New city = new yoga studios. I’ve been running around checking out different studios in my pocket of Brooklyn looking for places to practice and teach – and yes, it’s still nerve-wracking for me to walk into a new studio with teachers and staff I don’t know! So far, everything has been going well, though I don’t have anything set yet! For whatever reason, gomukhasana (cow-face pose) has been showing up in almost every class I’ve taken! I’m going to tackle the arms today. The legs part of this pose is extremely challenging from a structural perspective if you have a lot of thigh flesh, so I usually skip it and just sit in “ankles to knees” pose, which you can find in my pigeon alternatives post. You can prop it, but it’s kind of a pain in the butt – pun totally intended.
Anyways, back to the matter at hand. Gomukhasana arms are one of many yoga “binds” where you arrange your arms so that you can clasp your hands behind you in a particular way. Binds are particularly challenging for those of us with larger or wider bodies because we simply have farther to reach! Whether you are able to actually get your hands to meet is not even necessarily a matter of flexibility as much as a matter of the ratio of your arm length to the distance you need to cover such as your shoulder girdle in today’s pose or around your thigh in bound extended side angle for example. I almost always need a little help in binds because my arms are relatively short and my body is relatively wide.
So what do I do when a teacher says we are going to bind a pose or work on gomukhasana? I grab a strap. The strap makes my arms longer and gives me something to securely grab on to so I can get the benefits of the stretch from the bind. In many classes, teachers will have everyone use a strap in gomukhasana because being able to grab your hands together is really a function of structure as much as flexibility, which is nice. But even if your teacher doesn’t offer the variation, it always pays to have a strap handy. Even if you might be able to meet your hands eventually (I can sometimes just grab my hands together on one side), the strap allows you to experiment with control and helps you avoid straining as you work on the pose. This is a powerful shoulder and chest opener so you want to approach it carefully.
Here’s how to set yourself up:
1. Sit in whatever seated position is comfortable for you. In these photos, I’m demonstrating with my right hand on top so place your yoga strap (or belt, or sturdy ribbon or whatever you have on hand) over your left shoulder. Raise your right arm up in the air. Then bend your right arm at the shoulder joint so that your right hand in looking for your upper, middle back.
2. Reach your left arm out to the side, straight and flip your palm to face the back of the room. Then bend your left arm at the elbow and reach for the yoga strap. Once you’ve got your arms in place it might take a little wiggling, but you should be able to grab the strap with both hands – your right hand will be higher and your left will be lower.
At this point, the stretch might be intense enough, thank you very much, or if you aren’t feeling too much, you might try to slowly walk your hands a bit closer together. Once you’ve decided where to stop, press your head into your right forearm and your right forearm into your head. You don’t want to be pitched forward with a rounded spine – if you are, you’ll want to back off a bit and widen your hands again.
If you’d like a little extra challenge here, you can try folding forward with a more or less flat back here – but only if your shoulders and lower back feel ok. If not, stay upright and enjoy this very intense stretch! Make sure you repeat on the other side so you are even! This is a great opening for your shoulders, chest and upper back. If you sit at a computer all day, this one is definitely for you. Just remember to be gentle with yourself and that there is no extra prize at the end of practice for getting your hands to touch!
*PS – don’t forget about my private yoga session sale! Sign up by filling out the contact form here.