Cow face pose, known as gomukhasana in Sanskrit, is a seated posture that relaxes the mind as it stretches the muscles of the arms and legs. The posturing in this pose is unusual for yoga. It is, for example, one of a few beginner level poses that work the subscapularis muscle involved in reaching up and back with the arms. Cow face pose is important for the unique muscles it targets and for fusing meditative posturing with a challenging stretch.
One of just fifteen original yoga poses mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, cow face pose is a staple of any yoga practice. Due to its long tradition as part of the original yoga canon, it has a resolute place in the meditative postures. Beyond meditation, the pose lengthens the muscles of the hip rotators and subscapularis for a wider range of motion in the legs and arms.
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Physically, cow face pose increases the suppleness of the arm and leg muscles in a way that is immediately apparent (either through a feeling of release or resistance in the pose). The body’s position in cow face pose – an external rotation of the legs and an inversion of the arms – is truly unusual posturing in yoga and in everyday life. The pose has unique physical benefits that will not go unnoticed.
Traditionally, yogis credit cow face pose with a range of meditative benefits. Swami Satyananda Saraswati, for example, calls cow face pose “an excellent asana for inducing relaxation” in his guide Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. Ten minutes of cow face pose, Saraswati claims, and fatigue, tension, and anxiety will be banished from the body. The pose also increases energy and awareness, particularly the energy and awareness to hold good posture.
Do not attempt cow face pose if you:
- have a rotator cuff injury
- have a lower back injury
- have a neck injury
- experience knee pain
Because cow face pose is unique, it can be inserted anywhere in your practice. If you are attempting the forward fold modification or the twisting variation of cow face pose, you may want to warm up your back with a series of forward folds and backbends first. This will make it easier to go deeper into the modification or variation.
Warm up the back with a flow of back bends, like bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana), wheel pose (chakrasana), or camel pose (ustrasana) and forward bends, like seated forward bend (paschimottanasana), child’s pose (balasana), or forward bend (uttanasana), before moving into cow face pose.