At first glance, Gomukhasana, or Cow Face Pose, appears to be one of those super-bendy (might I say 'contortionist'?) positions aspired to by many but achieved by the few. The benefits of this pose, however, should make this a staple in everyone’s practice. And, with the use of a few props, however, this asana becomes doable.

The whimsical name was given to this position because of the ways in which the limbs twist; the legs give the cow’s mouth, while the arms present the ears. As a full-body posture, this asana works many muscles at once. It stretches the shoulders, biceps, and triceps, chest, and upper back, one half at a time. It also elongates the muscles in the hips and thighs. As is true for many complicated-looking asanas, it’s a good idea to practice each half separately and then put the two together.

To practice the leg position, begin in SukhasanaAgnistambhasana, or Fire Log Pose. This in itself is a great stretch for the hips and thighs. From here, begin to walk the feet away from each other. Optimally, the knees will eventually stack, but that’s not going to happen the first, second, or fifth time you practice. Be gentle with your body and take your time. Respect today’s edge, and hold your final position for a few full breaths. Then change legs and practice on the other side.

Before practicing Gomukhasana arms, stretch out the shoulders, using a strap if necessary. When ready, take the strap into the right hand. Hold the arm straight up by the ears, and then bend at the elbow so that the hand reaches down towards the back, with the strap dangling. Take the left arm and bring it back behind the spine, grasping the strap. To increase the stretch, walk your hands towards each other on the strap. Ultimately, your hand will reach each other, but again, that may take a few years or so. For now, straighten your back, take a few breaths, and then change sides.

When putting the two halves of the pose together, it helps to take it in stages. You might begin by practicing Gomukhasana arms with Sukhasana legs, working on keeping the spine straight in this position. Alternatively, you can pair Gomukhasana legs with Anjali Mudra, or Prayer position, again focusing on the spine. Practice against a wall if that helps to hold the position at first.

A steady practice of this pose will help keep your back, arms, and legs flexible. Because of the twisty nature of this asana, it is said to tone the kidneys, and to help with sciatica. A final benefit of this posture is the meditative aspect of staying and breathing today’s fullest experience, wherever you are at this time. One of the best parts of yoga is learning to keep the focus on where we are at this moment in time, while also acknowledging that the body can always learn and grow into new positions. Practice with respect for your limbs and with gratitude for your present abilities.

Disclaimer: always consult your doctor before beginning any movement practice. This column is not intended to supplant medical advice, and should not be used as such.

You Should Also Read:
Three Shoulder Openers Using a Strap
Agnistambhasana with Garudasana Arms
Why Use Sanskrit?

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