Utkatasana: waiting in invisible chairs of the awkward, the Bhakti Diaries

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series The Bikram 26

There are asana that are simply beautiful.  Beautiful to look at.  Beautiful to be in.  Postures that cull up grace and symmetry, poise and confidence.  Utkatasana is not one of those.  Not at first.  Not always.  It simply looks odd, like a mime sitting in an invisible chair, waving his arms around toward Nobody.  Utkatasana is a posture of pretend.

They say, the teachers, that your relationship to the postures will change.  The poses you hate will one day be the ones you love the most.  Utkatasana is called “chair” in the most benign of ways, but there is no chair.  You’re in it alone.  It’s also called awkward.  Sometimes, it’s called Fierce.  And sometimes, it is Powerful.

We sit in chairs much of the day, but there is nothing particularly beneficial in that.  Utkatasana, though it mimics the sitting, the chair, the support, is actually a practice of taking the supports away and supporting your own self.  Yoga is praised as the most perfect of physical exercises, using the body itself for resistance, weight lifting, extension, stamina; chair pose is an expression of this.  Rather than using tools, machines, long distances or fast bursts of energy, we simply use ourselves.  It’s all there: compression, extension, lifting the weight, raising the pulse.  But nothing is there at all.

Utkatasana is the place where the ugly, the self-conscious, and the sense of oddness are transformed into something else.  This is the poignancy of yoga: it’s literal, and it’s more than literal.  The posture itself is weird and uncomfortable.  But it’s a tool to transform the uncomfortable parts of our lives, off the mat.  Not fitting in, feeling isolated, attempting the new.  Trying to balance.

Being okay on our own.  It looks weird, it feels uncomfortable, it is hard to feel graceful.  But you can make it strong.  There are specifics.  You find the edge.  You tighten the core and lift the chest.  You lean back, and back, to the place of nearly falling.  You find a way to breath.  You focus.  The lower back grows longer.  The arms, made strong, increase both your  balance and your strength.

Those are the things you do that change awkward into Powerful.  Turn ‘lonely’ into ‘independent’; ‘isolated’ softens into ‘unaccompanied’.  The core tightens again, synonym for ‘find some faith in yourself’.  We often waver.  As we feel shaky or vulnerable, we are tempted to stand up, to change something, to release the pose:  we hesitate to stay in a Chair where we feel awkward.  Lift the toes, lengthen them, and lay them back on the floor (toes!  there is balance and strength in the toes, for godsake…).  Re-align the mind, adjust the pelvis, stay.  We become stronger in direct proportion to our ability to be still and self-reliant, balanced on your own grounded feet, reaching upward even when forces press us down.

Scott Martinez photography

The posture changes, witness to some deeper change inside of who we are.  Instead of feeling strange, Utkatasana becomes a dance embodying pure resilience, deep inner strength, core centeredness.  The dance articulates the invisible, subtle things: what is an ‘easy’ posture, a ‘beginning’, is actually acatalyst of tremendous energy and a foundation for the twists and balances that will come to us, later.  Power and a fierce energy enfuse all the major muscles in chair, firing from the fingertips through the heels.  The pose lengthens the lower back, stretches and massages the diaphragm, opens the chest.  The hips and the pelvis open, the blood charges.  The knees, the shoulders, the big joints we need and so frequently abuse, are healed with heat.  The ankles become flexible, the sex organs churn, the heart center opens.  Powerful pose embodies power, creates power, and increases power to be used later on.  It’s a self contained form of kenesis – potential – and actual, building on what looks like nothing at all.

And one day the brilliant happens. We pull it off.  We manage to find the stillness within the effort. To look poised in an awkward situation.  To be a beautiful thing, unaccompanied.

Series NavigationArdha Chandrasana with pada hastasana, half the moon.Bravery of Eagle: Garudasana. Bhakti diary

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