You know that feeling you get when you can’t put off cleaning the house anymore? You know it’s going to be hard, you know it is going to be long and it’ll invariably take all your mental willpower not to chuck the tea towel over your shoulder and head for a bubble bath. Once done, however, you feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. You may even wonder to yourself why you made all that fuss to begin with. This, is how I feel about Chair Pose: I never look forward to it but I always look back on it with a sense of great accomplishment.
So in the spirit of a new year, I have decided to look at Chair Pose, or Utkatasana, a bit differently. Yoga is just as much about mental awareness and strength as it is about physical power and I am determined that this year, I won’t shudder every time I think about this pose. If you feel the same as me, join in on this journey to work out why I love Chair Pose and why my yoga practice wouldn’t be the same without it.
1. We need to challenge ourselves
Like a yoga practice itself, Chair Pose is about progress – there is always room for growth. Whether we are just beginning yoga or have been practising for years, we can always be better and by including the niyama tapas into our practice we can challenge ourselves to be so. Chair pose, and the adjustments that we need to continually make while holding it, helps us to do so. We need to constantly remind ourselves that we can always raise our heart a little higher, bend our knees a little deeper or become more conscious and connected with each muscle working.
2. To appreciate what we love, we must also know what we don’t
One of my favourite life mantras is this, ‘to truly know what it is to be happy, we must know what it is to struggle’. This can be applied to your yoga practice: to really appreciate the stillness of Mountain Pose, we must know what it is to struggle with balance in Chair Pose. We grow during struggle and Chair Pose is proof of this.
3. Practice brings power
There is no better way to remember how powerful you are than Chair Pose: your legs begin to tremble, your mind wants to give up and yet… you don’t. That is truly power. We are capable of achieving amazing things. We may not love every second of the journey but we can get through it, with strength and gratitude. You might just begin to feel thankful to Utkatasana for helping you get there.
4. It strengthens our legs and spine
Our legs help ground us, keeping us strong and balanced throughout the pose and helping to strengthen our calves, quads and glutes. Simultaneously there is an extension of the lower back and a slight forward tilt from the pelvis to the spine, keeping the erector muscles (that flank our spine) contracted. This pose elongates the back and builds energy in the anterior and posterior spine. This increased strength aids us outside of our yoga practice as well, runners will profit from increased power and avid skiers also notice the benefits.
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5. Allows for a deep stretch
As alluded to above, chair pose stretches and strengthens the legs, spine and abdominal area and allows for a full body stretch. Helping relieve muscle tension and mentally destress, the stretch can be as a deep as you feel you need. Whether you sit a little lower to increase the strength along your quads, raise your arms a little higher to increase the stretch in your shoulders or tilt a little further to increase the spinal stretch.
6. Stimulates and opens the heart
Chair Pose opens up the chest and heart chakra which is why many people who experience breathing difficulties often find this pose particularly beneficial. By opening out the rib cage, we create space between the ribs and allow our lungs extra space. The cardiovascular element of the pose increases the heart rate while the increased lung capacity helps us to counteract this, stimulating the heart without causing us to run out of breath. Those who suffer from anxiety may also find this a reassuring way to stimulate their heart without worrying about loss of breath or spiralling heart rate.
7. Proves if we put our mind to it we can conquer anything
Any yogi knows that yoga is physical and mental practice. Often our bodies’ limitations exist most strongly in our minds and learning to talk to ourselves in an empowering, positive way will help us to overcome physical obstacles both in our practice and in our minds. Chair Pose provides the perfect opportunity to really test this theory out. Try telling yourself that you can do it, that you are strong enough to hold the pose for as long as the teacher asks you. Change your mindset and you’ll change your Chair Pose.
8. Utilising breathing techniques
Using the breath to stabilise and anchor is extremely helpful during Chair Pose, focusing on our breath helps us live in the moment. We stop thinking about how long we have left, or whether we are going to fall, and hone in on the rhythmic rising and falling of our ribcage. Try focusing on breathing out any doubt or negativity and breathing in positivity, nourishing each part of your body.
9. Increases stability
Chair Pose helps us improve our balance and stamina as well as gently stretching the tendon and allowing more strength and flexibility in our ankles. This increased range in our ankles supports us in deepening our practice of other asanas, especially standing, by helping increase our stability.
10. Converting non-believers
Have you ever been told by a sprinter, or a spin class enthusiast that ‘yoga is easy’? Well, next time you come across anyone in doubt, get them to try chair pose for a minute – I’m pretty sure they’ll change their tune!