Balance Mind & Body: Half Moon


By Nikki Costello  |  

Named after the moon, the standing balance Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) invites you to tap into both the calm, balancing energy of the moon and the fiery force of the sun. In this pose, you discover how the coming together of two opposing energies generates a power that is greater than its separate parts.

In Half Moon Pose, two opposing movements are happening at once: You are rooting down into the earth with your standing leg while simultaneously lifting and extending your raised leg into space. The meeting of these two forces—rooting down and extending out—gives you the power to balance and suspend your spine and torso in midair. The pose teaches coordination and can help you understand the interdependence of the actions in your body. It can train you to stay focused and balanced during challenging moments of transition in asana practice.

Half Moon Pose can also help you develop strong legs and open hips. Many people have one leg that’s dominant and one that’s weaker, which can lead to postural imbalances. By learning to stand on one leg at a time in Half Moon Pose, you begin to strengthen both legs evenly. The standing leg is strengthened as it bears the weight of the body, with the outer thigh muscles engaging strongly. Meanwhile, the raised leg must work to stay suspended and parallel to the floor, requiring you to engage and lift from the inner thigh muscles and extend through the heel. Each leg gets toned as it does its individual task.

The key to lifting up into Half Moon Pose is to bring the individual work of both your legs into simultaneous action. The movement originates with the weight shift (see Step 1), which takes the weight of the torso forward over the standing leg and front arm and helps to develop more steadiness when you lift into the pose.

Start by bending your standing leg without lifting the back leg off the floor. Use your whole arm for balance as well, moving the weight of your body forward so it is directly over your front hand and foot. Stay there for a few breaths, allowing the intensity to build in the standing leg until you start to feel solid and stable. Then, press down through the ball and heel of the foot as you direct the center of your kneecap toward the toes. Be sure to turn and open the outer thigh enough to maintain that direction of the knee; otherwise, you may start to waver and lose your balance. Lastly, keep your leg steady as you revolve the shoulders, chest, and abdomen upward.

Half Moon Pose calls for openness in the pelvis and chest. Using the wall for support (see Step 2) will give you a chance to explore this expansion more completely and experience a full opening. While still actively engaging the standing leg, you are able to use less effort to raise the lifted leg higher because the wall is there to hold you. Extend and stretch both legs and arms, and then turn your abdomen and chest upward. Don’t fall back or collapse onto the wall, but use it to sense how much you can open. You may only need to have the back of the raised heel against the wall.

In Half Moon Pose, you are bringing together opposing energies. To do this requires coordination. As you raise the lifted leg, straighten the standing leg at the same speed. Practice rising and descending simultaneously. Work strongly in both directions: Press down as you lift up and reach out. Keep pressing down and keep reaching out. Stay with it and you may come to a moment when you feel you are suspended in the air, balancing with ease. Explore how much you are able to free the chest and turn the trunk open without losing your stability.

As you practice Half Moon Pose, hold the image of the moon rising with grace and ease from the horizon. Allow the coolness of its rays to suffuse your mind in a cool, calm, and steady balance.

Tune in to the Moon

The soothing energy of the moon is as necessary in our lives as the sun’s heat and light. When you need drive and determination, you tap into sun energy. At other times, calming lunar energy is a more balanced response to circumstances. The practice is learning when to employ each: when to cool down ambition, and when to turn up the heat.

Step 1: Half Moon Pose, Preparation

Get grounded for liftoff by shifting your weight forward.

 

Set It Up

1. Stand with your feet together.

2. Jump your legs wide apart, and extend your arms to a T position.

3. Turn your left foot slightly inward and your right foot and leg outward.

4. Exhale, and bend your torso to the side, bringing your right hand to your shin and your left hand to your hip.

5. Begin to bend your right knee and shift your right hand forward, placing it a little to the outside of your foot.

Refine: Bend the front leg a little deeper and let your left foot glide along the floor behind you. Continue to move forward until your armpit and shoulder are directly over your wrist. Keep the right hand cupped and the elbow fully extended to strengthen the fingers, wrists, and arms. Keep your right leg bent and your kneecap pointed toward the toes, with your left foot just barely touching the floor.

Finish: To establish steadiness, press down through the right foot and fingertips. Maintain a strong base and turn the chest upward until the left shoulder is directly over the right one. Explore this turning motion without letting the standing leg or arm waver from the grounding action.

Step 2: Half Moon Pose, Supported Variation

With support, learn to fully open your hips and chest.

Set It Up:

1. Stand with your back against a wall and set yourself up as you did in Step 1.

2. Place a block on the floor in front of your right foot.

3. Exhale, and bend to the right side, reaching your right hand to the block as you lift your left leg up.

4. Extend your left arm upward. Allow your left foot and hip and your head to rest against the wall.

Refine: Keep the right foot firmly planted, pressing through the heel and the big-toe mound. Firm the right leg, lifting the knee and pulling up the thigh. Press the left heel to the wall, and keep lifting the inner left leg from the upper thigh to the inner heel.

Finish: To widen the pelvis, lift the left side of your pelvis and revolve your abdomen and chest. Reach your left arm up along the wall, and widen your chest and collarbones. Extend your torso horizontally: lengthen the front of the body from your pubic bone toward the head and reach back with the inner left leg. Recognize the freedom and openness that come with support. Breathe smoothly and evenly.

Final Pose: Half Moon Pose
Set It Up

1. Set yourself up as you did in Step 1.

2. Exhale, and bend your torso to the right, bringing your right hand to the floor. Reach your left arm upward.

3. Bending your right knee, move your right arm and left leg to shift your weight forward.

4. Simultaneously lift the left leg as you straighten the right one.

Refine: Press down into the foot of the standing leg, especially the inner foot. Lift the outer thigh from the knee to the hip. Keep moving the outer hip deeper toward the midline of your body as you firm and lift the inner thigh of the raised leg. Keep lifting this leg until the raised side of the pelvis is directly over the underside. Extend the raised leg from the pelvis to the heel. With the elbow still bent, roll the shoulder back until the chest begins to turn upward as well.

Finish: Continue to turn the abdomen, and then extend the arm fully. Spread the collarbones and expand the chest. Breathe evenly and find balance.

Optimize Your Pose

Explore these modifications of Half Moon Pose:

Challenge your balance: Turn the abdomen and trunk upward, and then slowly turn your head to look at the raised hand.

Strengthen your legs: In the final pose, repeat the coordinated leg action several times by lifting up into the pose and lowering down.

Ease your lower back: While using the wall for support, rest the raised foot on a table. Extend the top arm alongside the raised leg.

Stabilize your shoulders: Extend the top arm along the torso as you roll both shoulders back and broaden your collarbones.

Elements Of Practice

How do you connect your yoga practice to what you do in your daily life? Your daily activities appear to stop and start with a clear beginning and end, giving you a compartmentalized experience of life. However, your awareness can be continuous. When you stay connected and present as you move from one thing to the next, you are practicing yoga in action. If you lose your balance and fall in a pose like Half Moon Pose, it calls your attention to refocusing and reconnecting with your breath. It’s the same way in daily life: When you get distracted, come back to your breath and to the present moment.

Watch a video demonstration of this pose.

Nikki Costello is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher living in New York City.