How to do the Gomukhasana Pose
- Begin seated on the mat with your legs extended straight out in front of you.
- Bend your knees and hug them to your chest.
Cross your right leg over your left. Draw your thighs and knees together.
- Gently lower your legs to the floor, keeping your legs crossed and your thighs together. Roll onto the outer edges of your feet and slide them back until they are tucked outside your left and right hip bones.
- Your right leg should be stacked on top of your left. Point your knees toward the top of the mat. Flex your left and right feet so that they are perpendicular to your body.
- Exhale. Shift your weight so that both your seat bones are planted firmly on the mat. You may need to make room for your buttocks by working your feet away from your body. Press the outer edges of your feet into the mat.
- Inhale. Reach your right arm straight out, parallel to the floor. Rotate your hand 180°, so that your palm faces behind you.
- Exhale. Bend your elbow and tuck your arm against your back.
- Inhale. Raise your left arm straight into the air. Open your chest and shoulders by pressing the bottom corners of your shoulder blades toward your heart center.
- Exhale. Bend your left arm and sweep it down until it presses against your upper back. Draw your upper arm close to your head, so that it extends upward and perpendicular to the floor. If you can touch or hook your fingers together behind your back, do so.
- Breath and hold the pose. If your hands are clasped, focus on deepening the stretch in the arms by gently pulling your arms against each other. Use the resistance of this motion to open the chest and bring the left arm higher, further back, and more perpendicular.
- Exhale. Release your right and left arms to your sides. Release your legs. Repeat the pose on the opposite side.
Modifications and Props
To diversify the stretch, replace the traditional arm position with eagle arms. Taking the arm position from eagle pose (garudasana) engages the forearm flexors and stretches the serratus anterior in the sides of the chest. It isn’t more difficult or easy, it’s just a different stretch. Skip steps six through nine (above). Instead, raise your right arm at a 90° angle in front of you. Turn your palm perpendicular to your body. Place your left elbow in the crook of your right elbow. Twist the left arm around the front of the right so that your palms meet each other. Press your elbows upwards, gazing at your palms. Continue on to step eleven. When you reverse the legs, reverse the arms.
Rest your hands on your feet. Particularly if the leg stretch is, by itself, intense enough, you may skip the complicated arm positioning (steps seven through ten; above) altogether. Instead place your hands on your corresponding feet throughout the pose. This restorative modification takes pressure off the arms.
Forward fold to deepen the pose. Adding a forward fold in step eleven (above), deepens the stretch in the glutes and hip rotators. Simply bend forward from the hips as you hold the pose. Use each inhale to extend your back by lengthening and straightening your spine. Use each exhale to drop your torso lower into the bend.
Spin to switch legs. This little trick makes switching legs at the end of the pose effortless. In step twelve (above), turn to your left side. Plant both hands beside you. Rolling onto the bottoms of your feet, lift your buttocks off the mat. Spin to the left 360°, keeping your feet in the same places, until you are back where you started. Your legs will be switched – right on bottom, left on top.
Twisted Cow Face Pose (Parivrtta Gomukhasana). This variation of cow face pose incorporates a twist that alternatively strengthens and lengthens the erector spinae muscles in the back. In this variation, skip steps seven through ten (above). Instead, plant your right arm behind your body. Inhale and extend your back. Exhale and, placing your left arm against your right thigh, twist to the right. Hold the pose. Exhale and come back to the center. Inhale and gently counter twist your torso to the left. Repeat the pose with the left leg on top.
Reclined Cow Face Pose (Supta Gomukhasana). This supine variation is dedicated to lengthening the leg muscles. Begin lying supine on the mat. Inhale. Raise your left leg so that it hovers over the center of your body. Bend the knee 90° and flex the foot. Exhale. Inhale. Raise your right leg and, bending the knee, hook it in front of your left. Take hold of your ankles with the corresponding hands. Exhale and draw your feet toward the mat and your thighs toward your belly. Breath and hold the pose. Exhale. Repeat the pose with the left leg on top.
Gluteals. The gluteal muscle group includes the three buttocks muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. Cow face pose stretches all three muscles. Plant your seat bones evenly on the mat to ensure an even stretch in the glutes.
Hip rotators. The hip rotator, or lateral rotator, muscle group includes six small muscles in the hip that control external rotation of the legs. Short hip rotator muscles lead to poor pelvic alignment. In cow face pose, both legs are externally rotated. This rotation lengthens the tensor fascia lata and piriformis hip rotator muscles, contributing to good pelvic alignment and improved range of motion for kicks, jumps, and splits.
Latissimus dorsi. The latissimus dorsi muscles are located in the mid-back. They rotate and extend the shoulder joints. Flexible lats mean a wide range of motion in the arms. Cow face pose increases flexibility in the lats, which stretch as the shoulders open.
Rhomboids. The rhomboid muscles in the upper back are responsible for retraction of the shoulder blades. The arm position in cow face pose, which naturally elongates the spine and rolls the shoulder blades back, strengthens the right and left rhomboid muscles.
Rotator cuffs. The rotator cuffs are the groups of muscles and tendons that surrounds each shoulder joint. They are responsible for stabilizing the shoulder. Cow face pose stretches the teres minor rotator cuff muscle in your raised arm.
Deltoids. The deltoid muscles form the rounded contour of the outer shoulders. They prevent dislocation of the arm during heavy lifting. Cow face pose engages the posterior deltoid muscle of your lowered arm.
Subscapularis muscle. The subscapularis muscle attaches to the front of the scapula. It controls the inner rotation of the arm and, when the arm is lifted above the head, it draws the upper arm down and forward to prevent dislocation. Pulling the arms away from each other in cow face pose creates resistance that deepens the stretch in the subscapularis muscle and, ultimately, increases the backward range of motion in your upper arms.
Triceps brachii. The triceps brachii is a large muscle on the back of the upper arm responsible for straightening it. Push exercises, like planks and push-ups, build tricep bulk, as does the inverted arm posture of cow face pose. Cow face pose builds bulk on both triceps simultaneously, but targets the long head of the tricep of your lowered arm.
Want to learn a new yoga move? Check out the plow pose for beginners.
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