After being an athlete of some sort (gymnast, swimmer, cheerleader, and fitness instructor) for most of my life, I started practicing yoga about 10 years ago. Up until that point, most of my activities were the “beat the hell out of your body” types, and I honestly can’t remember exactly what prompted me to try something so far out of my comfort zone. Especially living in the Midwest, yoga seemed very mysterious, almost mystical. Once I tried it, I was hooked.
I’m not going to pretend that I was immediately transformed by the connection I felt between my mind and my body. I didn’t leave my first class and never get pissed off in traffic again (that STILL happens, although much less often). With practice, the connection between body and mind develops, and I am much more conscious of the impact my actions have on the world around me. Those things take time.
There are other (more immediate) benefits of a yoga practice. It’s like going on a diet (I really hate that word, I’m just using it for an analogy). If I have 50 pounds to lose, it really helps to focus on the 5-10 pound victories along the way instead of waiting for the finish line. The physical benefits of yoga are the small victories along the way—some poses in particular have changed my life so dramatically that I’m almost an evangelist about them.
One is Cow Face pose, and I’ve been known to say that I love this pose so much I would marry it.
It’s All About the Hips
I mostly run and cycle, both of which place a lot of stress on (among other things) glutes, iliotibial (IT) band and tensor fasciae latae (TFL)—all of which are extremely difficult to stretch. I modify this pose in order to focus entirely on my hips, which I not-so-lovingly call my “pain epicenter.”
Before doing this regularly, I had (at times, debilitating) pain in my hips, glutes, and lower back, and visited my chiropractor 2-3 times a week. I love my chiropractor, but now most of our interactions are on Facebook.
How To Do Cow Face Pose
- Start seated with knees bent and feet planted on the floor. Slide your right foot behind your left, to the outside of your left hip. The outside of your right leg should be resting on the floor.
- Cross your left leg over the right so your left foot is outside of your right hip. The goal is for your knees to be stacked in front of you and your feet equal distances from your hips.
- Now, fold yourself forward so your upper body lies across your knees, forehead on (or towards) the ground. You can rest your hands on the ground or clasp them behind your back, whichever you prefer. Breath deeply and hold for at least 30 seconds.
- Before switching sides do a spinal twist. Sitting tall, place your right elbow to the outside of your left knee and gently twist to your left, looking back over your left shoulder. Switch sides.
If you have trouble getting into this position, try this: stay seated, leave your right foot planted on the ground and cross your left ankle over your right knee. Sit up tall, place your hands behind your hips and gently press yourself forward into your hips. Hold for 30 seconds, and switch sides.
Taking the Time
I do this pose in every class that I teach, not only yoga. Especially the first time, this is an intense stretch, and it’s also totally normal to have one side that is tighter than the other. I love to see the look of surprise/ discomfort / relief on my students’ faces the first time they do it, because the area we are stretching is often SO desperately in need of relief.
Even though I’m usually rushing to get to the next part of my day, I take time for Cow Face pose after every run, and I am as in love with it today as I was when we first met!