Practicing Cow Face, or in Sanskrit Gomukhāsana (go-mook-AHH-sah-nah), can be very rewarding. Also known as Archer Arms, this warm-up asana stretches your triceps, shoulders, and armpits as well as opens your chest, shoulders, and arms. This warm-up increases blood supply to the entire body, especially the legs and arms, as well as helps to improve focus and reduce anxiety, stress, and mild depression. It is traditionally practiced sitting down on the floor in a cross-legged like position, however, you can also practice this warm-up while standing or sitting in this chair. Like Eagle Arms, this warm-up has many benefits, however, it can be difficult for many students – Especially, those with tight shoulders. Modifications and props should be made readily available so that you and your students can get the most out of this warm-up in a safe and comfortable way.

It is important that this warm-up is not forced. You and your students must listen to your bodies as you practice this warm-up as injuries can happen very easily. Your textbook “RESTORATIVE YOGA FOR LIFE,” provides a great breakdown for practicing this warm-up, however, there is some key information that you must keep in mind. The keys to this warm-up are in the spine and hips. It is important that your neck, spine, and hips are aligned so that your rib cage doesn’t stick out and your back isn’t arched. Your hips must also be level. By ensuring that the hips and spine are aligned properly, you can open up your back and free the spine, so that it can stretch properly.

With those keys in mind, remember that everyone’s body structure is different. Some students will be able to practice this warm-up asana right away, others will need props at first, while others will always need props. This warm-up should be practiced with the knowledge that everyone comes into this practice with different backgrounds and abilities, and it is our responsibility as instructors to assist, guide, and encourage all of our students. Some students will not be able to fully straighten their backs, some will be able to touch their hands together on one side but not the other, and others won’t be able to touch their hands together at all, and that is okay.

To more fully understand practicing this warm up, below is a picture about alignment and cueing instructions as well as a video and a list of modifications that can be used. The video demonstrates full Cow Face with the traditional seated posture for this asana. However, keep in mind that you do not have to practice this warm-up with the legs crossed and the thighs squeezed together. You can practice this standing, sitting on the floor (in Easy Pose, Thunderbolt Pose, Half Lotus, etc.), or sitting in a chair; whichever method flows best with your session is fine. You will see modification that can be made during and after the video.

Cow Face Arms - with arrows

Modifications
• For students with tight hips, place a blanket, pillow, or bolster under the buttock(s), elevating the hips. This will bring less stress to the hips and lower back. Placing a block under the buttock(s), with the pelvis tilting slightly forward, will have the same effect, as well as help with tightly overlapping the thighs, so that the knees are stacked on top of each other. For students, where one side of the buttock is off the ground, have them sit on the foot of the bottom leg to raise them up or use a blanket to level off.
• For students who have had a hip replacement, have them sit without their legs crossed over each other in a comfortable position.
• For students who have difficulty connecting their fingers behind their back, have them practice with a strap between their hands. With practice, they can start to walk their hands together (moving the bottom hand up or the upper hand down), when their flexibility increases. Some students can’t do either side; some can do it on one side, but not the other. Allow students to use props as needed, ensuring they are slowly increasing their flexibility. Students can also practice clasping their hands behind their back in Easy Pose (Sukhasana).
• For students with ankle or knee discomfort, place a blanket between the knees and/or under the ankles. It is important to note that not all students will be able to stack the knees, and that is okay.
• Flexible students who want to increase the stretch in their hips and legs deeper can bend forward so that the chest is on the legs and the arms are stretched over head.

Knowing that we understand how to safely practice this warm-up asana, please be aware of the contraindications below.

Contraindications
1. Students with severe neck, shoulder, or back injury / inflammation, sciatica, a ligament tear or who are pregnant should avoid this pose.
2. Students with an injury or discomfort in the hips should avoid this pose, or practice with modifications, props, and guidance.
3. Students with stiff shoulders should take this posture slow and/or use props.

Lastly, a chakra and your dosha balance is affected by this warm-up. See below for a breakdown.

Chakra
Chakra Four:Heart, Love, or Anahata (Unstuck) Chakra. This is the love and equilibrium chakra. Its goals are balance, compassion, and acceptance. Its location is the heart.

Doshas
VataThis dosha is increased in this asana.
PittaThis dosha is increased in this asana.
KaphaThis dosha is decreased in this asana.


Additional information on this asana

  • In the textbook “YOGA: THE PATH TO HOLISTIC HEALTH by B.K.S. Iyengar
    • CHAPTER 5: YOGA FOR STRESS
      • Asanas for Stress
        • Tadasana Gomukhasana (Mountain pose with hands held in the shape of a cow’s face)

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