Sanskrit Term: GOMUKHASANA = COW FACE POSE
Go = Cow
Mukha = Face
Asana = pose
Why You Should Practice Gomukhasana
If you are looking for some juicy hip opening action coupled with a deep shoulder stretch, look no further than the nice stretch that is Gomukhasana — it is such a great pose! This seated yoga posture is a more difficult pose than some other yoga poses, but the general improvements in your hip and shoulder mobility has so many yoga benefits from your Surya Namaskar to inversions. It’s not necessarily everyone’s favorite pose, but if you include it in your daily yoga practice, I promise you will quickly notice improvements.
So, what’s with the name? Sanskrit words … Gomukhasana’s meaning is cow face pose because the shape your body makes resembles the face of a cow — bear with me — your legs are crossed to resemble a cow’s nose and mouth, and the arms resemble a cow’s ears. Do you see the cow’s face? No? It’s ok. I think it’s kinda cute, and it’s also not dissimilar to Trikonasana where your body creates a triangle shape or Bhujangasana where you channel a cobra with a flared hood.
- Rest on your sitting bones in Dandasana, with a straight spine, soft shoulders, and the legs active and extended out in front of you. (Dandasana, aka Staff pose, is a sort of seated Tadasana and the first seated pose of the Ashtanga primary series).
- Bend your knees and plant your feet onto your mat.
- Rotate at the hips so your left thigh is flat on the mat, and slide your left leg under the bent right knee until your left foot is on the outside of your right hip.
- Step your right foot to the outside of your left knee. Shuffle the right heel towards the outside of your left hip, so your right knee stacks on top of your left knee — if you can’t bring your right knee all the way down, no problem, come as deep as your hips allow. You are looking for a stronger opening sensation in the right (top) hip, glute, and outer thigh and perhaps a more subtle stretch in the left (lower) hip.
- Sit as evenly as possible on your sit bones. This usually involves grounding down through your right (top leg) hip.
- Extend your right arm straight out the right and turn your palm facing behind you. Bend your right elbow and bring your right arm behind you, so the back of your right hand rests on your back. If possible, wiggle your hand up so it is between your left and right shoulder blades.
- Raise your left arm straight up, so the bicep is turned towards your ear. Bend your left elbow so your left hand is reaching down towards your back.
- Inch your hands towards each other, and grip them together if possible — otherwise, consult the cow face pose yoga variations below for alternatives. Focus on keeping the shoulders soft, the spine straight, and your chest open.
- Either stay sat upright, or to intensify the hip stretch fold your torso forward over your legs.
- To come out of the pose, release the hands first. Then release your right leg, then the left. You may want to windshield wiper the knees from side to side to reset the hips.
- Repeat on the other side to even the left hip and left shoulder.
Benefits of Gomukhasana
- Regular practice of Gomukhasana helps to stretch the deep outer hip, glute, and IT band, which can help prevent and treat hip and knee pain.
- Improves shoulder mobility.
- Stretches chest and shoulder joints, which helps improve overall posture.
- Stretches multiple areas of the body, including stiff shoulders, chest, hips, and ankles, in a single pose.
- Supports advanced yoga asana such as Padmasana (lotus pose), Baddha Padmasana (bound lotus pose), and Upavistha Konasana (straddle split) and creates overall hip and shoulder mobility that supports multiple yoga poses.
- Helps counterbalance desk work and excessive sitting.
Gomukhasana Tips, Tricks and Variations
Mix and Match
Part of the complexity of this pose is that the arms and legs are both in challenging positions, however, you can get all the Gomukhasana benefits by practicing the arms and legs separately — perhaps combined with a more accessible pose. For example, practice the Gomukhasana arms whilst in Virasana (hero’s pose), or simply kneeling. You can practice Gomukhasana legs with your hands in Anjali mudra, or reverse prayer for a gentler chest opener, or simply rest your hands by your sides.
Bricks, straps, bolsters, and other yoga equipment, as well as blankets, scarves, and cushions, can help make this post much more accessible.
Gomukhasana Arms With Strap
This variation is great if your hands can’t grab each other. If you don’t have a strap then a scarf works just as well.
Hang the strap or scarf over the shoulder of the top arm. You can then grab onto it and pull with your hands, slowly inching them closer together.
Gomukhasana Sat on Blocks
This variation can help you stack your knees closer together. You can also sit on a bolster, cushions, or folded blankets.
Sit on the edge of your blocks or bolster so your seat is slightly tipping off, this tipping motion helps bring your knees closer together.
Gomukhasana with cushions between the knees
This variation is great to help support the top hip and make the pose less intense. In time, you can remove cushions.
Use cushions and/or blankets to fill the gap between your knees. The soft surface supporting the upper leg may also help reduce the intensity of the sensations in the hips.
Respect Your Anatomy
For some people, the limiting factor in the legs will be tight muscles and tissues in the hips. But for others, it will be determined by the shape of their bones, particularly how deep the ball of their hip joint sits in its socket, as well as the size of the angle in the neck of their femur bone. Not everyone’s anatomy is designed to permit deep external hip rotation.
For this same reason, others may find cow face posture and yoga poses that require deep external hip rotation easy, as the shape and arrangement of the bones in their hips are naturally inclined towards this movement.
Trying to force your hips into a position that your bones cannot actually move into can lead to injury around the hips and knees.
This lying-down version of cow face pose legs is my favorite! If the seated version with crossed legs feels completely inaccessible, you might be surprised at how deep you can go when lying on your back.
- Lie down on your back, with your knees bent and feet planted hip-width apart on the mat.
- Cross your right leg over your left, as if you were crossing your legs when sitting in a chair, so the knees are stacked.
- Draw your legs in towards your chest, becoming aware of any sensations in the outer hips and thigh.
- To intensify the hip stretch, grab hold of your ankles and start to pull them further away from each other.
- Stay as long as you like, and then repeat on the other side.
This seated variation is excellent if you are tight all around the hips.
- Start in a comfortable cross-legged position (you may want to sit up on some blocks).
- Bring your legs to cross in the middle of your shins and place each foot under the opposite knee. This tends to feel like a slightly awkward cross-legged position.
- Hinge at the hips into a forward fold to intensify the hip stretch.
- Stay as long as you like, then cross your legs the other way round to do the other side.
- This is also a good variation for Agnistambhasana (fire logs pose, aka double pigeon).
Although this variation gives a slight stretch to the outer hip and thigh of the bent leg, it is mainly a hamstring stretch, like Paschimottanasana, for the extended leg.
- Start in Dandasana. Keep the left leg extended straight, and bend the right leg, stepping the foot to the outside of the left leg.
- Bring the right knee down so it is stacked on top of the left leg.
- Slowly fold forward. Be mindful of the pressure on the knee of the bottom leg, and come out if it’s too much.
I recommend sequencing cow face pose towards the second part of your practice, as unless you have super open hips, this pose can be pretty intense. Gomukhasana works well as a peak pose, where you use your yoga practice to prep the body for a more complex and challenging asana.
Start with some Surya Namaskar and standing poses that include hip mobility and hip opening elements, such as lunges and Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II). Even the gentle hip opening action of the balance pose Vrikshasana (tree pose) can help warm up the hips.
Once you are on the floor, practice preparatory hip openers like Baddha Konasana and figure-four pose. When the hips feel open enough, explore Gomukhasana!