Cow Face Pose is a seated yoga posture that deeply stretches the hips and shoulders. It calms the mind and brings balance to the whole body. Due to a lifetime of incorrect postural habits, many people are imbalanced between the left and right sides of the body. By simultaneously stretching the top and bottom of both sides of the body, you can more easily discover your own imbalances and work to regain equilibrium in mind, body, and spirit.
The Sanskrit name for this pose, “Gomukhasana” (go-moo-KAHS-uh-nuh), comes from three words:
- “Go” — meaning “cow”
- “Mukha” — meaning “face”
- “Asana” — meaning, “pose”
It’s named after the illusion created by the full pose, that of the face of a cow: The crossed legs create the cow’s snout and mouth, and the arms create the cow’s ears. The body’s torso creates the length of the cow’s nose. It might take some imagination to see it!
Yoga is without doubt the master key that unlocks the frontiers of the mind.
Benefits of Cow Face Pose
This pose stretches almost every part of the body: The hips, shoulders, ankles, thighs, armpits, triceps, and chest. By equally lengthening and opening both sides of the body, it helps to correct posture and regain balance between the left and right sides of your body, and the top and bottom. Sitting upright with your spine aligned calms the mind and reduces stress, anxiety, and fatigue. This pose also increases blood supply to the legs and arms, making it a useful pose to counteract long periods of sitting in a chair or being hunched over a desk.
Do not practice this pose if you have a recent or chronic shoulder or knee injury. Also avoid this pose if you have any serious neck or shoulder problems. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin seated in Staff Pose (Dandasana) with your legs extended in front of you and your arms resting at your sides.
- Bend your knees, placing the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Then, bring your left foot underneath your right knee and slide it to the outside of your right hip. Stack your right knee directly on top of the left, and then slide your right foot to the outside of your left hip. Shift your weight slightly from side to side until you are sitting evenly on both sit bones.
- Extend your left arm up toward the ceiling with your palm facing forward. Then, bend your left elbow and bring your left hand to your spine.
- Extend your right arm to the side with your palm facing down. Internally rotate your arm so your palm faces behind you. Then, bend your right elbow and bring your right hand up the center of your back. Tuck your forearm into the hollow of your low back.
- Roll your shoulders back and down. If possible, hook the fingers of both hands.
- Actively reach your top elbow toward the ceiling while reaching your lower elbow toward the floor. Keep both elbows drawing in toward the body, not extending out to the sides. The top elbow should be beside your head.
- Firm your shoulder blades against your back ribs. Draw your low ribs in — do not let them puff forward. Broaden across your collar bones. Gaze gently upward. Keep your eyes and breath soft.
- Hold the pose for up to one minute. Then, gently release your arms and uncross your legs. Come back into Staff Pose (Dandasana) and repeat the pose on the opposite side for the same length of time.
Modifications & Variations
Cow Face Pose can be a great way to open up your shoulders and hips, while also calming and centering your mind. Try these changes to find a variation of the pose that works for you:
- If your hips are very tight, do not sit flat on the floor. Prop yourself up on a blanket, two blankets, a bolster, a block, or a meditation pillow. Lifting your hips above the level of your knees will greatly reduce the amount of stress and discomfort in your hips, knees, and back. Experiment with different heights of support to find the one that is most appropriate for you.
- If there is significant distance between your knees, place a folded blanket or a block beneath your top thigh for extra support.
- If you are unable to hook your fingers together, use a strap between your hands. Keep your hands about 6-10 inches apart and gradually walk your hands closer together as you gain flexibility.
- To deepen the full version of the pose, fold forward and rest your torso on your top thigh.
Practicing Cow Face Pose in correct alignment can seem like an unattainable goal if your hips or shoulders are very tight. But with regular practice, your flexibility will increase! Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- To evenly distribute the stretch across your body, be sure to raise the arm that is on the same side of the body as your bottom leg.
- Don’t worry if you can’t yet cross your legs knee-to-knee or clasp your fingers. Take it slowly and focus on the pose you can do, not on the pose you wish you could do. Flexibility will come in time.
- Build up to this pose by practicing postures that open your outer hips. Some examples include Easy Pose with Forward Fold (Adho Mukha Sukhasana), Half Lotus Tree Pose (Ardha Padmasana Vrksasana), and One-Legged King Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana).
- Remember to breathe smoothly and evenly throughout the pose. The more you relax in the pose, the more your hips and shoulders will open up.
Relax & Rebalance
In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it can be easy to revert to old and incorrect ways of sitting, standing, and even lying down. Slowing down to practice yoga can help break those habits of imbalance and help you to regain suppleness and ease in your daily life. Adding Cow Face Pose to your practice will benefit your life in many ways, both on and off the mat!