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Yoga Poses

Cow Face Pose

Can't see the cow face? Notice that the crossed legs look like the lips. The bent-elbow arms, one up and one down, are the ears.

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Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) stretches your entire body—your shoulders and arms, your ankles, hips, thighs and back. In the pose, the folded legs are said to resemble a cow’s mouth; the elbows form the shape of a cow’s ears.

It’s a pose that allows you many opportunities to explore the symmetry of the body. When you cross one knee over the other, notice a difference in how it feels right over left versus left over right. Similarly, the arm position will tell you instantly if one  shoulder is tighter than the other.

Another thing to pay attention to in Gomukhasna  is the length and position of your back, neck, and head.  You can practice bringing length to the spine all the way up through your neck to your skull. When bringing the upper arm close to the face, students tend to bend the neck and lean the head to the side. Be mindful to keep the spine straight. 

Use props to make this pose more accessible.  If tight shoulders make it difficult to clasp your fingers together behind your back in Cow Face Pose, use a strap. You may sit on a block or blankets to give your legs more space to move into the pose.

Person sits with his back facing the viewer, right arm reaching down behind shoulder blades and left arm reaching up the back. His hands are clasped together. He is sitting cross legged on a wood floor with a white background.
(Photo: Andrew Clark)

Cow Face Pose basics

Sanskrit: Gomukhasana (go-moo-KAHS-ah-nah)

Pose type: Seated

Targets: Full body

Why We Love It:  “Gomukhasana is a quiet, seated pose, but it’s anything but simple,” says Tamara Jeffries, Yoga Journal senior editor. “You’re reaching up and reaching down, making room for the stretch in your arms and shoulders.  The pose also requires your full attention to the position of the knees, the elbows, the shoulders, the head.  When you do it with attention to alignment, it is great for posture awareness.”

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Pose benefits

Cow Face Pose improves posture and counteracts the effects of prolonged and sitting by dynamically stretching around your shoulders, buttocks (glutes), and fronts of thighs (quadriceps).

Cow Face Pose: Step-by-step instructions

  1. Start in Dandasana (Staff Pose), then cross your right leg over your left, stacking knee on top of knee and bringing your right heel to the outside of your left hip.
  2. Bend your left knee, bringing your left heel to the outside of your right hip.
  3. With your knees stacked and centered, press down evenly with your sitting bones.
  4. Elongate your spine and lift out of your lower back.
  5. Inhale, take your right arm out to the side and rotate it so your palm faces back and your thumb points down.
  6. As you exhale, bend your elbow and bring your right arm behind your back, with your palm facing out and the upper arm pulled in close to your body.  Your elbow points towards your sacrum and your right fingers point towards the base of your neck.
  7. With your next inhale, take your left arm out to the side and up to the ceiling with your hand facing the midline.
  8. Bend your left elbow and reach your hand down toward your neck. Bring your elbow in close to your face and up toward the ceiling as your hand reaches down the spine.
  9. Reach your hands toward each other until they touch.  Clasp hands or fingers if possible.
  10. To exit the pose, exhale and carefully release your arms out to your sides and return to Dandasana.
  11. Repeat on the opposite side.

Beginners’ tip

  • If your hips feel tight, sit on the edge of a folded blanket or on a block.

Teaching Cow Face Pose

These cues will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:

  • You can also start the pose from all fours. From Tabletop, cross your legs bringing your left knee to the inside of your right knee. Lower your hips in between your feet.
  • This pose requires deep shoulder rotation, so be careful coming into and exiting the pose.

Variation: Cow Face Pose with a block and a strap

Woman with blonde hair sits on a cork block and uses a strap to practice Cow-face pose. She is wearing an ocean blue top and yoga tights.
(Photo: Andrew Clark. Clothing: Calia)

Sit on a block to allow more space for your legs to move into the position and to help bring your low back into a neutral alignment. Use a strap to extend your reach if you cannot easily clasp your hands.

Preparatory poses

Counter poses