How to do Cow’s Head Pose:
The focus pose this month is cow’s head pose (gomukhasana). This pose involves a tight crossing of your legs. This can present challenges for those with tightness around their hips and also for those with larger thighs. Do your best and follow the options for modification where necessary.
The lower body:
- Kneel on your mat facing the front edge.
- Draw your knees together, then cross your right leg over the top of your left leg.
- Shift the weight of your hips back towards the floor and sit your hips to the mat between your heels with your right foot outside your left hip and vice versa.
- Point your feet straight back alongside you.
- Variation 1. Not everyone can get their hips to the floor with their legs crossed in this fashion. You may need to sit on a block (or two). If that is what you need, that is what you should do. Blocks are there to help give you access to poses.
- Once your hips are at the floor or a block, use your right hand at your left knee and your left hand at your right knee to draw your legs into a more tightly crossed position.
- Then press your hands downward on your right knee to help compress the bind of your legs.
- Variation 2. If you have not been able to get your legs crossed or cannot get s
eated with your legs crossed, start in a seated position, on the floor or on a block, extend your left leg forward and simply fold your right leg as tightly over your left leg as you can. Draw your right foot back to the outside of your left hip as best you can.
The upper body:
- At this point you may sit upright with your hands resting lightly on your thighs or in your lap or alongside you at the floor. Alternatively, you may fold your torso forward and reach your hands out in front of you to the mat.
- The full pose involves an arm bind. With your torso upright, raise your left arm high alongside your left ear, then bend it at the elbow and take your left hand down behind your head.
- Reach your right arm down alongside you then bend your right elbow and draw your right hand behind you as far up your back as you can.
- Bind your left and right hands together.
- Variation 3. If you cannot bring your two hands to meet directly, use a strap to span the gap and allow you to make a connection between your hands.
- With your right leg crossed over the top of your left leg, have your left arm high behind your head and your right arm low up behind your back.
- Notice the position of your left arm and your head with the bind in place. If your left elbow tends to sit to the left side of your head rather than directly behind your head, you should work, gradually and over time, to bring your left arm more directly behind your head.
- If your left elbow tends to drop forward, alongside your head, towards the front of your mat, work to point your left elbow straight up to the ceiling.
- If the pressure of your left arm behind your head causes your head to be pushed forward and your chin to drop downwards towards your chest, lift your chin up away from your chest and press the back of your head towards the back of the room. Bring your head into a neutral position.
- Breathe steadily, smoothly and deeply through your nose and hold this pose for up to five minutes.
The transition from one side to the other:
- The transition to the other side of the pose can consist of you simply releasing the bind of your arms, uncrossing your legs and beginning again with the opposite leg on top.
- Alternatively, unbind your arms and set your hands to the floor to help support you. Still with your legs crossed, lift your hips from the floor (or block) and stand up. Keep your feet on the spots where they are but rotate yourself around to the left in a full 360° circle. Pivot and turn on the balls of your feet as you rotate. You will find yourself facing the front of your mat but with your left leg crossed in front of your right leg. With the support of your hands, slowly sit back down to the floor or the block for the second side of the pose.
The benefits of cow’s head pose:
Gomukhasana constitutes a powerful stretch for your outer gluteal muscles and your piriformis. It also offers a tremendous stretch for the latissimus dorsi on the side of your raised arm as well as the triceps and some of the shoulder girdle muscles. The muscles of your chest are stretched and your rhomboids, binding the inner edges of your shoulder blades to your spine, are strengthened. The actions of your arms strengthen your rotator cuff muscles and enhance your ability to bend your elbows, rotate your forearms and grip with your fingers.
There is so much going on it is important not to over-dramatise the pose. Notice what you are feeling without struggling or tensing against the pose. This, like every other yoga pose, is an opportunity for you to relax with what is. If this pose shows up big in your body, it is exactly what you need. Remember, in order to heal, you need to feel.