On the Mat: Summer Intensive Restorative Pose #4

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Upper neck and shoulders dominated recent aches for my NYU Tisch Dance summer crew. This week’s posture is complex and delivers both stretch and space for the upper and lower body. It is a fun one to say in Sanskrit, Gomukhasana, and to “see” per its English translation, Cow Face Pose. If you look at the posture face forward it is supposed to resemble a cow’s narrow face and nose (do you see it?).

Once the shoulders and hips are warmed up, this pose is an excellent one to further open the chest and shoulders. Additionally the wrapping of the legs can create space in the lower back and sacrum while exploring deep rotation in the hips. The detail of connecting the fingers behind the back (or using a strap to make up the distance) and stacking the knees makes for a decent challenge. Finding precision in these connections takes practice. Finding relaxation in the face and ribcage takes patience.

Take your time getting into the pose safely:

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First, be mindful that you do not force anything in this pose, especially in connecting the hands. Secondly, if you are hypermobile, be careful as you transition into the pose, particularly in your knee joints. Knee joints should be “closed” first before rotating them to stack the sides of the knees.

Sit up on some padding to ground the sitting bones and create length in the spine. Close the knee joints first before you proceed to stack one knee on top of the other. The closer the feet are to your seat, the gentler the stretch. The further away you move the feet, the deeper the stretch. If your knees do not easily stack, extend the bottom leg and just work on the rotation in the top leg. Look and see what knee you have placed on the top. Take the opposite side’s arm and bend at the elbow above. Take the other arm and bend at the elbow below. Make a connection behind you. Rest your head back into the forearm and continue to grow the spine. Breathe in the pose for several cycles to fully experience the capacity of this pose’s benefits. The best way to get out of the pose is to release the arms and put the hands behind you. Rock your weight back and bring the knees into your chest to unwind the legs. Reverse the pose. Expect different challenges on each side.

Note: Due to its complexity, this posture requires time spent in other preparatory postures and moving with the breath first. You can sequence this posture towards the end of your home mat practice after the body is warm and ready.

– TaraMarie Perri

photo credits: Philippe Teston

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