Some schools of yoga teach that it’s best not to practice on the two ends of the moon’s cycle—the full and new moons. The theory is that because our bodies are mostly made of water, like the tides of the ocean, the tides of our cells shift with the phases of the moon. During the full moon, our energies tend to rise—have you ever had trouble sleeping on a full moon night? When our energies are higher, we are more likely to challenge ourselves to the point of injury. During the new moon, our energies tend to slow down. We feel less inclined to physical activity, making it a natural time to rest.
According to this lunar-centered philosophy, the middle of the moon cycle—the half moon—is the optimum time to practice. It is the time when our energies are naturally balanced between the extremes—high and low, fast and slow, firm and soft, steady and easy, which happens to coincide with the one instruction about physical practice offered by the Yoga Sutras: Sutra 2.46: “The physical posture should be steady and comfortable.”
This month’s pose is named for that dynamic balance. Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) balances strong, active rooting with lightness and expansion. The shape of the pose suggests that it’s all about expansion, and in a way, it is. But expansion comes from establishing a stable foundation.
Every one of yoga’s asanas contains this dynamic balance, because some part of your body is on the ground and the rest of it is above—unless you’re levitating, of course. So Ardha Chandrasana is not so different from any other asana in that respect; it just demonstrates it more dramatically than most.
Ardha Chandrasana strengthens your legs and abdomen, while it stretches your hamstrings, calves and shoulders. It both strengthens and lengthens the spine. The pose expands your chest, freeing your breath. It is therapeutic for stress, digestive issues, anxiety and fatigue. Finally, Ardha Chandrasana builds balance and stability.
Practicing Ardha Chandrasana
Stand on a nonskid mat with your feet a leg length apart. Turn your right leg out 90 degrees so that the center of your knee, thigh and ankle are aligned with each other. Turn your left leg and foot inward, allowing your pelvis to turn inward until you feel a solid rooting through your left foot. Move into Trikonasana. Take a few deep breaths into your navel area, expanding your breath out into your head, tailbone, arms and legs.
Now place your left hand on your hip and shift your weight forward into your right leg. Place your right hand on a block about a foot in front of and a little to the outside of your right foot. Lift your left leg off the floor and extend it out from your pelvis. Slowly straighten your right knee, pressing your right foot down into the floor. If your balance is shaky, look at the floor and focus on grounding both your right leg and right hand. If and when you feel stable, turn your chest to face forward and extend your left arm to vertical. As you actively ground your right hand and right foot expand your torso and both arms and legs.
Inhale into your abdomen, sending your inhalation out into all your limbs. After five or ten breaths, begin to bend your right knee. Keeping your weight over the right leg, extend the left leg out behind you, continuing to lower your body down until your left foot comes to the floor. Return to Trikonasana for a breath or two, and on an inhalation, rise up to standing.
Do not try to stack the left side of your pelvis directly over the right side in Half Moon Pose. This popular alignment instruction is not compatible with the way most people’s hip joints and sacroiliac joints are constructed and can cause instability and even joint damage down the road. Instead, rotate your rib cage to create expansion.
Stay inside your edge, at least to start. At the edge, our bodies lock up physically. There are few choices for intelligent movement. If you don’t go to your absolute edge in the pose, your body will be much more suggestible to the movements created by your breath, and to any microadjustments you might want to make to refine your alignment.
If balance eludes you at the moment, and even if it doesn’t, try practicing Ardha Chandrasana with your back against a wall. When you eliminate the possibility of losing balance, you can focus more on the expansive nature of the pose. My students love this variation because they can experiment more freely with the relationship between grounding and expansion, and then take that kinesthetic imprint with them when they practice in the middle of the room.
Be aware of how your intentions for practice shift as the moon moves through its cycle. Then adjust the way you practice yoga to create dynamic balance. This might mean practicing with greater care during the full moon, or taking a day off from your mat on new moon days. Dynamic balance happens moment to moment. Your body will tell you what it needs. Be present for it.