• Andrew Kelly


gomukhāsana cow-face pose ‘Yoke the right ankle to the side of the left buttuck and in the same way the left one to the right. Cowmouth (pose) has the form of a cow’s mouth’. Haṭha-pradīpika 1.20 Like all of the pose names, gomukhāsana is a noun compound, in this case of three elements:

go cow mukha mouth, face, beak, muzzle, spout, tip āsana sitting, pose, position, encampment Where vowels face each other across word boundary they fuse or otherwise interfere with each other. With mukha + āsana the result is a + ā = ā. In both speech and writing the gap between these words disappears. (Unmarked a is the short vowel and āits long version.)  The similarity of go and ‘cow’ is not an accident: they both derive from an original in Proto-Indoeuropean reconstructed as gwou. That initial consonant sound is found intact in none of the attested daughter languages and ends up taking various forms, often a b-sound. Latin for cow is bōs, bovis, source of beef and bovine. Bovine in Sanskrit is gavya. mukha, face, is a word brought into Sanskrit from a Dravidian language. āsana is ās- VERBAL CORE sit, remain unchanged + -ana ‘ing’ gomukha cow-face, cow-mouth, forms a compound by itself, rather like ‘birdbrain’ in English: ‘(someone) who has a brain like a bird’s’ and here ‘(a seated position) that is like the mouth of a cow.’  It is usually said the pose is so named because when viewed from above it looks like the head of a cow, with the knees like the snout and the feet sticking out to the rear like a cow’s ears. (The one time I checked I wasn’t entirely convinced.) But mukha is face rather than head and in particular the mouth: for birds it means beak and for domestic animals snout or muzzle. The 16th century Haṭha-pradīpika (‘light on haṭha’), which as is typical has just a single verse describing the pose, says only (1.20) ‘cow-face (pose) has the form of the cow’s mouth.’  Curiously, another meaning given in the dictionaries is wonky house construction, a building that is not level: this must refer to the sideways action of a cow chewing its cud (I’ve been watching youtube clips). Quite likely the first focus of the name is on the asymmetrical, slanted mounting of the knees. (Apologies to people struggling with their knees for highlighting this pose, which is so great into the lower back but can easily put excessive pressure into the knees—however we must all take care.)