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Utkatasana (Chair Pose)

By Jessica Gumora

When people ask me why I practice yoga, I respond by simply saying “I love practicing.” However there is much more to this answer. The four Buddhist virtues known as the four immeasurables can be found in Patañjali’s Yoga Sutra (1,33): “All that is mutable in human beings (chitta) is harmonized through the cultivation of love (maitri), helpfulness (karuna), conviviality (mudita) and imperturbability (upeksha) in situations that are happy, painful, successful or unfortunate.” In other words, these virtues ask us to love (maitri) – love ourselves so that we can love others; to have compassion (karuna) –recognizing that we all need help in life; to find contentment (mudita) – reject jealousy and resentment by being grateful for what we have and embracing opportunities; and to be indifferent (upeksha) – do not judge or allow negative opinions to rule relationships with ourselves or with others. These four traits can be difficult to follow all the time – I mean we are all humans and have “sh-t” going on! However I find that when I am on my mat, I can express love and compassion and let go of resentment and judgement.

How does this happen? Because my practice is an expression of the REAL me; the me within me where my true heart and mind are located. When I practice, the world stands still for a moment and everything is at peace. Now don’t get me wrong, I may start practicing because I am angry or upset at something or someone or because I need to “move” to my own beat but eventually these reasons or feelings fade. My anger is gone, my sadness is lost, my worries weaken, and I am FREE. It can also happen that once I get off my mat and reenter the world, I am pissed or upset all over again. But sometimes it does not – sometimes I come back with a solution to the problem or I am contentment and compassionate.

Practicing maitri, karuna, mudita, and upeksha on my mat can help me pause before I judge someone, appreciate what I have achieved, and realize I am loved and I love others. I truly believe yoga is an expression of the self through movement and breath. This is why I must and do LOVE my practice – it is an expression of me! So while we all have our “stuff,” try and move through it with love, compassion, and contentment.

Below is one pose I love to hate, Utkatasana. In Sanskrit, “Utkata” means fierce and “asana” means pose. We refer to it as “Chair Pose” because it mimics the position of sitting in a chair. Nevertheless, Utkatasana is a powerful pose, which can bring out your fierce side! Its benefits include, toning the leg muscles, strengthening the hip flexors, ankles, calves, and back, stretching the chest and shoulders, and stimulating the heart, diaphragm, and abdominal organs. Now go and try it!

Step 1:

Stand in Tadasana. Inhale and raise your arms perpendicular to the floor. You can keep the arms parallel, palms facing inward or if you have tight shoulders, you’re your arms wider in a more v-like over your head.

Step 2:

Exhale and bend your knees, trying to take the thighs as nearly parallel to the floor as possible. Torso will lean slightly forward over the thighs, shoulders role down the back and heart and head shine up toward the sky. Keeping your inner thighs parallel, press the heads of the thighbones down toward the heels. Take your tailbone down toward the floor and in toward your pubis to keep the lower back long.

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.

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