Level 1: Beginner
Originating from ‘go’ meaning ‘cow’ in Sanskrit, and ‘mukha’ meaning ‘face’, this posture is so-called as the crossed legs look like the lips of the cow, and the arms, with one up and one down, look like the ears. Hence, cow face!
- Stretches the shoulders and arms, improves flexibility and range of motion over time
- Heart opener, relieves tension in the chest
- Deep stretch in the outer hips, with benefits for the thighs and knees
- Can be calming, especially in the forward fold variation (shown below)
Contraindications/Cautions (consult your physician):
- Pelvic/knee/ankle injuries or inflammation
- Shoulder/neck injuries or inflammation
- Pregnancy- sitting upright variation fine, but do not forward fold and compress the abdominal area
- Start from a seated cross-legged position (Sukhasana) and then lift the top leg and cross it over so that the right knee is stacked on top of the left one in front of you, and the feet are out by the sides of the outer thighs away from you. OR start from an all fours position, cross the right leg over the left, and then walk your hands back towards you and move the buttocks down until you are sitting with your legs stacked on top of each other, feet out to the sides.
- Get comfortable and remove the fleshy part of the buttocks out to the side if necessary.
- Inhale and lengthen up through the spine and the crown of the head. Reach your arms around your back, so that the right arm is coming down towards your shoulder blades (tricep near your ear), and the left arm is reaching up towards the shoulder blades. Clasp your fingers in the middle of the shoulder blades and exhale.
- Breathe here for 20-30 secs and then unclasp the hands, unfold the legs, shake it all out and return to your starting position.
- Repeat steps 1-3 but this time with the left leg crossing over on top, and the left arm reaching down and the right arm reaching up behind your back, and then breathe.
- If you would like more of a feeling of turning inwards and calming, inhale and lengthen through the spine, and then exhale and lower the body down to rest on the top thigh, forehead resting on the knee if available. Arms can stay bound behind the back, or can rest gently on the feet. Breathe for 20-30 secs in this position and repeat on the opposite side.
- If your arms do not reach all the way behind your back to clasp your fingers, simply use a strap and hold on to this. With regular practice, and over time, your range of motion is likely to improve.
- Some yogis (VY included!) find it easier to clasp the hands on one side compared with the other, possibly due to previous injury, or one side being more dominant. Ensure you practice this pose on both sides, but you can stay longer on one side if required.
- If you are not comfortable seated in the cross-legged position described above, you can try putting a block or folded blanket under the seat bones to help you. If it is still too much, you can still do the Gomukhasana arms but stay in simple cross-legged (Sukhasana) pose, or sit with your legs underneath you (Vajrasana), or in a chair.