There’s a story behind most yoga names – many are derived from deities or shapes gods took in varying stories. While this pose’s origin story includes the god Brahma, it’s centered around a cow herder. This article tells the story of Krishna (the cow herder) and explains the pose, its benefits, and how to do it. So, continue reading if you want to learn more about the cow face pose!
What Is Cow Face Pose In Yoga?
Gomukhasana (better known as cow face pose) is an intermediate seated pose in yoga. This position allows participants to deeply open the hips and knee joints. Holding the pose can help stimulate various systems, including digestion, elimination, and reproduction.
In the pose, participants feel the stretch through their ankles, thighs, hips, armpits, triceps, and chest. The stretch extends through the entire body, giving participants an open, balanced feeling. After hours in the “office slump,” this pose can help correct your posture by encouraging a straight spine and open chest.
What Is The Reasoning Behind Its Name?
Cow face pose, also known as Gomukhasana, has a story behind its name. The name is derived from the story of Krishna, but its Sanskrit name directly translates to its English name. In Sanskrit, “go” means “cow,” and “muka” means “face,” hence the name.
The story behind the name goes like this: Krishna, the main character in this story, is often called Govinda, meaning cow herder, or Gopala, meaning protector of the cows. As Krishna moved through his childhood, working as a cow herder in Vrindavan, he experienced abundant joy and music.
He had a calm and cheerful demeanor, so much so that the God Brahma began to question whether Krishna had forgotten who he was: a human. So, to test this theory, Brahma decided to see if Krishna was able to maintain his peaceful demeanor. As an attempt to get a rise out of Krishna, Brahma stole every one of Krishna’s cows from his field. He hid each of the cows (along with the cow herders) in an obscure cave.
However, when Brahma returned to the field, hoping to see a reaction from Krishna, he was startled by what he saw. Instead of seeing Krishna pacing the field in a fit of rage, he found Krishna happily herding his cattle alongside the rest of the cow herders.
Unsure what to make of this scenario, Brahma checked the cave, seeing the cows were there, too. How is this possible? Legend says Krishna was able to duplicate himself, taking the form of the cows and herders. So, when Brahma stole Krishna’s herders and cattle, he actually stole a copied version of Krishna, leaving the real cows at Krishna’s side.
This is where the name comes from. While the lower body remains contorted, with the legs in the twist, the upper body remains serene and open, embodying Krishna’s calm state even in the complexity of Brahma’s mischief.
What Is Cow Face Pose Good For?
The cow face pose is an excellent way to stretch various parts of the body, including the ankles, thighs, hips, armpits, triceps, shoulders, and chest. The position encourages equal opening and lengthening of the body, which helps correct imbalances between the left and right sides of the body.
Participants must sit upright with their spines straight, hands clasped at their upper back, and legs crossed in front of them. For some folks, holding the cow face pose for several breaths each day may help relieve stress, anxiety, and fatigue. In addition, this pose (and other yoga poses) can help calm the mind, silencing the whirlwind of to-dos and don’t-forgets.
On top of these benefits, the cow face pose can increase the blood supply throughout your legs and arms. If you spend hours sitting in a chair each day or hunched over a desk, this pose can be excellent for relieving the side effects associated with long hours in these positions.
Who Shouldn’t Do Cow Face Pose?
Although the cow face pose can benefit many people, it isn’t suitable for everyone. For example, this pose isn’t a good fit for you if you have a recent or chronic shoulder, hip, or knee injury.
Since it opens and stretches these areas, it can place stress on chronic conditions and unhealed injuries. In some cases, it can exacerbate these injuries, so be cautious.
Even if you don’t have chronic or recent injuries, it’s always best to proceed carefully, especially if you’re new to yoga. The cow face pose is intermediate, so it might not be suitable for beginners. Work within your own limits and abilities, as pushing yourself too far could lead to injuries.
Work on your flexibility and range of motion through other exercises. If you’re new to yoga, start with entry-level poses until you feel comfortable moving through more advanced poses. Remember, never force your body to settle into a pose it’s not ready for. Instead, take it slow and listen to your body’s cues. Just because your muscles aren’t prepared for the pose now doesn’t mean you can’t train yourself to this point – it takes time and regular practice.
How To Do Cow Face Pose
When you feel your body is ready to try the cow face pose, there’s a specific method to achieve the posture. Remember to warm your muscles before attempting this pose, as settling straight into the pose could cause an injury to cold muscles.
Once you warm up, follow these steps:
- Sit on your yoga mat with your legs extended in front of you. Allow your arms to rest at your sides, with your palms gently resting on the floor.
- Bend your knees and position the soles of your feet on the floor.
- Position your left foot underneath your right knee. If you’re flexible enough, slide your left foot outward toward your right hip.
- Next, stack your right knee directly above your left knee. Shift your right foot outward toward your left hip.
- Shift your body weight to balance yourself on both sit bones evenly. You may need to gently rock back and forth a few times to find a comfortable sitting position.
- Lift your left arm, extending it up toward the ceiling with your palm facing the front of the room. Bend your arm at the elbow, bringing your hand behind you toward your spine.
- Lower your right arm to your side with your palm facing the floor. Rotate your arm internally, bending your elbow so your hand moves toward the middle of your spine with your palm facing the back of the room.
- Roll both shoulders toward the back of the room and downward. If you have the flexibility to do so, connect your hands in the middle of your back by hooking your fingers together.
- As you sit in the pose, actively reach toward the ceiling with your top elbow while simultaneously reaching toward the floor with your lower elbow. Although you should keep your elbows actively reaching, avoid flaring them away from your body. Keep both elbows tucked close to your body – your top elbow should be by your head, with your lower elbow near your ribs.
- Keep your abdominal muscles tight as you breathe through the pose to avoid flaring your ribs outward. Try to keep your chest open and gaze up and in front of you.
- Remain in the pose for up to one minute or as long as you’re comfortable. When you’re ready, gently release your hands and lower your arms back to your sides. Uncross your legs and extend them in front of you.
- Repeat the pose on the opposite side.
Tips To Modify Cow Face Pose
The cow face pose isn’t always beginner-friendly, especially for those new to yoga. So, if you’re struggling to achieve cow face pose, here are a few modifications to try:
- Tight hips: Avoid sitting flat on the floor if you struggle with tight hips. Instead, use a folded blanket, a block, a bolster, or a meditation pillow to create distance between you and the floor. By adding a bit of distance between your hips and the floor, your hips will remain above your knees, relieving stress on your hips, knees, and lower back. You may need to try several heights until you find one that works best for you.
- Tight knees: If your knees are far apart, employ a yoga block or a folded blanket to bridge the gap. Place the block or blanket underneath your top thigh to support your upper leg in the pose.
- Can’t connect your hands: If you can’t quite reach your opposite hand, use a strap to achieve a similar result. Use a sturdy strap without rips or tears to bridge the gap between your hands. As you increase your flexibility, slowly walk your hands inward to meet each other until you no longer need the strap.