A very English Yogi has been practicing an asana that tickles him (literally and metaphorically speaking). It’s an arm and leg twister, and is known by the name of Gomukhasana. Most people refer to it as the ‘cow face’ pose typically because when you are in it’s final position, from the front it looks a bit like a cows face. I love the whole repertoire of ‘animal yoga’ which are a bunch of poses and postures that are a direct copy of animal moves. If you are a dog owner you’ll know what I mean when I say “downward dog”.
When I get into this posture I find that it seems to clear my head or mind; and somehow I feel more energised. I know that the inner winds often get clogged up around the hips and the shoulders. So I think that this position probably helps to unblock the blockages and allow the inner winds to flow more. This in turn calms the mind and eases the cittas from vritting. (To paraphrase the great sage Patanjali, cittas are of course thoughts, and vritting, is the relentless, and restless turning of the thoughts in our mind).
On a more mundane level, for most people who drive a great deal, sit daily at desks, spend their evening sitting on sofas watching TV, or typing at computers, the hips and the shoulders are classic tension points. So this exercise even on the level of just helping to loosen you up, has to be worth a go.
Good old yoga journal has the exercise well described here: so you can explore it in some detail. Sooner or later I will start posting the pose from my perspective but for now ‘good old yoga journal’ is going to have to suffice. All the usual yoga books have it too – it’s a classic yoga asana so you should be able to track it down. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga provides a very good description. It goes way back in the lineages of yoga.
It is referenced in at least two key yogi texts if you are interested in those yoga lineages: the Gheranda Samhita and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika – so it goes back a way. I am doing some research on the history and development of lots of poses and this is one I am exploring more deeply because it is so interesting.
Interestingly, the cow is sacred in the land of Yoga, and I can’t help thinking that there is more than a passing connection with the cow head name- perhaps like it’s namesake, the pose is fairly sacred. And perhaps that is what the “light headed pose” name is all about. Of course, the posture appears to work on loosening the sacrum (which is the triangular-like bone in the lower back between the two hipbones). And the sacrum has been regarded itself, as a holy or sacred bone, because in history, it apparently could not be destroyed and was regarded as literally the seat of fertility, being situated in the loins. So that’s the sacrum bit..What about the light headed bit?
Well, the Druid, one of my good albeit slightly off kilter friends (you can read about him elsewhere on the blog), describes the pose as a bit of nut cracker…for men…and that is why it can make you light headed. Laughing aside, I think that the term “light headed pose” is linked not to the light headedness of being twisted or straining, but rather the clarity of mind that happens when the inner winds flow and the energy is flowing through the body, from sacrum to head. It’s definitely one to explore further: so if you have any ideas please do write a comment to share.
The thing that I love most about yoga is that it is only by practicing that you can experience the benefits of yoga: you can’t theorise – you have to practice – so why not have a go? Try to observe the effect on limbs and mind, energy and thought.
Interestingly, I have has never practiced this asana in a field of cows. I wonder what their reaction would be? Next time I’m on a walk and see a field of cows I’ll investigate.. who knows where this will lead?!