The Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana) is a great chest and shoulder opener that also makes the legs much more elastic.
(Pronounced as "go-moo-KAHS-anna")
The Sanskrit phrase "Go Mukha" translates into "the face of a cow." Here your crossed legs resemble a cow's mouth while chewing, and your lifted arm is like a cow's raised ear. The goal of the pose is to remain as steady and immovable as a cow while extending your arms and twisting your legs.
Sit on your yoga mat with both legs stretched out straight in front of you in Dandasana, or Staff Pose. Bend your right leg and pull it back to grab your right ankle. Pull your right foot into Virasana position, or seated Warrior pose. Then sit up for a minute as you tuck your right foot to the side underneath you. Sit on your right foot so that your left sitting bone rests in the arch of your right foot.
If you do not have this flexibility in your feet, then you can pull your right foot further out to the side so that the back of your right heel touches your left hip. In this variation, both of your sitting bones remain on the ground.
Then sit up to give your thighs some extra room as you cross your left leg over your right as far as you can. You can leave your knees stacked directly on top of each other. However, if you have the flexibility, then it is better to pull the left knee over a little more to the right side of your bottom knee. Pull your left foot back toward your right hip and allow the top of your left foot to press into the floor a little.
Sit with your back straight and keep both of your heels as close to your hips as possible. Your toes should point behind you.
Breathe in as you lift your right arm straight up in the air so that it extends up from right behind your ear. Then bend your right elbow and reach down to press your palm against your back between your shoulder blades. Keep your right hand here.
Now take a breath as you bend the left arm behind your back so that you extend your left fingers up to grab the fingers of your right hand. Your fingers should hook together tightly. You will know that your hands are in the right position if you can feel your left hand pressing against your spine.
If your hands cannot touch each other behind your back, then stretch your fingers as close to each other as they will go and grip your shirt with your fingers instead to hold your hands in place as you stretch.
Extend your right elbow up to the ceiling, keeping your right arm close to your ear. Lengthen your left arm down toward the floor. Both of your shoulders should roll back and down as you lift up your chest from your sternum. Do not hold your breath as you stretch.
Hold Cow Face Pose for 30 seconds to start and increase it to a minute once you have more experience practicing it. Then unclasp your hands and uncross your legs. Repeat the same posture by crossing your legs the opposite way and lifting your other arm the same way for the same duration.
The best prop to use in this pose when your shoulders are very tight is a yoga belt. Hold the strap in your hand when you raise your arm straight above your head. Then when you bend your elbow and reach your hand down behind your neck, the strap will dangle straight down. Now when you reach your other hand behind your back, you can grab onto the dangling strap as you walk your fingers up as far as you can go. In this way, you are pulling the belt tightly between your hands for a deeper extension of your shoulders.
Once you have more flexibility in your shoulders, then you can go deeper into the pose by extending your fingers even more. Eventually, the fingers of your lower hand can almost touch the wrist of your upper hand.
To get a deeper release in your hips, perform the full Cow Face Pose and then lean forward to rest your chest on top of your crossed legs. Hold this position for about 20 seconds before you take a breath and sit back up.
One of the hardest areas to stretch on your own in this pose is the back of your raised arm. Ask a partner to sit behind you while you come into Cow Face Pose. When you have reached the full extension of your arms, then have them hold the top of your raised elbow and gently pull it back while slightly lifting your elbow too. If your chest starts to cave in when they do this pull, then have them press in between your shoulder blades with their other hand to help maintain the expansion of your chest.
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