In your Feet

The Mythology Behind Utkatasana    

How often do you think where did this asanas gain the name Fierce Pose ?

Utkatasana’s name comes from the Sanskrit utkata, which means “fierce, proud, high, haughty, superior, immense, large, difficult”—you get the idea. This pose is often called “chair pose” in English because it looks as if you are sitting in an invisible chair. But this is no easy chair; it’s more like a throne.

Historically in India, chairs were uncommon; most people sat on the floor or the ground. Royal people, kings and queens, sat on elevated chairs, or thrones, which raised them above the common level and made them more easily visible for darshan—that act of seeing and being seen which unites a king or deity with the people.
 

The Ramayana, the tale of Lord Rama’s exile, adventures, and ultimate return to his kingdom of Ayodhya, is, in a sense, a story about a chair or throne. The action begins when Rama’s stepmother Queen Kaikeyi—who once saved her husband’s life on the battlefield and was thus granted three boons (or two boons, depending on which version of the story you follow)—demands that Rama, the intended successor, not be made king, that her son Bharata be crowned king instead, and that Rama go into exile for fourteen years. But Rama’s brother Bharata refused to occupy the throne which he knew he did not deserve. Instead, he placed a pair of Rama’s sandals on the royal seat to emphasize the absence of their owner.

Indian philosophy identifies several specific sorts of absence. Antyatabhavam refers to the absence of something that has always been in a particular location, should be there, but is not there now. Its absence is palpable. For example: Say that I always keep a pencil on my desk, but when I look for the pencil, it’s gone. I know I left it right there. Did it roll away? Did someone take it? It couldn’t have just disappeared. Its absence itself then is a kind of presence. In this place where my pencil should be, there is nothing. Rama’s sandals on the throne express this kind of absence.

A throne is more than an imposing piece of furniture. Symbolically, it conveys the power and authority of the one who sits on it. A ruler’s decisions affect everyone in his kingdom, so the person who occupies the throne had better be wise, just, and prepared to renounce his personal agenda in favor of dharma, the divine order that sustains life and the universe itself. A worthy ruler, a dharma raja, must protect and serve his people in accordance with dharma. And this is a huge responsibility. Everyone in Ayodhya, except Kaikeyi with her distorted thinking, knew that Rama was the best possible person to be king. When Bharata placed Rama’s sandals on the throne instead of sitting on it himself, he dramatized his own position as someone who was not worthy to fill those shoes. The sandals sent the message: The real king, Rama, is absent; I will do my best as his placeholder.

Step 1

Stand in Tadasana Inhale and raise your arms perpendicular to the floor. Either keep the arms parallel, palms facing inward, or join the palms.

Step 2

Exhale and bend your knees, trying to take the thighs as nearly parallel to the floor as possible. The knees will project out over the feet, and the torso will lean slightly forward over the thighs until the front torso forms approximately a right angle with the tops of the thighs. Keep the inner thighs parallel to each other and press the heads of the thigh bones down toward the heels.

Step 3

Firm your shoulder blades against the back. Take your tailbone down toward the floor and in toward your pubis to keep the lower back long.
 

Step 4

Stay for 30 seconds to a minute. To come out of this pose straighten your knees with an inhalation, lifting strongly through the arms. Exhale and release your arms to your sides into Tadasana.

Contraindications and Cautions

  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Low blood pressure

Modifications and Props

You can increase the strength of your thighs by squeezing a block or thick book between them during the pose.

Deepen the Pose

The secret to a comfortable stay in Utkatasana is the release of the heads of the thigh bones toward the heels. Once in the pose, bring your hands to your tops thighs. Nestle the bases of your palms into the creases of the groins and push the heads of thighs toward the heels, digging the heels deep into the floor. Against these actions, lift the sitting bones up into the pelvis.

Preparatory Poses

  • Virasana
  • Bhujangasana
  • Adho Mukha Svasasana

Follow-up Poses

  • Tadasana
  • Uttanasana

Beginner’s Tip

To help you stay in this pose, perform it near a wall. Stand with your back to the wall, a few inches away from the wall. Adjust your position relative to the wall so that when you bend into the position, your tailbone just touches and is supported by the wall.

Having a block under your heels

Benefits

  • Strengthens the ankles, thighs, calves, and spine
  • Stretches shoulders and chest
  • Stimulates the abdominal organs, diaphragm, and heart
  • Reduces flat feet

Partnering

A partner can use either hands or feet to press your heels firmly into the ground.
Placing a belt around the back of the calves, with a partner squatting in front ( still can have a block under your heels). With the support of the partner and belt slowly start to come in to the pose. You will feel light and have an understanding on how to come into this with strength and firmness!!

Variations

As you bend your knees, lift up onto the balls of your feet and sit your buttocks down on your raised heels. Extend your arms forward, parallel to each other and the floor, palms down or facing inward.

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