Chair Pose. It looks so easy….Oh. But it is.
I decided to talk about Chair Pose purely because I have no clue how to do it.
Well now I do, after all the blood, swears and tears I put into writing this article. Blood, because I tore off a hangnail with my teeth while contemplating the whole “melt your shoulder blades down your back” phrase.
It seems ridiculous that a posture so seemingly straightforward could lend one so much heartache. Or knee-ache. Or low-back ache. Or shoulder-ache.
But it’s gotta be nearly every yoga class I attend that I struggle with some mental variation of the posture. Each slightly-seated Utti-kaka-whatever looks different from the last. Not to judge my powerful, wonderful, love-permeating, magical yogi teachers, because there is so much INTERNAL alignment to Chair Pose that involves a) feeling and b) just knowing what the f* the thing is supposed to look like.
So I did some research….at 3 a.m….so you won’t have to. I’ll be facing a pillow while you face your day, but by golly, at least we’ll be sitting something fierce.
I say fierce not necessarily because I’m channeling my inner-Tyra Banks but because little to popular knowledge, the root “utkata” is Sanskrit for fierce. Mmm. Nothing like an ancient yogi phrase to make one appear fashionable and ‘model-y’ while sitting.
I personally love any yoga pose that let’s me lead with my heart.
Oh wait, that’s pretty much every one of them. I like yoga.
So here I struggle, slave rather, class after class, beads of pearly sweat dripping into my contact lenses and pushing so much Ujjai breathing out you’d think I was making orange juice. I round my space. I tuck my hips. I tuck my hips the other way. I shrug my shoulders back, I look up, I look forward, I put a block between my thighs, I look like I have to go to the bathroom while simultaneously winning the World Cup.
Can you bend like you brag? Stand up straight and SIT DOWN, somethin’ utkata, it’s time for a rhyme, and to tell you where to put your asana.
Start and end in Mountain Pose
Uno Number One-O: So I knew the basics. Start like amazing Yo-so-Mighty El Cap in Mountain Pose ,Tadasana. Stand with big fatty toes touching. Angle heels awkwardly out. Er…Okay. Back up. I used to just pigeon-toe my heels out once my big ones were kissing, and begin the pose. But as we know that Mountain Pose roots us in our intent, and serves as the foundation for our pose, so must we be in attendance for what we intend to do.
In other words, root your feet in every pose, before you settle further into it. How? E-zzzzz………
With big toes touching, lift your toes. Notice how this lift keeps you from falling inwards into your arches, but instead enforces a gleeful space under the insides of our feet. This should help you mentally activate the ball mounts of your feet.
Think of when you first step out of the shower and onto that fluffy towel. Your wet feet mat down an imprint of your feet that allow you to see if your arches are high, fallen, or blurring the lines of existence. The outline that we see is exactly where we want to press in as we lift our toes.
Once you are lifted and pressing, now try to lay each toe flat on the ground, allowing them to splay slightly. Oh, you won’t get it perfect and frankly the first time someone said to anchor each toe at a time I thought it was a handy trick to prevent them from permanently looking as if they’d just been smashed into a size six Louboutin.
But I want to remember this little toe lift trick thing, because it’s important. I once met a woman who ran and practiced yoga for years, well into her forties when the ligaments of her sagging ankles finally snapped under the pressure and she had to have surgery to have them replaced with little sticks of plastic. Then she had to learn to walk again. Sounds like fun. But really, I think a lift here or there while doing a standing posture, such as Warrior I (Virabhadrasana) or even one-legged balances if you’re feeling zesty, can greatly improve the balance and posture within the pose.
Just to hit it home too, Utkatasana isn’t just good for strengthening the thighs and elongating the lower back. It’s also a great tool for conquering flat feet!
2 INHALE. On your next inhale, raise your arms above your head, keeping them in line with your ears. Palms are facing one another with fingers splayed wide. Keep your hand and fingers activated as you imagine white energy, prana, shooting from your fingertips, out through the ceiling and into the great blue beyond.
Melt your shoulder blades: shrug them away from your ears. In some instances, we cannot keep our shoulders from shrugging unless they are about shoulder width apart or greater. If you have to open up your arms more to keep your shoulders pressed and active on your back, do so, leading with the hands like tree branches from a great tree. If your shoulders remain firm, you can experiment with bringing your arms shoulder-width apart, palms touching maybe.
TRINITY: Exhale (three paragraphs later) and bend your knees, pressing into your knees and big toes. Now the fun begins. Goal: take upper thighs (think: femur) parallel to floor as much as possible, without over-stressing into the pose. Your knees will angle over your ankles.
FOUR IS A BORE: You’ll notice your upper, front torso pitching slightly forward in the pose. Without giving in, and without fighting your body’s natural shape, angle your torso so that is about 90 degrees with your thighs. You’ll notice some yoga teachers will proffer up a yoga block to jam between your thighs, which is actually incredibly awkward and just as useful. Keeping your thighs pressing and active helps control your pelvis and torso from rounding and crunching the low back.
FIVE IT’S GOOD TO BE ALIVE: Re-assess your body at this point. If you need to lift your toes again by all means. Press your shoulders even further down your back, seeing how far away from your ears you can get them. To keep your back long and strong, tuck your tailbone (the sacrum) down and in —down towards the floor, in towards your pelvis tilt.
The best thing about this pose, as with most yogi poses, is that the key is to relax. When we allow our calves to relax, our heels remain grounded and we can activate the thighs, releasing tension from the torso. Breathe in this pose about 30 seconds before exhaling back into Mountain Pose and releasing the arms to your sides.
Deanna Lee Meiresonne is a certified yogi, rock climber, writer, editor, earth-shaker, intrepid explorer. Creative, curious, cute, NINJA. Her work can also be found on http://www.pinkganesha.wordpress.com. Follow on both Twitter and Tumblr @PinkGanesha.