Modify Utkatasana if needed to find safe alignment for your body.
If your ankles feel tight…
Try placing a rolled-up mat under your heels. This will reduce the amount of ankle dorsiflexion (in which your feet reach toward your shin) needed and will allow you to find more ease in the posture.
Start by tightly rolling up about half the length of your mat (less if your mat is really thick; more if it’s thin). Place your feet together, with your heels atop the roll and the balls of your feet on the floor. Spread your toes to widen the base of support.
If you have shoulder pain…
Try keeping your hands at your heart as you come into the pose.
Press your hands firmly together as you widen evenly across your chest and back. You can work your shoulders by maintaining this pressure in your hands while gradually lifting them up toward the ceiling, with palms still pressed together. Stop at the point of discomfort. This is also a great modification if you have a tendency to round through your low back.
If you have knee pain…
Try performing the pose against a wall. Most of our joints allow for rotation, gliding, or both. The goal with managing knee pain is to mitigate the amount of excess rotation (torque) and glide (sheer). When you use the wall to support your body weight and limit knee flexion (bending), you reduce both torque and sheer at the knee joint.
Start with your feet hip-distance apart and your back about one foot from the wall. Hinge at your hips until your buttocks touch the wall, and then release your back to the wall. Slide down to your level of comfort, but don’t bend your knees past 90 degrees. Keep the knees directly above your ankles. Your hands can be overhead, on your hips, or at your heart.
Take a Load Off
Each of your arms is equal in length to about 35 percent of your height, while both arms combined account for approximately 10 percent of your weight. When you bend forward with your arms raised overhead, you both lengthen and redistribute the weight of your upper body. This increases the load that the muscles of your back, hips, and hamstrings must support and overcome. The hamstrings are hip extensors as well as knee flexors. When you tilt forward excessively, you over-elongate the already-taxed hip extensors and compromise their ability to contract optimally. This leaves the spinal muscles to pick up the slack. So be kind to your spine and take a load off: Instead of leaning forward aggressively, aim to keep your torso mostly upright and your arms lifted toward the sky, or your hands pressed together at heart center.
About Our Pro
Teacher and model Robyn Capobianco, MA, E-RYT500,is a corrective-exercise specialist;her classes are a unique blend of self-myofascial release, classical yoga, and corrective exercise interspersed with splashes of science. Capobianco’s work is inspired by her studies with Jill Miller, Sianna Sherman, Richard Freeman, and Douglas Brooks, as well as by her formal education in integrative physiology. She is also a doctoral student in the Neurophysiology of Movement Laboratory at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and is investigating the neuromechanics of stretching and yoga. Learn more at functionalflow.com.