Combining the Sanskrit words Go or ‘cow’, Mukha meaning ‘face’, and asana or ‘posture’, Gomukhasana is a yoga posture that can take a while to find any sense of ‘comfort’ in, but one that also holds lessons far beyond what the eye can see.
Anyone with notoriously ‘tight’ hips, or the skeletal anatomy that means hip-focussed asanas are especially challenging will be aware of the difficulty Gomukhasana or ‘cow face pose’ can present. Just as the practice of yoga is entirely unique and personal to everyone, this asana is very much a unique experience for the individual. Gomukhasana does indeed require us to be honest, and to meet ourselves exactly where we are. Mobile hips and flexible muscles may allow some people to sink effortlessly into the posture, whilst many people who have spent years sitting on a chair or who regularly do actions like running or cycling may find gomukasana a literal pain-in-the-asana…..
The Sacred Cow
In India and Nepal, the cow is considered a sacred animal, and dairy cows especially are referred to as aghyna or ‘that which may not be slaughtered’, adhering to the philosophical aspect of ahimsa or ‘non harming’ found in both Hinduism, Buddhism and many yogic texts. For centuries, humans have relied upon cows for agriculture and sustenance, and in some of the oldest yogic texts like the Puranas, its said the earth-goddess Prithvi was born in the form of a cow. Other stories in Hindu mythology include Kamadhenu, the ‘miraculous cow of plenty’, and large parts of the East regard cows as a symbol of prosperity, non-violence, peace and a connection to earth energy. The cow is essentially seen as a sacred and humble being, and by bringing this sense of peace, sacredness and humility to the posture itself, we can start to see how knowing the meaning behind a posture can create a profoundly new experience of it.
Other than providing more mobile hips and therefore more mobility in the spine and legs, Gomukhasana teaches every practitioner to be humble, to move peacefully, and to meet the body exactly where it is today. Travel upwards from the hips, and the arm position of Gomukhasana asks us to find some sense of humble honesty or in Sanskrit; satya once again. Rarely will every person in a class have the ability to clasp both hands together in a ‘picture-perfect’ expression of the posture, and this is an important lesson in honesty and humbleness itself. If you have a yoga belt, this is the perfect opportunity to use it.
Choosing The Road Of Honesty
When we find difficulty in a posture, there are two roads we can choose to travel down; the road of perpetual struggle and force, which often leads to pain, or we can choose the road of presence, honesty, and the willingness to find our own expression of each posture. Choosing the road of honesty or satya and self- expression, rather than trying to match a pose in a magazine, requires us to let go of the outcome, to be who we are, rather than what we think we should be. Ultimately though, isn’t this what yoga is all about – the ability to be your true self? Very often, being yourself in a posture means using a prop or two (or three, or four…..), it means doing what feels right instead of what looks aesthetically pleasing. It means preventing injury and cultivating a sustainable, life-long yoga practice.
So take a look around the room next time you’re practicing Gomukhasana in a yoga class. Look at the difference between each person and the uniqueness of their posture, the multitude of expressions (not just on faces), but the honest expressions of their own personal yoga practice. Observe the use of props, the blankets and belts, the tools for finding your expression of an asana. Observe the sacredness of each unique yoga practice, observe whether you’re able to approach your own practice with honesty, and feel the peace that comes when we meet ourselves exactly where we are.
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