Get Strong and Shine On: Half Moon Pose

Once you find balance in Half Moon Pose, radiate and extend in all directions to strengthen your legs, hips, and core.
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Once you find balance in Half Moon Pose, radiate and extend in all directions to strengthen your legs, hips, and core.
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The Sanskrit word chandra refers to the brilliance of the moon. In a pose like Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), the extension of your torso in one direction and the uplifted leg in the other draws a line that represents the flat edge of a half moon, while the energy in your extended arms and standing leg radiate out like beams in the night sky. Half Moon Pose is a great asana for learning how to balance and grow awareness in what can at first seem a disorienting position. The pose can also ease lower-back problems, relieving sacrum pain, sciatica pain, and lumbar aches. Note, though, that Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) is both the entrance and the exit to Ardha Chandrasana, so you'll need to be comfortable with that pose first. Because of the external rotation of the standing leg, opening of the chest, and lateral extension of the spine, Ardha Chandrasana is like a balancing version of Triangle, and you may just find that your Triangle improves because of Half Moon.

The idea of "radiating out" in a balancing pose may sound out of reach. But I've found that if you concentrate on creating stability in your standing leg, hip, shoulder blades, and tailbone, you'll have a strong foundation from which to extend and expand in all directions. The variations here will help you build that foundation so you can balance with confidence and shine in all directions. In the first variation, with your back against the wall, you can experience the shape of the pose without having to struggle to keep your balance; in the second variation, you'll focus on the stretch of the torso and top leg in opposite directions. In the final pose, you can put all of the components together, so that with strength and stability, you can stretch and expand like a brilliant moon.

Pose Benefits:

  • Helps with some kinds of lower back pain
  • Strengthens back, legs, hips, and abdomen
  • Increases flexibility of spinal muscles
  • Eases premenstrual tension

Contraindications:

  • Recent hip or knee replacement
  • Osteoporosis
  • High blood pressure or eye strain (avoid looking up)

The Great Wall

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Doing this pose with your back against a wall gives you a chance to feel the shape without much of the challenge of balancing, allowing you to work on the proper alignment and the muscle actions in the legs, hips, back, and shoulders. The wall can also alleviate any fear of falling backward, and thus build confidence in the pose.
For this variation I recommend using a block for your hand. The block is helpful if you have a stiff back or tight hamstrings. It essentially raises the floor so that you can lift your torso and experience the lightness and sense of expansion of Ardha Chandrasana.

To begin, stand with your back against a sturdy wall. Step your feet wide apart, place a block in between the outer edge of the right foot and the wall, and extend your arms to the sides. Turn your right foot and leg out 90 degrees so that the inner edge of the foot is parallel to the wall. Turn the left toes in slightly, but keep the back of your left heel in contact with the wall. Exhale and extend the torso over your right leg, place your right hand on the block, and come into Triangle Pose. Bend the right leg deeply, and step your left foot halfway toward the right foot as you move the right hand and block about a foot (or more if you're tall) forward. Straighten and firm the left leg and keep the right leg bent as you lift the left leg up until the foot is slightly above the pelvis. Turn your right knee out, aiming for the right foot's little toe, as you pull the quadriceps up and straighten the right leg.

Press your left thighbone and heel into the wall. Extend the back of your left heel along the wall away from your head as you lengthen your chest away from the left heel. Roll the shoulders back and extend the left arm up in line with the right arm.

Do you feel light and free? Or have you relaxed the muscles, collapsed the chest, and bent the standing knee in order to balance? To radiate extension, inhale as you lengthen your tailbone and buttock toward the left foot. Turn your chest toward the ceiling and the left side of the waist toward the wall. Your head and left shoulder, arm, and heel should be on the wall. Your right buttock may be touching too, but don't lean it on the wall.

To come out of the pose, exhale and bend the right knee deeply. Now reach back with the left leg to place the left foot back down on the floor. Put your right hand on your right ankle and straighten both legs, returning to Utthita Trikonasana. Come up on the inhalation, and repeat on your left side.

Moving Up and Out

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In this variation, the wall does not aid with balance as much as it gives the raised foot something to press into, which helps bring more life into your uplifted leg and align it with the spine. Stand with the outer edge of your left foot against the wall and step your feet apart so that the distance between them is a little less than it would be for Triangle. Your body is perpendicular to the wall this time, not leaning against it. Turn the right foot 90 degrees away from the wall. Place a block on the outside of your right foot. With your right hand on the block and right knee bent, step the left foot forward toward the right foot, and move the block forward 12 inches or more. Then raise the left leg and place the sole of the left foot on the wall. Rest your left hand on your left hip with your elbow bent.

Take a look at both legs to make sure you're set up properly. The left foot should be a little higher than the left side of the pelvis and parallel to the floor, with the arch in line with the right heel. The right leg should be perpendicular to the floor. If it's not, you may need to step your right foot closer to or farther from the wall. Finally, take the back of your head in line with your buttocks.

Once you're set up, bend both knees. Turn your right thigh out so that your kneecap points over the right toes. On the inhalation, pull your right kneecap and quadriceps up as you straighten your right leg, maintaining the rotation. Now push your left foot into the wall and straighten the left leg by pressing the front of the thigh back. As you lengthen the left Achilles tendon and inner heel into the wall with the foot flexed, lengthen the entire backside of the left leg from the buttocks toward the wall. Now extend your chest and torso away from the wall.

Then, once again, bend the right knee and turn the right leg out as you lengthen both buttocks toward the wall, away from your head. Straighten the right knee, keeping the buttocks and outer right thigh turning toward the wall as you pull the right thigh muscles up from the knee to the hip. Repeating this will help train and strengthen your legs and hips, so that instead of sinking into your hip and knee, your joints support the lift of the spine. Move your shoulder blades forward into the chest, inhale, and revolve your chest toward the ceiling. If you feel balanced, turn your head to look up.

You can hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute; to come down, exhale and bend the right leg, step the left foot back to the floor at the wall, and straighten both legs before standing up. Now turn around and repeat on the other side.

On Your Own

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When you do the final pose without the support of a wall, you'll combine the alignment of the back body that you learned in the first variation with the alignment of the uplifted leg that you learned in the second. The back of the body needs to be strong to support you as the wall did. The standing leg and its hip and the shoulder blades need to be firm to help you balance.

Begin by coming into Utthita Trikonasana. Then enter the pose as you did for the variations. As you inhale, extend the left leg fully and look straight ahead (not at the floor), with your chin in line with your breastbone. Lengthen the chest to the right so that the right armpit comes directly over the right hand.

Keeping your left leg absolutely straight and your inner left thigh firm, inhale and lift your left leg up toward the ceiling. Reach out from your inner left thigh through your inner heel, broaden the bottom of the left foot, and extend the entire backside of your left leg. Start with your foot flexed, and then press out through your big toe.

Balance the weight evenly on all four corners of your right foot, turn the right leg out, and pull the quadriceps up as you straighten the right leg. Refine the work of the standing leg by cutting your outer right hip, buttock, and tailbone back away from your head without throwing the left leg forward or back.

Now extend your torso to the right as you lengthen the right armpit forward away from the right thigh. Inhale and extend the left arm up toward the ceiling; use the pull of the left arm to draw the left side of the chest up and away from the right arm. Move the shoulder blades in toward your chest, and open your chest as you turn your trunk toward the ceiling. As you inhale, roll both shoulders back, the way you did when you had the wall behind you, and revolve your chest upward. If you feel stable, turn your head to look up at the top hand. With your legs, hips, spine, and shoulders aligned, you can elongate your lower back by lengthening your top leg and your torso away from one another.

To come out of the pose, bend your right knee deeply and reach back with the left leg to take a large step back with the left foot. Straighten the right leg and return to Utthita Trikonasana. Repeat on the other side. See if you can maintain some of the opening from Half Moon Pose at the end in Triangle so that the radiating quality of firmness and expansion of Ardha Chandrasana becomes accessible in all of your yoga asanas.

Marla Apt is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher.