Asana Analysis - Chair Pose/Utkatasana
Also known as Intense or Fierce pose, this asana is great for building up strength and heat in the body.
Muscles Strengthened in Chair Pose: quadriceps, adductors, gluteus maximus, anterior deltoids, the rotator cuff (subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus and teres minor), triceps, errector spinae of the lumbar, thoracic and cervical spine, transverse abdominus
Muscles Stretched in Chair Pose: latissimus and teres major (if the shoulders are tight), soleus (if the calves are tight)
Points of Body Awareness:
*Is the spine in neutral alignment? Be especially mindful of the lower back. There should be a slight inner curve but not too much.
*Gaze up between the hands with the chin slightly lifted.
*Are the upper arms rolling “in”? (This is actually external rotation at the glenohumeral joint) You should feel a sense of stability and lengthening through the shoulders.
*Are the shoulder blades anchoring your arms? The shoulders should not be lifting up towards your ears, nor should you forcefully bind them downward. But rather, feel a sense of broadening of the shoulders and perhaps also of the collar bones and heart.
*Can you see your toes? If not, shift the knees back. They should be lined up just slightly forward of the ankles.
*Stay grounded in the heels.
*Keep the the navel drawing in toward the spine and engage the muscles of the pelvic floor, holding both at about 25% of your maximum.
*Stay relaxed in the neck and jaw
To Modify: The legs can be kept hip-distance apart. Try squeezing a block between the thighs for more adductor activity. If the shoulders are tight, keep the arms horizontal to the floor. Keep the chin level and gaze forward if there is any pain in the neck.
To Challenge: Lift the heels and do chair on tiptoes for more strengthening of the lower leg muscles and for a greater challenge to balance. For increased strengthening of the arms, try squeezing a block between the palms or use a loop of resistance band around the wrists.
PT Note: This is a wonderful posture to use for patients who are working on sit-to-stand. Not only does it build quad strength but it can also improve posture and body mechanics. Compared to a typical rehab squat or wall sit, this pose requires more hip flexion and lumbar lordosis, both important components of the sit-to-stand motion. Achieving an adequate lordosis of the lumbar spine is essential to rise from a chair properly (I know this from my grad school research analyzing the various factors that contribute to sit-to-stand). Practicing this asana with the correct alignment will help patients to achieve this. On a psychological level, utkatasana can increase confidence and give the patient a sense of power and energy that they may not have felt for a long time. Work incrementally holding a lordosis with the hips and knees flexed only slightly at first. As strength and flexibility improve, work on holding the pose lower and lower. Use an adjustable chair or high-low table as a target over which to hover. You can also assist the patient (if their upper extremities are uninvolved) by doing a partner version where you grasp one another’s wrists and lean back. This would be a fun way to get family members involved in a home program as well.