Want to learn more about Gomukhasana, aka Cow Face Pose? In this post, I share the benefits of Gomukhasana, a complete pose breakdown, contraindications, modifications and more.
Gomukhasana has a long history, unlike most poses which tend to be 100–300 years old at most. Gomukhasana is one of 8 poses described in the Darshana Upanishad, a minor Upanishad text written around the 300 CE.
I have had shoulder surgery on both my shoulders (NOT because of yoga injuries!). Both times, yoga has helped be recover my range of motion in my shoulder joints, as well as helping me rebuild the strength in my shoulders.
Gomukhasana is one of the poses that really helped when I was working to increase my range of shoulder flexion (lifting arms overhead) after being injured. This made poses like Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog), Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1) and Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) accessible so I could then use them to extend my practice further.
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Gomukhasana Quick Facts
|English||Cow Face Pose|
|Meaning||Go means cow, and mukha means face. |
You may know the word mukha from Adho Mukha Svanasana, aka Downward Dog Pose.
Asana means pose or posture.
Why Cow Face Pose?
In English, we call Gomukhasana Cow Face Pose because of the way the pose looks in your body.
I feel like the pose only begins to resemble a cow’s face when you add the forward fold to the pose and your torso comes down to your twisted legs. The combination of your upper body and lower body coming together like this reminds me of the action of a cow chewing its cud.
I have also read (but never tested the idea) that if you look at this pose from the top down it resembles a cow, with your feet as the horns and your knees as the mouth.
However, I have also read that your crossed legs look like the lips of a cow’s face while your bent arms are the ears.
What do you see when you picture this pose?
Note: I’m only including the scientifically supported benefits of yoga poses. There are plenty of claims about other benefits of each pose (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) out there if you want to hunt them down. I feel that that pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community in general, so choose not to give them further airtime.
The main physical benefits of Gomukhasana include:
- Stretches your butt (aka Gluteus Maximius, Minimus, and Medius) which helps relieve tightness in your hips and lower back pain.
- Opens your shoulders and increases the range of motion for your shoulder joint.
- Stretches the chest.
- Stretches triceps and strengthens biceps.
- Stretches quads (thighs).
- Gomukhasana is one of the few poses we do in yoga where we internally rotate the arm/shoulder. This action stretches your external rotators, which are more commonly used in yoga, and prepares them for work in other poses.
- Because your hands press into your back in this pose it encourages proper alignment of your spine and helps strengthen your back.
- Stretches the lattisimus dorsi (“lats”) on the side with the raised elbow.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people!
This pose should be avoided if:
- You have a calf muscle tear.
- If you have varicose veins on your calves, this pose may cause you pain. It is recommended that you avoid applying direct pressure on your varicose veins.
- If you have a shoulder injury, have had shoulder surgery, or have tight shoulders, be cautious with this pose. Remember to work to your best ability each time you do a pose and don’t work beyond your ability.
- Hip replacement surgery can make your hip joint unstable for months after the surgery. Cow Face Pose can be quite strenuous at your hip joint, so proceed with caution.
- If you have frozen shoulder it is best to work with a physical therapist before attempting this pose.
- If you have sciatica, this pose can apply unwanted pressure at the sciatic nerve and can cause a twist of your scapula. Proceed with caution.
- Any regularly occurring hip, knee, shoulder, elbow, back, or neck pain may make this pose challenging.
Gomukhasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Gomukhasana or Cow Face Pose
- Start by kneeling on your mat, with your torso up and knees open 90 degrees (I call this “kneel up” in class).
- Lean forward and lower your hips enough so that you can bring your hands to the ground on either side of your knees. Use your hands for support for the next stages.
- Place your right knee behind your left knee so that the top of your right thigh presses into the back of your left knee joint.
- Separate your feet so there is space to sit down on the ground between your feet.
- Walk your hands back and sit down on the ground. If your left hip is lifted off the ground you can use a block or blanket underneath your right hip to balance your hips (more about this in the Modifications section below).
- Stretch your right arm up overhead and then bend your right elbow and place the palm of your right hand on your upper back.
- With your left hand, hold your right elbow and push down onto your right elbow to help move your arm bone (humerus) down into your shoulder joint more.
- Still with your left hand, move your right elbow closer to your midline, and hook it behind your head, if possible. Push your head back into your right elbow to hold your arm in place.
- Stretch your left arm out to the left with your palm facing forward. Internally rotate your arm (that is, turn your left hand forward, leading with your thumb) and then continue this turning of your left arm until your palm faces the back wall.
- Reach your left arm back as far as you can and then bend your left elbow and slide the back of your left hand up your back.
- If you can hold your right hand with your left hand, do. If you cannot reach your right hand, use a strap (more about this in the Modifications section below).
- Holding your hands (or the strap), tighten up your grip and draw your elbows towards each other.
- Push your head back into your right arm and lift your chin until it is level with the ground.
- Use your hands pressing into your back to help lengthen your spine, and push down with your feet to increase the work in your hips.
- This is Gomukhasana, or Cow Face Pose.
- To exit the pose follow these steps in reverse. And then do the other side.
- Baddha Konasana and Paschimottanasana are good poses to practice after Gomukhasana.
Modifications & Variations
If you have tight hips or knees:
- If you have tight hips, or knees, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to stack your knees. It is fine to have your knees separated in this pose. With time and practice you may find it easier to “tighten up” the shape of this pose.
- If you have tight hips, it can be difficult to balance your hips. If your pelvis on the same side as the top leg is off the ground a lot, place a yoga block or folded blanket under the opposite side of your pelvis to lift that side and help balance your hips in space. It may seem counter-intuitive to lift the opposite hip, but this will make it easier to have your hips at the same height.
If you can’t hold your hands:
- If you cannot hold your hands in the pose, hold a strap between your hands, or clasp your shirt if you don’t have a strap available.
If it’s too intense in your arms:
- If the work in your shoulders and arms is too intense, you can do legs only to get lots of benefit to your hips.
If it’s too intense in your legs:
- If the work in your hips and legs is too intense, you can do the arms work only to get lots of benefit to your shoulders.
- If the work in your hips and legs is too intense, you can also practice this with one leg straight out in front, and the other folded overtop with your heel towards your opposite hip.
- I often add the shape of Gomukhasana arms to other poses, such as Vajrasana, Virabhadrasana 1, and Tadasana, when I want to focus on shoulders in class.
If you want to take the pose further:
- If you want to enjoy a deeper stretch to your outer hips, triceps and shoulders, fold forward and bring your chest down to your thighs.
Poses Related to Gomukhasana
- Dandasana / Staff Pose
- Sukhasana / Comfortable Pose
- Parivrtta Sukhasana / Twisted Comfortable Pose
- Toe Crusher Pose / Elevated Vajrasana
- Paschima Baddhanguliyasana in Shalabhasana / Hands Behind Back, Fingers Interlaced Locust Pose
- Urdhva Baddha Hasta in Vajrasana / Arms Overhead, Fingers Interlaced in Thunderbolt Pose
- Parsva Balasana / Side Child’s Pose
- Garudasana / Eagle Pose
- Dhanurasana / Bow Pose
- Virasana / Hero’s Pose
- Baddha Konasana / Bound Angle Pose, aka Cobbler’s Pose
- Ardha Matsyendrasana / Half Lord of the Fish Pose
- Balasana / Child’s Pose
- Paschimottanasana / Intense Stretch of the West Pose
- Marichyasana C / Marichya’s Pose, variation C
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Dog Pose
Poses to Take Your Practice Further
- Agnistambhasana / Fire Log Pose
- Bharadvajasana / Bharadvaja’s Pose
- Pincha Mayurasana / Peacock Feather Pose
- Padmasana / Lotus Pose
- Upavista Konasana / Wide-Angle Seated Forward Fold Pose
Related Posts & Videos
- Post: Padmasana Pose Benefits & Breakdown
- Post: Vajrasana Pose Benefits & Breakdown
- Video: Gomukhasana Pose Breakdown
Gear & Resources for this Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Stephen’s Favourite Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton Yoga Straps
- Machine Washable Vegan Yoga Blankets
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A Final Note About Cow Face Pose
Gomukhasana can be challenging if you have tight shoulders or large thighs. However, with practice and proper support, this is a pose that can help to relieve your shoulder limitations and allow you to find stretch in your hips and quads that might otherwise be elusive.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your possibilities with Cow Face Pose. It’s my goal to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply while enabling you to cultivate the strength and clarity needed to live your life adventure to the fullest!