In this pose, we learn to balance ease with effort.
Utkatasana calls for strength in the legs, especially in the thighs, and holding it for any length of time will wake and warm the legs considerably. As with any pose, maintaining the posture physically while keeping the breath calm is our challenge.
How is this or any pose helpful in your life, you may ask? Well, imagine this...
You are in a meeting. You are sitting in a chair at a large table with six other people dressed in suits.The atmosphere is tense. You prepared for the meeting, but you are nervous. Someone has asked you a question and you don't know the answer. Your heart races. Your palms start to sweat. Your face turns red. You feel afraid and inadequate. What might happen next?
I can think of a couple of scenarios...
Or...before saying or doing anything else, you may remind yourself to breathe. You might take a deep breath and repeat the question to be sure you understand. You might breathe some more, and find that your shoulders relax. You might notice that your breath nurtures you, and the panic might subside. You might suggest further action to take. You might remind yourself that you are worthy, you are prepared, and that it's ok not to know all the answers. You might engage collaboratively with those around you to work toward a common goal.
Utkatasana makes me think of business meetings and how terribly uncomfortable we can sometimes be in chairs! This pose allows us to practice becoming comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. Becoming and transforming are the important actions. Breathing with awareness is what transforms the situation, whether your situation is a tense meeting or is simply standing in Utkatasana.
Stand tall in mountain pose. Find strength in the belly by tucking the tail bone under. Slowly bend the knees, moving the tail bone down toward the floor. Keep tucking the tailbone, and engaging the belly. If you'd like, raise the arms above the head with the palms facing one another, while keeping the shoulders relaxed down away from the ears. If your shoulders are tense and uncomfortable, keep the hands at your chest, palms together. Sit as low as you can, while keeping the chest upright, with crown of the head and spine reaching toward the ceiling, rather than forward. Stay for as many breaths as you can breathe calmly. Then straighten the legs for a few breaths, maybe take a standing forward bend (last week's pose, Uttansana), and repeat if desired.
As I described above, Utkatasana offers us a reflection of how we handle static, tense, anxiety- provoking situations. When we are anxious but confined, like in that business meeting (or in traffic, in class, etc), panic can set in. When you practice Utkatasana, challenge yourself to stay in the pose to the point of discomfort just momentarily. Then, take note of your emotional reaction to your discomfort. Using the breath to manage that emotional reaction prepares you for life outside your yoga practice, off the mat. Your next business meeting or traffic jam is fertile ground to apply your breath and emotional awareness.
Namaste! Next week, let's talk about arguably the most widely known yoga pose, downward facing dog. In Sanskrit, it's Adho Mukha Svanasana (say that three times fast! :)