How to Do Awkward Chair Pose (Utkatasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Awkward Chair Pose - Utkatasana
© Ann Pizer

Also Known As: Thunderbolt Pose, Powerful pose, Fierce Pose, standing squat

Targets: Quadriceps, gluteus, calves, ankles, shoulders, upper back

Level: Beginner

Awkward Chair Pose is a standing pose that strengthens your lower body and gives a stretch to your upper back. It is part of Sun Salutations B (Surya Namaskar B) and is often a transitional pose or starting position for other poses. In Sun Salutations B you start with Mountain Pose, perform Awkward Chair, and then do Standing Forward Bend.

Benefits

Awkward Chair is a standing squat that engages the muscles in your buttocks, hips, and thighs. It also engages your core to stabilize you in the pose and it works on developing your balance. It's a functional exercise as you need strength and balance in performing everyday tasks, even for getting in and out of a real chair. It is also a warming pose, which can be helpful in winter.

Step-by-Step Instructions

You can perform this pose anywhere. Begin standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), upright with your feet together and arms at your sides.

  1. Bend your knees until the thighs are almost parallel to the floor. The feet should be parallel. If your feet are touching, keep your knees together. If your feet are slightly separated, that's OK but make sure your knees are separated the same amount.
  2. Brush your fingertips against the floor to make sure that you are getting really low.
  3. Keep your knees bent and your butt low as you lift your arms up.
  4. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
  5. To release, inhale and straighten your legs, lifting your body up through your arms.
  6. Exhale and return to mountain pose or continue to the next pose in the sequence.

This pose is usually taught in one of two ways. In the first way, the priority is to keep the thighs parallel to the floor, In this case, the torso and extended arms can be at about a 45-degree angle from the floor.

If you want to emphasize an erect spine instead, bring the torso up to a perpendicular position and extend the arms straight toward the ceiling. Your upper spine is in a slight backbend. This may cause you to raise your butt slightly. Try the pose both ways since you may encounter either method when you take yoga classes.

Common Mistakes

Foot Position

Keeping your feet parallel and aligned is a key part of this pose, yet it can be challenging if you naturally have more pronation or supination. Concentrate on keeping your toes pointed forward and an equal weight distribution on all parts of your feet.

Knee Position

Your knees should be aligned with your middle toe rather than angled to one side or another. Also, don't allow your knees to extend past your toes.

Butt Position

Keep a straight line between your spine and your buttocks rather than excessively arching or rounding your back. To counteract this, you need to engage your abdominal muscles, drawing your navel inward.

Raised Shoulders

You don't want your shoulders tight and raised up towards your ears. Relax your shoulders before beginning the pose, giving them a shrug so they are loosened.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

Beginners can work on bringing the thighs closer and closer to parallel to the floor.

If you find you have problems with strength, do this pose with your back facing a wall and just far enough from the wall so your tailbone can come in contact with the wall to get a little support. Or, you can place your hands on your knees.

If you have difficulty with balance, start with your feet wider apart. You could also do the pose where you are facing a wall or an object on which you can focus.

If you have trouble keeping your arms up, extend them at shoulder-height instead. If you can't raise your arms due to shoulder pain, instead place your hands in prayer position in front of your chest and press your palms together.

Up for a Challenge?

Try to incorporate a twist. Bring the hands into a prayer position at the heart. Twist to the right side, bringing the left elbow outside the right knee. Stay low in the pose and keep the knees pressing together. Come back to center and then do the left side.

You can squeeze a block between your thighs while doing this pose as another way to improve your strength.

To deepen the pose, lift up onto the balls of your feet when your knees are bent. To take the pose even deeper, bring your arms down and extend them forward for balance as you bring your buttocks close to your heels.

Safety and Precautions

This pose is not recommended if you have low blood pressure or an injury to your hips, knees, or back. Traditionally, it is avoided if you have insomnia. If you have balance problems, do this pose near a wall or chair you can touch to regain balance.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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