Gomukhasana, or Cow Face Pose, is one of those beautiful full-body postures. A deep outer-hip opener and a serious shoulder release, this powerful seated asana creates space within the body for greater flexibility and mobility all over.
Stretching the ankles, piriformis, glutes, hips, thighs, IT band, shoulders, armpits, upper arms, upper back and chest while extending the latissimus dorsi and clearing the hip and knee joints, Gomukhasana is certainly a pose worth practicing.
This super beneficial posture is a very deep stretch for many of the body’s muscles and fascia, so when practicing, be sure to properly prepare your body for the full extension of the pose. Please note that this posture is contraindicated for severe neck, shoulder and/or knee injuries.
Prepare The Arms and Shoulders
Gomukhasana is a notoriously deep shoulder opener. And, while this is wonderful with many benefits, it can also be extreme for some practitioners.
As with all yogic postures, listen to your body to know your own limits and use props to aid and support you as wanted or needed.
In Cow Face pose, the top arm and bottom arm work in conjunction with one another to open deeply into different muscles groups. While the top arm is lengthening your triceps and teres major, your bottom arm is opening your supraspinatus, infraspinatus and teres minor.
As you sequence a practice toward Gomukhasana, include plenty of postures that focus on both external and internal rotation of the upper arms, as these are the actions happening in the pose through the top and bottom arms, respectively.
Start with simple asanas to break down the action of the humerus bones (the upper arm bones). Stand tall in a classic Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, with your palms facing forward toward the top of your mat. Notice the action that occurs in the upper arms as your turn the “eye” of your elbows forward. This is external rotation.
Now, reverse that action, drawing your palms first to face toward your body and then to face the back of your mat. Again, notice the movement of your upper arms as you (this time) internally rotate these bones.
Once your body begins to understand and recognize these basic movements, you can incorporate them into more complex postures.
Adho Mukha Vrksasana, or Downward Facing Dog, is an excellent pose to emphasis the external rotation of the humerus bones as you roll your upper arms toward the outer edges of your mat to allow your shoulders to soften away from your ears.
Pashchima Namaskarasana, or Reverse Prayer, is an excellent posture to emphasis of the internal rotation of the humerus bones as you draw your palms to meet behind your back. If this posture is a bit too intense to practice, you can also take a hold of opposite elbows or forearms behind your back to work the same action of your upper arms.
As an added bonus, this reverse prayer position also expands and opens the chest to prepare for your peak.
Open The Hips
As a deep opener of the hip joints, Gomukhasana should be entered into with caution, comfort and control. Prepare your hips for this deep stretch with some preparatory hip openers.
Ardha Matsyendrasana or the Marichyasana twists are wonderful postures to begin to awaken and stretch the outer hips. One-Legged King Pigeon Prep (commonly referred to simply as Pigeon Pose) is also a beautiful outer hip opener to warm up this joint.
Supta or Seated Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) and Agnistambhasana (Firelog or Knee-To-Ankle Pose) are also great releases for the (often tight!) outer hips.
All of these hip openers prepare your hips for the deep opening of a full Gomukhasana posture, but these are all also deep hip openers in and of themselves. So, feel free to utilize props such as blocks or blankets to deepen your stretches while also optimizing physical alignment throughout your body while practicing these asanas.
Work To The Peak
Once you initiate these movements of the humerus bones and the hip joints into your muscle memory, you can work toward your peak posture: full Gomukhasana.
- Begin seated on the floor with your legs extended out long forward in front of you. Elongate your spine by reaching the crown of your head toward the ceiling and your tailbone in the opposite direction.
- Cross your right leg over your left and draw the heel of your right foot in as close toward your left hip as feels appropriate for you. If this is enough of a hip stretch, then stay here with one leg extended forward.
Note: If you feel that you would like a deeper opening, bend into the left knee and draw that heel in toward your right hip, working toward stacking your knees directly on top of each other.
If you feel you need more space in your pelvis (or if you feel as if you’re falling backwards), sit up onto a block or blanket to elevate your hips. This will make the posture much more accessible, particularly if you have tighter hips.
From here you can begin to stretch into the muscles of yours arms by taking half Cow Face arms. Reach your right arm up toward the sky and bend deeply into your elbow, walking your hand back down your spine as far as possible. Catch a hold of your elbow with your left hand.
Use this hand to very gently influence your right arm to move in toward the midline of your body and subtly press the weight of your head back against your arm. Try to soften your shoulders down away from your ears.
Feel free to stay here as you are, or if you would like, you can release your left arm and start to internally rotate your humerus bone as you walk your left hand up the spine as far as you can reach.
You can hold onto a strap or towel to connect your hands; or, if it’s available to you, you can interlace your fingers behind your back. Focus on keeping your spine elongated and your shoulders relaxing away from your ears.
Softly press the weight of your head back against your arms and attempt to keep your right elbow pointing straight up toward the ceiling. Soften into the posture and relax into the stretch and into your breath. When you feel ready, release and repeat all the steps on the opposite side.
Props are wonderful accessories to assist you in your practice – use them as often as you would like to help make postures more accessible and rewarding. Always be sure to respect your body and stop wherever it feels appropriate along the way as you journey toward any peak position.
Breathe and enjoy the journey as you work to create more space and mobility in your body through Gomukhasana.