Dynamic balance: Half Moon Pose
—by Charlotte Bell
Some schools of yoga teach that it’s best not to practice during 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; we are more likely to challenge ourselves to the point of injury. During the new moon, our energies tend to slow down. It is a natural time to rest.
According to this lunar-centered philosophy, the middle of the moon cycle is the optimum time to practice. It is the time when our energies are naturally balanced between extremes.
This month’s pose is named for that dynamic balance. Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana) balances strong, active rooting with lightness and expansion. The shape of the pose suggests that it’s all about expansion. 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. Half Moon Pose just demonstrates it more dramatically than most.
This pose 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, it builds balance and stability.
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 (see inset). 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 and extend it out from your pelvis. Slowly straighten your right knee, pressing your right foot 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 foot, expand your torso and both arms and legs.
Inhale into your abdomen, sending your inhalation out into all your limbs. After five or 10 breaths, 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. 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 Half Moon Pose with your back against a wall where 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.