(Legs of) Gomukhasana ( Cow's Face Pose ) - Issues and solutions
List of some of the issues that can be relevant for practising this pose:
· Lumbar Spine
· Hips and Sacro-iliac Joints
· Legs and Knees
· Ankles and Feet
My experience of this pose is that it puts the lumbar spine into a stable long shape – and this is true both for those with a tendency towards excessive lumbar lordosis and
for those with a tendency towards an over-flat (or even outward-curving) lumbar spine. However, it takes a while for both sides of the buttocks to be settled equally – with
one side of the hips lifted the lumbar (and the rest of the spine) is put into some degree of lateral (sideways) flexion. It is thus important to practise equally to both sides and
it is a good idea to follow this exercise with some gentle dynamic spinal twisting to realign spinal joints. Notice also that the lumbar spine (as is typical in sitting poses) is in
flexion relative to its neutral position (cf. standing and lying relaxed). This straightening of the natural curve of the lumbar spine is fine for those with healthy spines. But those
who have strained their back in a forward bending position may not be entirely comfortable - in which case they should of course find an alternative position (perhaps such as
simple kneeling) that is comfortable.
Hips and Sacro-iliac Joints
An easily overlooked aspect of this pose is the opening (pulling apart) of the sacro-iliac joints. For most people this is very helpful, as it can be great for both releasing
tension/compression from around this area (cf. issues with Warrior 2 and Iyengar-style triangle) and for encouraging these joints to adjust to a better alignment. But, as
with most things, this can be taken too far and recent trauma to the area (say from landing heavily on the pelvic girdle area) can leave the area too tender. Sensible
alternatives would be simply kneeling or perhaps Easy pose.
With regard to the hips, there is a lot happening : at both the hip joints there is flexion, adduction and outward rotation. So it is not surprising if you find that tightness in
one or more muscles which move the hips is the limiting factor for this pose. Placing supports such as yoga blocks, books or folded towels usually makes the position
accessible – the greater the tightness, the greater the height needed under the buttocks. Longer term exercises that will free up the hip joints will enable one to sit for
longer and with less support in this pose. It you feel tightness on the outside of your thighs, outside of hips and back of your pelvis, then the following sort of poses are
likely to be helpful : legs of eagle pose, semi-supine twists with crossed legs, semi-supine twists with one foot on the knee of the other leg. If you are feeling tightness on
the inside of your thighs, then poses like Tree pose, Easy pose and supine cobbler pose are likely to be helpful. A good general exercise for the hips is semi-supine twist
with knees and feet wide of your hips.
Legs and Knees
The knees are potentially vulnerable in this position because they are semi-flexed – so it is easy for them to become slightly out of alignment. I think it is thus a good idea to
follow up this pose with an exercise that gives the knees flexion & extension to encourage the knee joints to realign just in case. The good news however is that unlike some
poses there is no tendency, in my experience, to push/pull the knee out of alignment (cf. lotus pose where this issue is severe).
The other issue for the legs is circulation. Sitting in this position can somewhat restrict the blood flow to and from the legs – so if one sits in the position for long this can be
an issue. If it is, one would start to experience numbness in the legs and, on releasing the pose, “pins and needles” sensations. If this is a noticeable issue, then the solution is
to release the leg position sooner, and flex and extend the legs a bit before resuming the position.
Ankles and Feet
The feet and ankles are close to a neutral position. However, if this pose is practised on a hard surface, bony parts of ankles may press uncomfortably onto the hard
surface. The solution is to practise with a suitable degree of padding such as a folded blanked between one and the hard surface.
Practising yoga in the first trimester is considered by most yoga teachers to be contra-indicated. The only explanation I have heard for this is that in the first trimester
there is a fairly high tendency for spontaneous miscarriage and this could in principle be exacerbated by yoga (although, as far as I know, there is no evidence for this).
Possibly a mid-wife or an expert pregnancy yoga teacher might be able to give a better explanation.
I would avoid the legs of cowface pose during pregnancy (unless guided by a yoga pregnancy expert) for two reasons. One is the opening of the sacro-iliac joint that occurs
which it is generally inappropriate to actively encourage during pregnancy and for a while following the birth. (It may in some circumstances be helpful in a therapeutic sense –
but in that case one would want to be guided by an appropriate expert.) The reason is that during pregnancy hormones are released to encourage a softening and opening of
joints, particularly those of the pelvic girdle area, to facilitate the enlargement of the passageway for the baby during the birth. This makes the joints and associated ligaments
very vulnerable to over-opening, and over-stretching.
Another issue to consider is that, in the later stages of pregnancy, the womb starts to press against the inferior vena cava (main vein in the trunk) and the aorta (main artery).
This has implications for blood circulation to and from the legs. It is thus unwise to leave the legs in positions where circulation is relatively restricted - with risks of discomfort,
tiredness (in legs) and an increased likelihood, over the long term, of getting varicose veins or tissue fluid issues (oedema) in the legs. So I would suggest opting for a loose
cross-legged position (Easy pose) and to move the legs regularly to straight and then cross them the other way.