Its English translation alone makes you think there’s no way this pose will be comfortable. At best, awkward, yes? Interestingly enough I’ve heard Utkatasana called by other names: Fierce pose, Awkward Chair pose, Lightning Bolt Pose, & even Powerful Pose. A pose with so many translations, makes me think people have tried to make it sound more enticing. Yet, there’s no way around the inevitable when you come into this pose: You’re gonna work!
There are several reasons why this pose comes up so often in a yoga practice, from building strength and focus to cultivating heat to name a few. Chair pose offers so many benefits that it is reasonable to assume it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So if you’re not a fan of this pose, it might help to find something to like about it, right? Right. Well, we can begin the courtship by talking about the common misalignments that can make this pose even more awkward than it should be.
4 common Misalignments in Awkward Chair pose (Urkatasana)
1. Confused Feet
Pigeon-Toed, turned out feet, white-knuckled toes, excessive pronation or supination, you name it, I’ve seen it in yoga class. In all these cases, the yogi is nowhere near cheerful, and he or she certainly can’t wait to get out of the pose. There are different schools of thought on the exact placement of your feet (i.e. next to each other or hip width apart) but for the sake of neutrality, your feet should be parallel to each other at a neutral alignment with your weight evenly distributed throughout all four corners of each foot and toes pointing straight ahead.
2. Traveling Knees
Often in cahoots with confused feet, the knees can either knock in to each other, roll outward or some combination of the two. Again, awkward. Instead, work to keep your knees behind the toes and roll your weight towards the heels. The knees should be in line with the mid-line of each foot. Imagine drawing a line from the center of your kneecap, down the center of your shin and over the top of the foot. In most cases that’ll put you in line with your middle toe. This prevents torqueing your knees and more equally activates the inner and outer thigh muscles.
3. Duck Butt
For many years this term confused me, but now that I’ve seen more ducks in my life (comes with moving out of the city and into the country) I see it more clearly now. This is basically when your tail bone lifts up and the curve of your lower back is excessively arched, like the perkiness of a duck’s tail. When this happens, you’re actually shortening your back by compressing the lumbar spine (i.e. that ole crunchy feeling) and most likely the lower front ribs are excessively protruding outward not unlike a proud mallard I might add. In Awkward Chair pose, to counteract this, drop your tailbone downward, sort of a slight tuck, then draw your belly button in. Knit the lower front ribs into your body, too. This will help lengthen your spine on all sides, the front, back and sides.
4. Shoulders For Earrings
These heisters have a way of creeping up when you’re stressed or challenged, and Awkward Chair pose no doubt brings up its share of both. It looks like you’re wearing your shoulders like earrings since your arms appeared glued to the sides of your head. Shrug your shoulders downward and plug your arm bones more firmly into the shoulder sockets. If your shoulders are tight, feel free to open the arms wider and you can offer a bend to the elbows to more easily shrug your shoulders downward. Ultimately this will invite openness around the chest and release tension around the upper back.
And Above All . . . Where’s The Sukha?
Remember, with every pose, you’re trying to find comfort and ease as well as power, just as the yoga sutra invites. So if Awkward Chair pose feels truly unbearable, don’t resign yourself to pain without a concerted search of all your options. Instead explore the pose, make some self-adjustments, and ask your teacher for tips to help so that one day this pose feels awkward in name only.