• Encyclopedia of Yoga: Gomukhasana

    Yoga comes from India, and especially India’s historic past.  If you have ever made the trip to India, one thing that is definitely ubiquitous on the streets of India are, cows. This is a pose that always brings me right back to the spiritual heart of the practice and the trips that I have made to study with my teacher in Mysore.

    It is traditionally translated as the “cow facing pose” or “the cow pose.” Another way to think about this posture is what the cow–the Go–actually symbolizes. The cow is the sacred symbol of the being, like the Earth, which is willing to give more than she receives.

    The Lesson of Patience and Kindness

    We could think about Gomukhasana as teaching us the lesson of patience and kindness, of respect and, really, sustainability. In the easy version of the pose, if you start off from a comfortable seated position, you will pick your knees up, and then layer your right knee over the left. Drawing the left knee in.

    First, the knees are elevated. Then, come forward until the knees kind of stack on top of each other. You can let the feet open as much as necessary, as to be comfortable for you.  If it is easier for you, you can grab your feet and bring them in.  This will increase the demand of the internal rotation of the hips.

    Even though your knees kind of point to the side, they are actually rolling towards each other in the ball and socket of the hip joint to create a foundation. It may feel like you want to tilt back, but to move into Gomukhasana, you want to lift your sacrum up and forward so you almost feel like you are about to lift your sitting bones off the ground. Don’t lift them off the ground, but feel as though you are about to lift them off of the ground.

    Then, place your left hand on top of the right knee.  Your right hand on top, and just a nice, easy chin down. Keep a little activation in the legs, and draw the belly in. Moving into this version of Gomukhasana is almost a meditative pose. There is a softness in the body. A softness. A calm, inner awareness. If you notice there is any tension in the front of your hip, see if you can soften a little bit, keeping the activation in the pelvic bowl.

    Creating Length and Space

    Work on challenging Gomukhasana. Take your right hand up, reaching it back behind you.  holding onto your right elbow with the left hand, and then just, layer it back. Then, drop the left arm down, and see if it is possible to reach your hands for each other, behind your back. It may not be possible, so you could just leave the hands in position, and we will hold here for just a moment. Nice breath in, soften through the shoulders, and create length and space through the center line. Let it go down. You are noticing an internal rotation of the left shoulder, and an external rotation of the right shoulder.

    Openness in the Shoulders

    If that was impossible for you, another option to create some openness in the shoulders, is to sort of do the Eagle arm position.  Your right hand, and the left hand layers, raising the arms up. In this version, you are going to look up at the thumbs, finding the center line.  This is that not-stressful version. Do not hit it too hard, just let your body kind of ease its way into the pose. If the easy Gomukhasana is not really comfortable for you, just work on whatever level is appropriate for where you are at.

    Work on the Balance

    The cow facing pose, Gomukhasana, from Ashtanga Yoga, comes at the end of the second series, which is a challenging series. We will start off in the relaxed cow position. The knees cross over each other, using that internal rotation. To get yourself into that full, kind of, elevated, lifted Gomukhasana position, you want to come all the way forward.  Your knees almost layer on top of each other.

    Cross at the top of the thighs. Instead of the feet apart, just bring the feet towards each other. Drawing the belly in, settle the hips gently down. As you settle the hips gently down, you will feel like there is nothing to sit on. You are actively squeezing the legs into each other, and you are squeezing the knees down. Settling your hips back onto your feet, avoid rounding your back, and then, perch yourself forward in the same way.  Keep your hips close to your feet. Take your hands down onto your thighs, work on the balance.

    Interlock the Fingers

    Only if you work on the balance, then, lean forward, and interlock your fingers under you knees. You can round your back to get the grip, but then, pop your chest forward. This balance is very precarious. Gaze down the bridge of the nose, holding it there for a moment.

    The Full Posture

    Then, you can layer yourself forward by squeezing the knees slightly forward, keeping your sternum oriented in line with the pubic bone. Pubic bone, forward.  Your legs should feel a little active. Your pelvic floor should be on. Avoid rounding the back, but pop the chest forward.  Like that easy version of Gomukhasana, right hand reaches back, left one around, and find that center line. Lift the chest up, and forward.  Now, the gaze up, here, is real precarious, because you feel like you do not have that stable foundation of your hips down.  You are really actively squeezing yourself into the pose. I always seem to almost lose the balance when I look up. You want to find a small spot and gaze at that spot. Then gently release it, taking your hands down. Come on down to that easy version of Gomukhasana.

    Gomukhasana, the cow facing pose, will help you find a calm and even center. When you have that tightness in your shoulders, what can happen is that, your shoulders kind of cave in and collapse the heart. As you practice Gomukhasana, your heart center opens. Your heart expands. The shoulders relax and you can find the happy freedom, the trusting heart of the spiritual center, really, of the sacred. Remember that when you are practicing a deceptively simple pose, like Gomukhasana, there are hidden benefits along the spirit that will start to shine through as you begin to practice. I hope you keep the seed of peace in your heart, and the inspiration to practice everyday. Namaste.

    By Kino MacGregor

    Why do you practice yoga? Kino Macgregor Ashtanga Yoga teacher, OMstars

    Learn More from Kino on Omstars.com

    Kino MacGregor is a world renowned Ashtanga Yoga teacher, the author of several yoga inspired books, including The Yogi Assignment, and founder of OmStars.com. Practice the Ashtanga Yoga Full Primary Series online with Kino to get started on your journey today.

  • Encyclopedia of Yoga: Ardha Matsyendrasana

    This is the pose that is dedicated to the Sage known as, Matsyendranath. Sometimes people call this pose, Lord of the Half Fishes Pose.  You can take those individual words, Matsya, meaning fish, and Ardha, meaning Half. Contained in, Matsyendranath, is also the word for King, or ruler.  You have all those put together for quite a powerful posture.

    This seated spinal twist brings you into the center of the body, and helps you access the deep space of the pelvic bowl.

    Foundation and Alignment

    In a twisting posture, the hips are your foundation. You want to avoid twisting from the pelvis, and instead, empty out the pelvic bowl. Twist from the thoracic spine.  In this posture, it is very important. To enter the pose on the right side, fold your left knee underneath. You want to make sure that your knee feels good.  If there is any discomfort in the knee, there is a modification (below). Close the knee joint and bring it all the way in.  You will notice that the knee lines up with the sternum. Right foot on top. Take a moment, and settle your hips in between the open place between your left foot and the left hip–both sitting bones are on the ground. You want to see both of the knees lined up along the center line.  Make sure that you can see your toes ahead of your right knee. 

    Entering the Twist

    Inhale, as you suck the belly in. Drop the right hip, down. Allow a gentle, internal rotation of the right hip. Hug your torso close to your thigh. Gently wrap your left arm around, holding onto the right side, looking over the right shoulder. Pointing the left foot, both sitting bones down, look over your right shoulder. This is nice and easy.  If you don’t want to go any further, all is good.

    Pivoting Deeper 

    Slowly suck the belly in. Begin to lift the rib cage all the way around the right thigh. You can press on the thigh, and pivot around. Take your right hand on the ground. Drop the left shoulder in front of the right knee. Reach down. Hook the shoulder under, spinning the armpit, up. Grab the foot by spinning the armpit, down. If you can’t reach your foot, you can hold onto the knee, or leave your hand on the ground. Lift your chest up, keep your left shoulder down. Lifting the chest up, reaching around. The second option, is simply to leave your right hand behind you, looking over the right shoulder.

    The Full Posture

    If you feel comfortable, inhale, lift your chest up, and exhale. Reach around, taking your right hand and just kind of wiggle it around until you can find the top of the left thigh. Look over your right shoulder.

    Modifying When Necessary

    This is a way that you can repeat this pose, and relieve any burden that may be too stressed on your knee. Simply cross the foot over, leaving a relatively big space. In this version of the posture, I would keep it relatively simple. Work on bringing your chest close to your thigh, and twisting along the center line. Don’t worry about binding your hands.

    Remember the Journey

    Remember that yoga is a journey into the center of your self. Never judge yourself by the success or failure of your body, to make a shape. We’re interested in the journey.  So, regardless of what shape your body is able to make, dive down into the inner experience.  And tune in to the power of the ancient tradition of yoga, which is really what this pose represents. Keep the seed of inspiration to practice, every day.

    By Kino MacGregor

    Learn More from Kino on Omstars.com

    Kino MacGregor is a world renowned Ashtanga Yoga teacher, the author of several yoga inspired books, including The Yogi Assignment, and founder of OmStars.com. Practice the Ashtanga Yoga Full Primary Series online with Kino to get started on your journey today.

  • Plank Pose: Where the Body Goes the Mind Will Follow

    If you’re looking for a quick strengthening, full body workout then these two poses give a lot of bang for their buck. Although Plank Pose and Upward Plank are two obvious core strengthening poses, when practiced with the correct alignment they work pretty much every muscle in your body. Apart from the physical benefits, I like to think that both of these poses also help to bring stability and strength on an emotional and spiritual level. Where the body goes the mind will follow.  Plank Pose and Upward Plank will help to increase focus, stamina, and endurance. I also feel that these poses help to develop the understanding that the muscles of the body or, different aspects of yourself, need to work together in unison in order to create that strength and stability.

     

    Plank Pose:

     

    Have the feet hip width apart, and the hands shoulder width apart, with the wrists aligned directly under the shoulders. Your focus is on keeping the body in one straight line. Draw the lower belly back towards the spine, pull the kneecaps up to keep the legs engaged, and plug the arms into the shoulder joint by rotating the eyes of the elbows forward. Imagine pushing the mat away with your hands as you keep the shoulders broad, and draw the shoulder blades down the back. Gaze forward, and think about keeping the shoulders, hips and heels in line with each other.

     

     

    Upward Plank Pose:

     

    Have the feet together, with the base of the big toes touching, and the hands shoulder width apart, with the fingers pointing towards the toes. Again, imagine pressing the mat away firmly with the hands and feet. Aim to keep the wrists under the shoulders. Focus on lifting the hips, and imagine the whole of the back of the body extending and engaging to create a slight backbend. Open and lift the chest, as you internally rotate the thighs by pressing into the base of the big toes. Engage the core by pulling the belly button back towards the spine, and gaze toward the space between the eyebrows.

    By Laura Large

    I am an Ashtanga Yoga Practitioner and Teacher based near Marlborough, Wiltshire with a real love and passion for the practice. I also own and manage a Wellbeing Centre where I work as a licensed Acupuncturist, which really helps me to understand the energetics of the asanas and how they affect the physical, mental and emotional bodies. My classes are strong, energetic and fun.  Ashtanga Yoga is an amazing practice for developing some serious strength and flexibility in body and mind. Outside of my daily Ashtanga Vinyasa practice I love playing creatively with poses and exploring hybrid postures and different variations – Arm balances are a real favourite of mine! You can find me on Instagram where I host yoga challenges and share tips and tutorials at @omniyogagirl

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  • How to do Marichyasana B

    Marichyasana B of the Ashtanga Primary Series is one of what I call “Birthday Cake Poses”. It involves specific ingredients that must be added in the proper order, at the appropriate time, for the recipe to work. The process is essential to honor the intention of the posture.

    The first ingredient is the lotus posture. Without lotus, it is really just a version of Marichyasana A. So take your time with your lotus position, finding release in the hip, checking in with the knee, bringing that foot high across the other leg, heel positioned within the line of the pubic bone and belly button. Once you have a workable lotus – perfection is not required, just something that is not painful and gives you space to work the other leg – lean back into the hands so that you can draw the second leg up, heel to sit bone. This moment may reveal some resistance in the hip, acknowledge that and navigate a path through it. If the hip is not too intense, rock your weight forward and diagonally toward the lotus leg. Eventually you want to feel secure in this foundation, the thigh of the lotus leg and the foot of the other side, that sit bone lifted. This is the baking phase of our recipe. Settle into your foundation, sit with ease. If you are still holding on to the planet to avoid falling back, then work here for a while. Next take a forward fold over you lap, reaching around for the bind just as in Marichyasana A, first arm around the upright knee, the other tossed behind the back. Got the bind? Frosting! Lastly, enjoy your dessert, finishing with a deep fold, forehead or chin to the floor. Breathe.

    If you rush this posture, you may end up with some distorted version with no integrity. Step by step process draws your awareness to places of resistance and thus places to work. When the full expression is reached it will feel like it makes sense, you will feel ready for it. No hurry! And always honor injuries, especially in the knees. It is certainly acceptable, even encouraged, to modify the lotus during a time of injury.

    By Angelique Sandas

     

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