HOW TO PRACTICE Cow Face Pose IN YOGA (Gomukhasana)
Benefits, How to Instructions, Modifications, and Common Alignment Mistakes for Cow Face Pose
Cow Face Pose (Sanskrit name: Gomukhasana) (go = cow, muhk = face, asana = pose) stretches the muscles of the shoulders and the hips. Few other yoga poses stretch both major areas in the same asana, making Cow Face Pose unique and one to turn to for creating more mobility in these areas of the body.
Cow Face Pose requires a great deal of external rotation in the hip joints. But because the thighs are adducting (moving toward the midline), some yoga students who find poses like Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) or Sukhasana (Easy Pose) to be challenging may find Gomukhasana to be more accessible.
Many practitioners can benefit from sitting on a yoga block or folded blanket or two to make this pose more accessible. Yogis with knee issues may need to modify in order to keep their knee joints comfortable. For more ideas on how to modify Gomukhasana, check out the Yoga 2.0 Tab.
Benefits of Cow Face Pose
Cow Face Pose is a deep hip opener that stretches the piriformis and gluteal muscles, as well as the ankles, thighs, and hamstrings in the lower body. The asymmetrical nature of the legs calls for careful alignment of the pelvis, to avoid throwing off pelvic rhythm. In any sitting yoga pose, most people benefit greatly from elevating the hips on a blanket or two, which often allows for more freedom of movement, in addition to stabilizing the hips for this deep work.
Practiced with the traditional arm bind, as shown here, you’ll be simultaneously strengthening and lengthening a number of muscles in your torso, back, shoulders and upper arm, including the serratus anterior, rhomboids, rotator cuff muscles, lats, deltoids, biceps, triceps, and more.
This yoga posture can help create more mobility and range-of-motion in both your shoulder and hip joints, but there’s a caveat: If your joints are very tight, forcing this asymmetrical asana can also pose injury risk. Check out the preparatory yoga postures in the Yoga 2.0 section to work your way toward more mobility before you attempt this version. Bear in mind that by practicing the preparatory poses you’ll reap the same benefits as the full pose. Over time, you may notice increased mobility in your shoulders and torso both on-and-off the yoga mat.
Basic Cow Face Pose
- Start seated with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor, hips-distance apart. Reach your left arm around, under and through your left leg and grab your right ankle with your left hand.
- Draw your right ankle toward the left hip, lowering the knee and allowing it to extend straight forward.
- Cross your left leg over the right, so that the left knee is stacked on top of the right, and place your left foot outside the right hip. Situate both heels equidistant from the hips and sit evenly on both sitting bones.
- If your bottom knee experiences any discomfort in this pose, straighten your bottom leg out onto the floor in front of you. There is no such thing as a “good” knee pain. So make sure you straighten your bottom leg at the slightest indication of discomfort.
- If you can’t sit evenly on your sitting bones, place a thickly folded blanket under your hips. It works best if you place a corner of the blanket under the hips so that the blanket doesn’t interfere with your feet. If you still can’t sit evenly on your sitting bones, sometimes it’s best to straighten your bottom leg out in front of you.
- Flex both feet and strongly press the outer edges of your feet down into the yoga mat, straightening your ankles and lifting your outer ankle bones away from the floor. Maintain this action to stabilize your knees and deepen the hip stretch.
- Inhale and reach both arms up overhead. Bend your right elbow and place your right palm on your upper back toward the middle of your shoulder blades. With your left hand, gently guide your right elbow toward the midline.
- Inhale and straighten your elbow to extend your left arm up toward the ceiling. Then lower that arm to the side at shoulder height with the palm facing forward. Internally rotate your left arm, turning the palm to face backward, pointing your thumb down.
- Exhale and bend your left elbow, bringing the back of your left hand up the center of your back.
- Hug your left elbow into your left side and slide your left hand further up your back toward the middle of your shoulder blades. If your hands happen to meet, clasp your fingers together. If they don’t meet, you can hold a yoga strap in your right hand, dangling it down your back, and then grab it with your left hand to connect your hands.
- Inhale and lengthen up through your spine. Exhale and gently press your head back into your top arm, keeping your chest open.
- Inhale and lengthen up through the left side of your body. Gently draw your left shoulder back as you exhale.
- Fold forward, hinging from your hips, to deepen the pose and take 5 to 6 deep breaths.
- To release, exhale, and release the position of the arms. Bring both hands down to the ground next to the hips.
- Stretch both legs out straight in front of you. Take a few breaths in Dandasana (Staff Pose) and then repeat on the second side.