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
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.