As we embrace fall, a season of change, our yoga can often reflect the shifts we encounter off the mat. Since we can’t always control what life tosses our way, the next best thing is in how we respond to the shift. As yogis, we know that in many cases it can be easier to go with the flow rather than fight every step of the way. The standing balance, Half Moon Pose, or Ardha Chandrasana, is a perfect example of the unique balance one has to incorporate to navigate the twists and turns of life during this time of year.
Mind Over Matter
When I first approached this pose, I thought of my years as a tennis player. That link may sound surprising, but bear with me. On the court, I knew it was not just athleticism that would help me win, but rather mind over matter. The most nerve-racking moments I remember came when I was near the net and had an opportunity for an overhead shot. This was when my mind usually did a number on my courage; I’d be racked with an unrelenting tidal wave of doubt, second-guessing and fear of missing what I deemed an easy shot. And when I succumbed to this mental avalanche, more often than not I blew it. If my yoga teacher-self went back in time to see my how my body looked at those critical moments, I’m sure it was either a case of my chest being too closed off with shoulders slumped, chest withdrawn so that the ball would go straight into the net as soon as I hit it, or it would be the other case, where my upper body and racket would be too open and ungrounded so that when racket connected with ball, it would sail way past the baseline. I either didn’t commit enough energy or was overzealous. I hadn’t mastered that fine balance in the middle.
Half Moon Pose similarly invites you to confront your own measure of trust and courage. If you don’t commit enough energy and focus to the pose, you will not be able to find the freedom within it. Yet, if you open up without grounding, you can topple over with such overenthusiasm. Ultimately, without equal parts expansiveness and centering this balancing pose can be frustrating, however, if we incorporate a sense of adventure coupled with self-awareness, this is a pose that can make you feel like you reached the highest mountain peak, or in my case, successfully slammed that elusive overhead shot.
The Half Moon Pose Warm-Up
Start with a series of 3 Sun Salutations A (Surya Namaskar A) followed by 3 Sun Salutations B (Surya Namaskar B). Then enjoy 1 or 2 rounds of a standing sequence that begins with Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2) moves to an Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana), then Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana) and into Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana). This particular sequence opens the hips, lengthens the side waist as well as strengthens the legs, all components you’ll need in Half Moon Pose. Pay attention to the breath; spend 3-5 breaths in each pose and let each breath gracefully lead you into the next pose like an artful dance. Do both sides.
Getting Into Half Moon Pose
In Extended Side Angle with your right leg in front, reach your fingers far out and place your fingertips on the floor or on a yoga block about a foot past your right baby toe. Your front knee may move forward toward your toes as you find your ideal hand placement. Bring your left hand to your hip and keep your chest open and slightly turned skyward. Start to bring more weight into the right foot, and firm up the back leg as though you’re pushing off the floor. With the front knee bent, let the back foot hover a few inches above the floor and flex it. Once you’ve found a steadiness here, recommit to firming up your back leg as you straighten the front leg. Be careful not to hyperextend the standing leg. Once you’re in the pose, your top hand can stay at your hip or reach up to the sky until the arms align in a T. If there is no strain in your neck, you can gaze towards the thumb in the lifted hand to help maintain focus.
Fine-Tuning Half Moon Pose
- Stack your bones to cultivate ease: Much like the poses in the warm-up standing sequence, your top hip stacks over the bottom hip as though your back was pressed up against an imaginary wall. Your shoulders also mimic this stacking so your chest slightly spirals up to the sky as you lean back.
- Engage both legs to maneuver confidently within the pose: Externally rotate the standing leg as though you’re trying to turn your leg toward the imaginary wall behind you. Keep the knee in line with the midline of your foot. Internally rotate the lifted leg as though you’re trying to point your knee towards the floor and keep the foot flexed.
- Enjoy long lines on all sides: As your breastbone moves forward to lengthen the front body, the tail bone moves toward the back lifted heel to lengthen the back body. At the fullest expression of this pose, both arms are extended to a T and externally rotated with shoulder blades moving towards the waist. The collar bones stay wide to invite spaciousness into the chest. As you would in Triangle, lengthen the side waist on the bottom by moving your arm pit further away from the hip while keeping the shoulders stacked and away from the ears. This will also encourage your ribs to hug in toward the sides of your spine.
- Find balance through opposing actions: This is an omnidirectional pose; you’re spreading yourself out in all directions. However, you’re also drawing energy to your center to maintain the stability in the posture. As the top of your head moves forward, the heel of your back foot presses backward. Ground your standing foot evenly on the floor and keep your torso and top arm buoyant, yet firm.
Finishing Half Moon Pose
Spend a 3-5 breaths in this pose before stepping the back foot down. Feel free to counter the pose with another Reverse Warrior, perhaps straighten the front leg to stretch the hips out again before moving to the second side. To close the practice, enjoy 2-3 backbends like Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) followed by some gentle supine twists before ending with a decent stint in your final resting pose, Corpse (Savasana). May you enjoy freedom and grounding this fall season!