Gomukhasana | Cow Face Pose
go = cow
mukha = face
Type of Pose: Seated
Stretches the ankles, hips and thighs, shoulders, armpits and triceps, and chest
Serious neck or shoulder problems
Step by Step
1. Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose), then bend your knees and put your feet on the floor. Slide your left foot under the right knee to the outside of the right hip. Then cross your right leg over the left, stacking the right knee on top of the left, and bring the right foot to the outside of the left hip. Try to bring the heels equidistant from the hips: with the right leg on top you’ll have to tug the right heel in closer to the left hip. Sit evenly on the sit bones.
2. With an inhalation, take the right arm behind the back, bending the elbow and taking the hand up toward the shoulder blades, palm facing out. Tuck the forearm in the hollow of your lower back, with the right elbow against the right side of your torso. Roll the shoulder back and down, then work the forearm up your back until it is parallel to your spine.
3. Now inhale, circle the left arm up and over head. Exhale, bend the elbow and reach to clasp the right hand. If possible, hook the right and left fingers.
4. Lift the left elbow toward the ceiling and, from the back armpit, descend the right elbow toward the floor. Firm your shoulder blades against your back ribs and lift your chest. Keep the spine lifted, tailbone growing into the ground. Try to keep the left arm right beside the left side of your head. Head stays lifted, gazing forward.
5. Stay in this pose 30 seconds to 1 minute. Release the arms, uncross the legs, and repeat with the arms and legs reversed for the same length of time. Remember that whichever leg is on top, the same-side arm is lower.
Modification: Gomukhasana is a difficult pose for tight-shouldered people, who aren’t able to hook their fingers together. To resolve this, use a strap to hold between the hands. Begin the pose with a strap draped over the shoulder of the bottom arm. In step 2, as the bottom arm swings behind the back, slide the forearm as high on the back torso as possible (Remember to keep the elbow close to the side of the body), then grab the bottom end of the strap. In step 3, stretch the other arm overhead and then reach down the back for the other end of the strap. Pull with the top arm. See if you can draw the bottom arm higher onto the back, trying to work the hands toward each other to eventually clasp them. Some students may be able to clasp the hands on one side, but not the other.
Another way to bring the arms into position: Take both arms behind the back and clasp opposite elbows. With the right hand, pull the left elbow towards the spine. Bring the left hand in between the shoulder blades. Release the right hand. Raise the right arm, bend at the elbow and reach down to clasp the left hand. Use a strap as necessary.
Beginners Tip: Beginners often have a difficult time getting both sit bones to rest evenly on the floor, which can make it difficult for the knees to stack on top of each other evenly. When the pelvis is tilted, the spine can’t properly extend. Use a folded blanket or bolster to lift the sit bones off the floor and support them evenly.
Variation: From the full pose, lean forward and lay the front torso down on the inner top thigh. Stay for 20 seconds, then inhale and come up.