Published in Sweat Equity Magazine
If squats are known as the queen of fitness, then Utkatasana is the mighty prince! Translating to mean “fierce or powerful pose” this common standing asana is practiced in the classical Surya Namaskar B and Bikram sequences and is a standard posture in almost any yoga class.
Most of us have heard about the dangers of sitting, with researchers going so far as to call ‘sitting the new cigarettes.’ The deleterious effect of sitting in chairs for long periods are widely cited. However, this “unsupported chair, Utkatasana, is an altogether different story. More akin to an Air Squat, Utkatasana is a powerful exercise that strengthens the muscles of the legs, glutes, core, erector spinae of the back, and even, depending on the arm variation you use, the muscles of the arms and shoulders. Different traditions practice Utkatasana in different ways. For example, in the Bikram series, the arms are stretched straight ahead with thighs parallel to the floor. In the Ashtanga tradition, the arms are raised overhead with the palms of the hands together and the thighs less than parallel to the floor. Postures in Ashtanga are held for just five breaths, whereas other traditions, like Iyengar, typically hold the pose for much longer. Explore different versions and notice the difference.
Unlike many yoga postures, this one is brilliantly easy to get into. Of course, bending your knees from a standing position is hardly complicated, the following subtle alignment cues can notably alter your experience of the posture.
Try these details and see if they make a difference in your ferocious yoga spirit!
1. Bring the thighs as close to parallel with the floor as you can, with your arms outstretched in front.
2. Bring some weight forward into your toes, and then back into the heels. Settle into a middle spot and notice the difference between all three. Sinking into the heels engages the glute muscles more vigorously.
3. Sink your tailbone towards your heels. You shouldn’t fee compression in the lower back; if you do, you may be overarching your lumbar spine (low back), and this can help.
4. Draw your belly in towards your spine. Visualize lifting your front hip bones upwards towards your rib cage.
5. Spread the shoulder blades apart and lift upwards through the fingertips while drawing the upper arm bones firmly into their sockets.
Don’t forget to breathe!