Cow Face Pose

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Gomukhasana

Cow face pose is a challenging seated pose.  It is a deep hip opener, as well as being famous for its difficulty to people with tight shoulders.  Although it is a seated deep stretch pose, it is noted as being a restorative one as well, for its ability to allow you to sit and go inward in order to get a full muscle release.

 

How to: Cow Face Pose

Starting in a seated position, place the bent right knee on top of the bent left knee.   Knees are trying to be perfectly stacked one on the other directly under your center (chin).  Heels are equidistant from each hip.  It is VERY important that you are fully plugged into the floor through both hips.  If this is not possible, then prop your hips onto a blanket or a block to allow equal and even weight on both sit bones.   If one hip is higher than the other you are starting the whole pose off crooked and this will dramatically change the back and shoulder position, causing potential harm.  Before moving on to the arm position, be sure you can lift your sternum and achieve a flat tall spine.

Bring your left arm up to the sky.  Bend the left elbow so the left palm rests on the upper back.  Bring the right arm out to the side, palm facing back and thumb down.  Bend the right elbow and move the right hand behind your back palm facing out.  The right forearm will be parallel to the spine and the hand is between the shoulder blades.  Next, try to hook the fingers together behind your back.  Energetically lift your left elbow towards the ceiling keeping the elbow close to the left side of the head, and lower the right elbow toward the floor and closer to the body.

If it is not possible to connect your fingers, place a strap in the left hand.  Let the strap hang behind your head and grab the other end with the right hand.  Working the fingers closer and closer to each other until eventually they connect.  Work on sitting straight and tall in the back, remembering that both hips remain in contact with the floor.  It is easy to over stretch your left side (top arm side) and collapse your right side body, so try to keep both side bodies equally long.  If you feel you can go deeper, fold from the hip joint resting over the right thigh.  Do not round your back.  

The emphasis on this side is the right anterior shoulder; therefore this side will be more difficult for right handed people.  This pose may be frustrating in the beginning; however the shoulders have a tendency to open quickly so stay focused and determined and results will come quickly.  

Hold the pose for one to five minutes and then switch sides.

 

Benefits of Cow Face Pose

Performed properly and consistently the benefits includes:

  • Deep stretch of hips, ankles, thighs, shoulders, armpit, chest, deltoid, and triceps
  • Aids chronic knee pain
  • Strengthens spine and abdominals
  • Helps decompress low spine (during folded variation)
  • Clears hip joint



For the lay person or yogi, Cow face pose opens the shoulder joint giving a wider range of motion.  It is a key pose for opening the hips.  Hips are the known storage depot for stress, anxiety and fear.  Sitting in this pose for several minutes while concentrating on your breath and release of these deep muscles, your body will overcome the negative affects of the aforementioned.  It will improve your posture because of the intense focus on the lift of the spine.

For the athlete it is a great pose to test their ability to stay tough in a difficult situation.  Working to open the shoulder joint this pose is an obvious choice for Pitchers, and Quarterbacks or any position athlete that depends on powerful accurate arms.  It opens and cleared the rotator cuff while strengthening the supporting back muscles, to add power.  Stretched and strengthened hips and thighs are the equations for power and speed in running games from Tennis to Soccer.  Opened glutes give more power to push for speed.  Improved postures for athletes translates into more space in the chest cavity, leading to greater lung capacity and breathe control for runners, wide receivers, basketball players and any players whose aerobic capacity is key to their success and longevity in their sport.  

Although you should always consult your Physician and research a properly trained teacher before starting a yoga practice, there are a few instances where you should generally avoid this pose entirely, if you:

  • If you have sciatica, the use of a prop under the hips or folding forward could aggravate the condition.
  • If you have serious neck or shoulder problems
  • If pregnant, do not fold forward during first trimester
  • If you have serious knee problems
  • Untreated herniations in the spine



Have fun exploring this pose and learning about your body.

 

About the Author

Gwen Lawrence has been a practicing fitness professional since 1990. Her current practice includes private yoga training, class instruction and her sport-specific Power Yoga for Sports training program www.poweryogaforsports.com. Gwen’s unique combination of dance, massage and yoga training experience, coupled with her extensive knowledge of anatomy,and nutrition, provide her clients, and athletes with overwhelming benefits. Gwen is the yoga coach for several New York Yankees baseball players, team yoga instructor for the New York Giants, New York Knicks, New York Red Bulls, New York Rangers, several major college teams,including Yale and UNC, and  many youth teams in a variety of sports. She is also the official spokesperson for AFRIN PureSea, and ambassador for Lululemon, her writing appears in Men's Health, Women's Health, Fitness Magazine and shape.com.  She has made appearances on NBC TODAY show and many TV news and national radio shows. Gwen also owns her own Yoga School where she trains people to teach the power yoga for sports system.

Gwen lives in the New York tri state area with her Husband, and three teenage boys.