This is one of my favourite poses, but for many people it’s a struggle. Difficulty in this pose is usually due to either tight hips, restriction in the knees, or both. Not every pose is for every body, but there are usually modifications we can take to make a pose more accessible for our unique structure.
Start by crossing your right leg over your outstretched left leg. Try to lay your right knee down on the left leg, with the outside edge of your foot touching the ground (not the sole). Then try bending your left leg and placing the outer edge of the foot on the sole of the mat. Aim for your knees to be stacked vertically, even if there is a gap.
At this point, any pain in your left knee is a warning to straighten that leg and just take half Gomukhasana. Pain in both knees is your cue to take a different version – on your back will be less intense for the knees.
If your knees are happy, you can then choose to either keep your torso upright, or to increase the stretch in the outer hip, fold forward slowly. Stay for 5-10 breaths if taking an active or yang approach, such as in a Vinyasa Flow class. If you are taking a Yin approach, allow the muscles to soften and relax, and be mindful not to put too much weight or pressure on the knees.
You have several options for your arms. For the traditional version, reach one arm up (your right arm when the right leg is on top) and then bend at the elbow to bring the hand between your shoulder blades with elbow pointing up. Then reach your left arm down behind you, bending at the elbow to reach the left hand up to hook fingers with the right ones. If you cannot reach, hold onto your top or use a strap. Don’t force it! Avoid pulling your head and neck forward.
Alternatively, you can take Eagle (Garudasana) arms: wrap the left arm under the right, bending both elbows and bringing either the palms or backs of the hands to touch. Raise the elbows to shoulder height for a nice stretch along the back of the right shoulder.
A simpler approach is to walk the hands forward and keep them on the ground to support your weight. Pushing in to the hands will push your weight back into the hips rather than the knees, a good idea if your knees are feeling sensitive.
Remember that your left side might be completely different, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Notice any tendency to label as a “good” side or a “bad” side, and try to reframe as merely your tighter side versus your more open side.