Gomukhasana - TINT Yoga

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Gomukhasana Cow Face Pose

    Quick Facts

  • Sanskrit (Original): Gomukhāsana
  • Etymology: Cow (go); face (mukha); pose (āsana)
  • Fun Fact about the pose: This pose is a perfect 3-in-1 pose: It opens the shoulders, chest, and hips.
  • Asana Type: Seated
  • Main length muscle groups: Top arm: triceps brachii, latissimus dorsi, teres major, pectorialis minor; bottom arm: biceps brachii, pectoralis major, serratus anterior; gluteus medius and minimus; piriformis
  • Main strength muscle groups: Top arm: serratus anterior, rhomboids; bottom arm: rhomboids, latissimus dorsi
  • Vinyasa Breath: Inhale and exhale possible

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How to Cue the Pose: Step By Step

  • 1 Start sitting in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Bend both legs so that the feet are on the floor.
  • 2 Thread one leg under the other in such a way that the heel can be placed next to the buttocks of the opposite leg.
  • 3 Cross the other leg over the bottom leg in the same way, i.e. the heel is next to the opposite buttocks.
  • 4 Bring both knees on top of each other. If necessary, wiggle your sit bones a little and use your hands to gently pull your knees towards each other. You can also sit on a block to make the pose easier accessible.
  • 5 Extend the arm of the top-leg side forward and internally rotate the arm, i.e. the thumb faces down.
  • 6 Bend the arm and place the forearm onto your back.
  • 7 Roll the shoulder up and back and slide the hand further up your back. Reach as far up as is available to you. Ideally, the hand is placed between the shoulder blades.
  • 8 Extend the other arm (i.e. on the bottom-leg side) forward with the palm facing up.
  • 9 Lift the arm over your head and pull your shoulder closer towards your ear.
  • 10 Bend this arm as well so that the hand meets the other hand between your shoulder blades.
  • 11 Let the fingertips touch or, if available to you, clasp your fingers.
  • 12 Keep the sternum and the chin lifted to avoid rounding the upper spine.
  • 13 Stay in Gomukhasana for a few breaths before you release the pose and practice it the other way around.

Working The Details: Alignment In The Pose

  • Rotate your shoulder blades first: Many practitioners are impatient and only focus on bringing the hands together behind their back. This shoulder adduction can cause overmobilization of the glenohumeral joint (the shoulder joint) potentially leading to impingement or wear and tear of the tendons surrounding the joint. To avoid this, focus on downward rotation of the bottom-arm shoulder and upward rotation of the top-arm shoulder first.
  • Pay attention to your knees: If the hip joints are not flexible to provide enough external rotation in Gomukhasana, the knees will have to bear the brunt of it. This is because especially the quadriceps muscles and the tendons surrounding the knee will start to pull. Since the knee is in deep flexion, it is in a particularly vulnerable position. So, if you experience any pain in the knee joint in Cow Face Pose, come out of the pose and either sit up on a block or extend one leg and only bend the top leg.

Adapting The Pose Through Modifications

Simplify

  • If you have difficulties placing both sit bones on the ground, sit on a block. This way, it is also much easier to keep the hip in a neutral position rather than having it tilt backward.
  • If this is still difficult for you or you even experience a stabbing pain in your knee, only bend the top leg and keep the bottom leg straight in front of you.
  • If you can’t reach your fingers (yet), take hold of your shirt or use a strap behind your back to hold on to.
  • Alternatively, only bend the top arm and instead of wrapping the other arm around you, place the hand onto the elbow of the top arm and gently pull the arm closer towards your head.

Level Up

  • If you are able to keep the hip neutral and the shoulders open, start to bend forward to fold your upper body over your legs. Avoid rounding the upper spine too much. You will notice this if your hands start to slide away from each other.
  • Deepen the stretch of the hips by actively pushing your feet away from your hips. Be sure to keep your feet softly flexed for the whole duration of the pose.

Benefits of Gomukhasana

  • Cow-Face Pose is a great 3-in-1 pose: a shoulder, chest, and hip opener.
    It also stretches the glutes and the piriformis and can, thus, be a great remedy for lower back pain.
  • Since the pose provides such a deep stretch for the entire chest area, it can also promote breathing and increase breathing capacity and efficiency.
  • Gomukhasana also stretches all the nooks and crannies that are usually hard to target, namely the ankles, the triceps and the armpits.
  • Maintaining the pose with a steady breath for a longer period of time will also calm the nervous system, leaving you with a feeling of both mental and physical relief.

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... there was a tool to help you create

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Most of my students are not able to get into the full pose. This is why I like to break it down and practice the legs and arms separately.

Doreen

Content Manager at TINT | Passionate Yoga Teacher

FAQ: Common questions about this pose

f you suffer from shoulder or hip injury or even inflammation in the joint, this pose is not recommended as it puts stressed joints under even more strain. The same is true for students with an artificial shoulder and/or hip joint. In these cases, the deep flexion of the joints puts the artificial joints under too much tension. This also applies to injury in or around the knee joint such as torned menisci.

The literal translation of Gomukhasana is Cow Face Pose. This is because the body’s form resembles the shape of a cow’s face: The crossed legs represent the cow’s snout, the arms form the cow’s ears and the torso makes the cow’s nose. In India the cow is a sacred animal. This is because in Hindu mythology the cow is a symbol of prosperity, non-violence, humility, and peace. Next time you practice Gomukhasana, you can try to incorporate sense of peace, spirituality and humbleness to the pose itself and your entire yoga practice. This way, knowing the meaning behind an asana can create a completely new experience of it.

I wish there was one definite answer and one remedy for it. However, the reason why you can’t clasp your fingers behind your back are manifold. Most probably, the shoulder joint lacks mobility. Especially the upward and downward rotation of the scapula (shoulder blade) is a limiting factor for many practitioners. Oftentimes, tight rotator cuff muscles are the culprit here. Use a strap behind your back and gradually work on bringing your hands closer together. Another issue may be the mobility in the hips. If you can’t keep your pelvis upright in a neutral position, your shoulders will tend to fall forward (protraction) instead of retracting. Sitting up on a block may already be a solution here since this allows the hips to tilt upright. As a result, the shoulders will have more space to retract. Other limiting factors can be tight biceps or triceps muscles, or simply the length or your arms in relation to the circumference of your torso.

Knee pain is definitely a sign that you should back out of the pose. This is because the knees are in deep flexion and, thus, in a very vulnerable position. If the hips don’t allow for enough range of motion to externally rotate the leg, rotation will happen in your knee. This is a movement your knee isn’t made for. In addition to that, especially the quadriceps pull excessively on your knee in this deep flexion. This adds onto the strain on your knee and the surrounding structures. While a (very) intense stretch on your thighs is normal (and intended) in Cow Face Pose, knee pain definitely is not.

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