For the past few years, I have been enjoying using the phases of the Moon as a guide to my practice. During a New Moon, I practice restorative postures; First Quarter Moon, standing postures; Full Moon, backbends; and Last Quarter Moon, forward bends. This concept was introduced to me by Peter Harley, my teacher from Yarraville Yoga.
During my pregnancy with Isla (who is almost one now!), my practice morphed to reflect the needs of Isla and I. We spent more time walking the sandy, white beaches in Brunz, practicing a Tai Chi-Yoga blend, while meditating on the rhythms of the ocean and our breathing. My desire to practice strong standing postures and backbends waned, as I felt more of a need to become soft and relaxed. This also meant that my rhythmic connection with the moon, and it’s guiding phases, dropped to the way side. However, each Full Moon’s passing was observed and counted. I was pregnant for ten beautiful moons in Australia. Two weeks after the tenth moon, Isla was born.
Since Isla’s birth, ten Moons passed before I felt ready to start practicing in tune with the seasons of the Moon. Coincidently, a student inquired about whether I had been teaching classes reflecting the Moon Phases again, which up to that point, I hadn’t resumed doing.
With out getting too deep or philosophical about why we practice with the Moon, at the very least it helps connect us to a natural rhythm and provides guidance and symmetry to our practice. It can take an element of being in our ‘heads’ out of our practice (what should I practice today…let me think about this?), and can also help connect us to our greater yoga community (especially if others are also practicing in tune with the Moon). Those who practice Ashtanga Yoga generally do not practice when there is a New Moon or Full Moon, read Tim Miller’s take and interpretation on how the Moon cycle articulates a yogi’s practice http://www.ashtangayogacenter.com/moon.html .
I also find that using the Moon as a guide helps to maintain a well-rounded, monthly practice. It has been my observation that, as students of yoga, we often have movement preferences or bias patterns in our practice: maybe we focus overtly on forward bends, or standing postures, or (less commonly) on backbends, or inversions. Using the Moon Phases as a weekly guide, reminds us to let go of one series of postures and patterns and to move on working in another plane.
The Moon also allows us to draw our focus to different aspects of our breath. During a Full Moon, we work to bend backwards, creating more space at the front of our bodies for our lungs to expand and be Full. Conversely, during a New Moon, we work to be quiet and still, following the very bottom of our exhalation inwards, towards our intuitive selves. During a First Quarter Moon, we are beginning to inhale again, moving through the energetic and uplifting Spring time of our practice with standing postures. And finally, during a Last Quarter Moon, we are letting go of our breath, shedding our leaves and turning our senses on our selves with forward bends, moving again towards the quiet of winter and the dark Moon.
As a women, practicing with the Moon Phases can also honour and enhance the rhythm of our menstrual cycles. Once I started practicing with the Moon, I found it was not long before my cycle fell in tune with the New Moon, the week of restorative poses. This of course is naturally auspicious, as it honours the need to be restful during this time and enhances a more intuitive state of being. For older women, who have gone through menopause, practicing with the Moon is a way to maintain connection and acknowledge the joy of moving within a natural cycle; honoring and enjoying this rhythm, even after the realities of menstruating have passed. If, as you start to reflect on your own cycle and that of the Moon, you find that they are not energetically aligned, you have two options. One: you can still use the Moon phases to articulate your practice, but instead of practicing restoratives during the New Moon week, practice them to reflect your own cycle (as in, practice restoratives during your menstrual cycle, regardless of the Moon phase). After your week of restorative practices, move on to standing postures for a week, then backbends for a week, and finally forward bends for a week…before moving back to restoratives. This will have you following a Moon phase cycle to reflect your own personal micro climate. Your other option is to practice energetically in tune with the Moon and see if, over time, this naturally sways your menstrual cycle to flow in tune with the New Moon. Call it a mini experiment.
This Saturday is a New Moon. Considering practicing restorative postures, such as forward bending Sukhasana with a block or bolster under your forehead, or Supta Badha Konasana with blocks under your knees and a bolster under your spine (with space for your low back to be long and relaxed). Enjoy a practice of breathing in feeling deeply relaxed, and breathing out into blissful nothingness.