Asana of the Week: Gomukhasana

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) is a simple seated posture that packs a good bang for your yoga buck.  This pose addresses two of the most common areas for chronic pain and tension in the body: the hips and shoulders.  Both outer hips are stretched as well as the anterior deltoids, inner armpits, lats, and triceps.  The spinal extensors and rectus abdominus work in opposition to maintain the natural curve of the spine against the forward pull of the shoulders.

Enter Gomukhasana from Dandasana (Staff Pose) or any balanced, seated position.  Cross the right thigh over the left, wrap the heels toward opposite outer hips, and stack the knees in front of you so that both knees point straight ahead.  Reach the left arm up and then take the left fingertips between the shoulderblades.  Lengthen the right arm out to the side, and then sweep the right arm behind the back and wriggle the right fingertips toward the left hand.  Hook the fingers if possible.  If the hands don't reach, you may use a strap, towel, or simply grab the fabric of your shirt.  Ground evenly into both sit bones as best you can by lengthening through the right waistline and bring the spine erect.  Gaze forward, or lift the gaze and gently press the back of the head into the left forearm to intensify the stretch.  Be sure to repeat the pose for the same length of time on the opposite side (i.e. left leg on top, right arm up).

Use the hands to pull the elbows back and the shoulders down to regulate your sensation.  Try not to allow the elbows flare out, especially that of the top arm.  Keep the heart lifting and the abdominals strong.  Breath through the tension and when you come out, release very slowly and roll the shoulders around for a breath or two.  Do not remain in this pose for longer than 1 minute if you are new to yoga or you might get stuck (Ha!  Just kidding.  But seriously, beginners: don't hang out here for too long).

Gomukhasana has been vital in my own practice in addressing my tight shoulders.  Daily practice of this pose for many months, though intense and even painful at first, brought me enormous relief from tension and drastically increased range of motion in my shoulder joints.  These days, I enjoy Gomukhasana as preparation for Urdhva Dhanurasana because of the deep stretch to the chest and inner armpits.  This frees up the shoulders to allow for more curve in the thoracic spine, which is what makes or breaks those big, beautiful backbends we all aspire to.

Gomukhasana Hip & Shoulder Sequence:  So, this week I got a little carried away and wrote you a sequence that, with a few Surya Namaskara thrown in, could stand alone as a full practice.  This sequence targets the hips and shoulders to both stabilize and release these chronically tight places.
  1. Anjaneyasana (High Lunge Variation)
  2. Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3)
  3. Garudasana (Eagle Pose)
  4. Ardha Utkatasana (Half Chair Pose)
  5. Eka Pada Galavasana (Flying Pigeon Pose) OR Toe Stand
  6. Vinyasa; Repeat steps 1-5 on the opposite side.
  7. Forearm Plank
  8. Dolphin Pose
  9. Forearm Plank
  10. Sphinx Pose
  11. Balasana (Child's Pose)
  12. Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
  13. Agnistambhasana (Firelog Pose)
  14. Optional Vinyasa; Repeat Steps 9-10 on the opposite side.
  15. Paschimottanasana (Intense West Stretch/Seated Forward Fold)
  16. Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose)
  17. Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)
  18. Halasana (Plow Pose)
  19. Matsayasana (Fish Pose)
  20. Savasana (Corpse Pose)

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