Lessons from the Mat: Chair Pose to Elevate Your HeartArticle posted in: Fitness
By: Eliza Darling
For the past two weeks I’ve been traveling as a single mom with my toddler in tow, crossing the Pacific Ocean and then the entire mass of the United States. We began our adventure at home in Hawaii, and are now finding ourselves amongst the rust hued, brick buildings of Brooklyn.
Life, here, in the big city, is the polar opposite of our home in the middle of a dense rainforest; the soft whispers of rustling leaves and crashing waves have been replaced by the constant hum of people, cars, sirens and honking horns. Instead of the sweet smell of white ginger, wet earth and salty rain, the savory scent of pizza and chimney smoke and pollen waft through the air. But from the tropical island of Maui to the urban island of Manhattan, the practice of yoga remains the same. The familiarity of Sanskrit words, asana, chanting, and a collective consciousness are a friendly reminder that wherever I am on this great green Earth, in a yoga studio, I can always find home.
I walked down the sidewalk, bundled in layers upon layers of clothes—and still cold—while flurries swirled from the sky to the ground, feeling worlds away from my island paradise home. An outsider in a metropolis of diversity, connected to the strangers around me by the raw humanness and love that beats in our fiery hearts. I spotted a woman carrying a yoga mat and followed the direction she walked, longing to connect through the ancient practice that begins and ends with the recognition of the light that exists within the heart of our self and in the hearts of each other. She entered a door beneath a sign that simply read “Yoga.”
Although I had my child with me and I had no intention at that time of taking a class, I, too, entered and was greeted with a wave of welcoming warmth. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths, inhaling the familiar scent of candles, essential oils and rubber mats. A few moments later, I turned around and walked out. Thousands of miles from home, but my heart had found its way back to where it belonged. Yoga is the shelter from the cold, the food for the soul, the loving embrace that holds the lonely and encouragement for the brave. It doesn’t matter where I am, if there is yoga, there is home.
POSE OF THE WEEK: UTKATASANA (CHAIR POSE)
This pose challenges and simultaneously empowers, asking the practitioner to go deeper while allowing growth and expansion to take place. As the weight is grounded in the feet, there is an elevation of the heart and an outpouring of energy through the tips of the fingers. Many of the sequences I teach and practice start and end in this pose; the statuesque positioning of the body creates a lovely base from which movement can flow with strength and grace.
- Helps strengthen the spine, ankles, calves and thighs
- Stretches the chest and shoulders
- Helps stimulates the heart, diaphragm and the abdominal organs
- May help with flat feet
HOW TO DO IT:
- Start by standing upright (in Tadasana) with feet firmly rooted on the floor and legs actively engaged.
- Inhale and lift the arms parallel to the mat, fingers in line with the shoulders.
- Exhale, bend the knees, lower the hips, sink weight into the heels and shift the shins back.
- If feet are together, firm the inner thighs and the knees together. Keep the knees positioned over the feet if they are apart (hip distance).
- Move the hips down and back, knees back, and slightly elevate the sternum.
- Slide the shoulder blades down the back.
- Either keep the arms extending forward, or lift them overhead with shoulders away from the ears.
- Engage the abdominals and tilt the tailbone towards the floor, lengthening the lower back.
- Hold for 30 seconds to a minute. To come out of it, inhale and straighten legs and simultaneously lift arms overhead. Exhale and lower arms down.
TIPS & MODIFICATIONS:
- Use the support of a wall to lessen the strain on the knees. Stand with the back to the wall, a few inches away from it. Adjust the position of your body to the wall, so that when the knees are bent the tailbone touches and is supported by it.
- If comfortable with the position, try to raise heels off of the ground for a more advanced approach to Chair Pose.
*Always consult with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.