In an early-morning yoga class one day, our teacher asked which poses we love to do. This seamlessly led to a discussion of which poses we hate. (For the record, I love warrior poses and twists.) The consensus: among the more dreaded poses was utkatasana, or “awkward chair.”
You probably know the pose. (If not, check out the photo.) As the name suggests, awkward chair is done by squatting as if you were going to sit in a chair—but not quite. So it’s awkward.
As you hover in your squat with knees bent and arms raised overhead, your thighs may burn and your legs may begin to wobbly. Soon, you’ll probably have thoughts like Why are we doing this? or How much longer do we have to hold this pose?
Doron Hanoch, author of The Yoga Lifestyle, speaks about this kind of “pain” in yoga class. He suggests we can deal with it by feeling the pain without suffering. That is, we can observe the pain but not label it as terrible, unbearable, or awful. And naturally, if you can master pain without suffering, you don’t label the pose itself as one you hate!
As my yoga teacher noted, if we’re suffering in a pose, there’s usually a reason we dread it. The pose may have something to offer that we really need but avoid the same way challenging relationships and other life trials sometimes invite us to face an issue.
In the spirit of learning from challenges, I looked up the benefits of utkatasana to see what it might offer that I needed. Aside from the obvious—strong thighs, calves, ankles and knees—this pose is also a heart opener. I found that intriguing, as I have a tendency to protect my heart. Any pose that opens the heart is useful to me, though I do prefer to open my heart without feeling pain in my thighs!
Utkatasana: Powerful, Fierce, and Uneven
In the yoga classic Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar tells us that utkata means powerful, fierce, and uneven. As a heart opener, the pose may reflect the fact that a powerful and fiercely open heart can feel a bit uneven.
It will also invite love in.
But in case I’m over-thinking the challenges of the pose, Iyengar also mentions many physical benefits of utkatasana. For example, he says it’s “beneficial for horsemen.”
I don’t ride horses often, but I do find myself doing utkatasana a lot. And the more I do it, the less I dread it. In fact, it has gotten a lot easier and is not necessarily on my dreaded pose list anymore.
Maybe opening my heart without pain will get easier as well.
Would you like to explore more yoga topics in depth—perhaps with a group of yoga friends? Get your copy of Yoga Circles, A Guide to Creating Community off the Mat. You’ll find lots of topics and activities for living the yoga lifestyle and enjoying time with like-minded yogis! Click here to order!
I’m Maria, devoted yogini and author of Yoga Circles. I’m a writer, editor, and content marketing creator. I help small businesses, wellness brands, teachers, and authors publish books, develop marketing strategies, and communicate effectively in writing. Visit my website (link below) to learn how I can help you connect with more readers, clients, and students!