start by practicing it with your feet hip-distance apart.
You can also place a yoga block between your thighs to help keep your knees pointing forward and strengthen your inner thighs.
You can also practice the pose sitting a yoga chair and still get many of the benefits of the pose. Over time, you can work to bring your butt off the chair and hover for a moment, slowly increasing the length of time you hold yourself off the chair.
If you have a neck injury
Keep your gaze forward rather than looking up. Lengthen through all sides of your neck to build strength while practicing Chair Pose.
If you have tight or strong shoulders
Separate your hands shoulder-distance apart (as in Urdhva Hastasana). You can take your arms as wide apart here as is necessary to accommodate your shoulders. You will also likely want to gaze forward rather than looking up.
If you have high blood pressure
Bring your hands to Anjali Mudra (Prayer Pose) in front of your heart, or place your hands on your hips, rather than lifting them overhead.
If you cannot get your heels down
Not being able to get your heels down to the mat in this pose is generally a sign of tight calves or tight Achilles tendons. You can use a yoga wedge or folded yoga blanket and place it under your heels so that you have something to press them down into. This will help lengthen your calf muscles and improve your balance.
If your lower back hurts
You may be overarching your lower back in the pose. Focus on engaging your butt muscles (glutes) and tucking your tailbone underneath you slightly, while also toning your belly (Uddiyana Bandha).
Yoga Poses Related to Chair Pose
- Vajrasana / Thunderbolt Pose
- Garudasana / Eagle Pose
- Ashwa Sanchalanasana / Low Lunge Pose
- Bhujangasana / Cobra Pose
- Uttanasana / Forward Fold Pose
- Balasana / Child’s Pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Facing Dog Pose
- Tadasana / Mountain Pose
Poses To Take Your Practice Further
- Virabhadrasana 1 / Warrior 1 Pose
- Anjaneyasana / Son of Anjani’s Pose
- Pasasana / Noose Pose
- Malasana / Garland Pose
- Parivrtta Utkatasana / Twisted Chair Pose
- Parsva Kakasana / Side Crow Pose
- Parsva Bakasana / Side Crane Pose
- Utkata Konasana / Goddess Pose
Related Posts & Videos
- Post: Ashwa Sanchalanasana Benefits & Pose Breakdown
- Post: High Lunge Benefits & Pose Breakdown
- Video: Utkatasana Pose Breakdown
Gear & Resources for This Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Sustainable Cork Yoga Mat by Corq
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Machine Washable Vegan Yoga Blankets
- Foam Yoga Wedge
- Folding Yoga Chair
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A Final Note About Chair Pose
Utkatasana is an opportunity to practice steadiness inside while in the midst of ferocious work outside. It is also a chance to practice the balance of stretching up while squatting down.
Your mind is constantly moving and part of your yoga practice is to work to steady the movements of your mind. Sitting in Utkatasana and working to find stillness in the pose has the added benefit of helping train your mind to be still, even while facing an outward challenge.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your possibilities with Chair Pose. I want these posts to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply and I hope this post helps you see this fairly common pose with new awareness and understanding. The more you understand about each pose, the more it will help you find the strength and clarity needed to live your adventure to the fullest!