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I remember being in India and BKS Iyengar (then in his nineties) jumping up in the middle of one of the classes while his daughter was teaching Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose). In this pose, the hand on the ground is usually a few inches in front of the forward leg foot (also on the ground). This relationship helps provide stability in the pose. If one were to keep the hand in line with the forward leg foot, that would make the pose significantly harder. Well, that’s exactly what Mr. Iyengar asked us to do. He was having us do a variation of the pose that challenged our ability to balance even more. Now we were learning how to be stable in more than one limb orientation of the pose. How marvelous! Because life is like that. There is always some variable that is unexpected. Does it throw you off balance? If it does, how might you find your equilibrium, and return to stability?
Very often, Mr. Iyengar would use props or a variation of a pose to help make the seemingly impossible feel more possible. In doing so, a pathway was created within our nervous system—a pathway to possibility. So it wasn’t a question of can we or can’t we, it was a question of how might we.
He would also (as in the Ardha Chandrasana example) make poses more challenging by varying them in some way. This was another way of waking us up, of growing new pathways and connections within ourselves, so that we could be stable and fluid in the variety of unpredictable circumstances that life presents. These variations were not impossible, but challenging enough to allow for a fresh awakening. We stretched more than our muscles—we stretched our intelligence and our sense of what was possible. The practice was about delving into the process of how we learn and how we grow, not about perfecting a performance.
Try This Parighasana Variation of Ardha Chandrasana
The variation of Ardha Chandrasana shown in the photo above is basically an inverted Parighasana (Gate Pose). It provides a wonderful balance challenge by requiring a truly stable base as the sides of the trunk, spine, and head flow toward the floor. Flip the image and imagine you are kneeling on the aerial leg with your trunk and arms elongating toward the straight leg. Do you see Parighasana? Try it, and observe how, though the shape of the pose and joint configurations are similar, the body’s relationship to gravity changes how things work.
1. From Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle) move into Ardha Chandrasana by bending your right leg and shifting your weight from both legs to only the right hand and right leg. Pull up the muscles of your right leg and keep the outer right hip and buttock firm. Press out through your left heel as if you were pressing your leg into a wall.
2. With an exhalation, reach your left arm over your head as you slowly allow the sides of your trunk to elongate down toward the floor. Keep the muscles of your hips and buttocks engaged. Then bend your left leg at the knee as if you were kneeling on it in Parighasana. Allow your head and neck to relax so that the crown of your head points more and more toward the floor. Can you feel the Parighasana in this variation of Ardha Chandrasana? How does it feel different than the classic version of Parighasana?
3. Now bend your right leg and slowly move out of Ardha Chandrasana into Utthita Parvakonasana (extended side angle), then back to Utthita Trikonasana. Inhale and come up.