movement breath stillness
Moon Day Rest and the Immeasurable Draw of Moonlight

Moon Day Rest and the Immeasurable Draw of Moonlight

Many of us are at least aware that as yoga practitioners we might do well to attend to the phases of the moon due to how it affects the energy in our bodies and therefore the energetics of practice. Whilst of course light pollution and our being more mesmerised by mobile phones than the moon have disrupted many rhythms – including for some their circadian sleep rhythms (which are also connected to the moon), it remains true that the moon, in its quiet way, and whether we notice it or not affects everything. 

When was the last time you went out to gaze at the moon? If you are in search of reconnection to a greater power then take a moment to go out and gaze at the moon. The moon orbits the earth relative to the sun in 29.5 days (roughly a calendar month). Whilst the earth takes just over 365 days to orbit the sun (a calendar year). So our whole notion of time is dictated by these celestial bodies and whilst you would burn your eyes looking directly at the sun, it is a gift to feel our insignificance in the grand scheme of life as we gaze up at the moon.

When I was a little girl my dad became obsessed with astronomy and spent about five years looking only up. He had a telescope and when there was a full moon or a planet in great view, he would stand us up on an orange milk crate so that we were tall enough to peep into the viewer and see the rings of Saturn or moons of Jupiter or the craters on our own moon. 

The Ancient Greek word for moon is mene, from which we get month (mensis) as well as menstruation, menarche and menopause because one month, one moon orbit and one menstrual cycle are roughly (though of course this is not true for all women) the same duration.  The etymological link also suggests that since ancient times there has been an understanding of this connection between measuring time in months, women’s menstrual cycles, and the moon. 

I will come to yogic bodies, but the moon also exerts gravitational influence on the sea’s tides – tide and time are also etymologically wed. As a surfer, I grew up excited for spring tides, which occur twice a month when the sun and moon come into conjunction at new moon (when the sun is between moon and earth) or opposition at full moon (when the earth is between moon and sun) and therefore the sun and moon’s gravitational forces are added together to great effect. Spring tides do just that, they spring forth and at my home break we would have such high tides that waves would crash up onto the beach car park. Neap tides had less tidal range; the gravitational forces were diminished by the sun and moon going out of these potent alignments. You could also surf at night on a clear full moon, a magical experience if you ever have the chance.

In yoga tradition the full moon is often associated with the fullness of the inhale and the energy of prāna – an expansive upward moving force in the body. This energy can be experienced as offering us full power, but can also make us more emotional and less grounded, possibly a little headstrong. The new moon energy is often associated with the exhalation and apāna – the downward force of energy in the body which can be grounding, but might also make us feel heavy and sluggish. 

Whilst these energetic forces might have some parallel with mighty sea tides, they map on with perfect elegance to how the sap (rasa in Sanskrit) of plants and trees are affected by the moon phases. Around the thin waning moon or new moon the light decreases and the sap is drawn down, focussing energy at the roots of the plant – a good time for pruning or harvesting. During a larger waxing moon or toward a full moon the sap is drawn up and this is a great time for sowing seeds or grafting. Like the plants and trees our rooting force – apāna– might be felt more in the waning and new moon time. Whilst our flowering force – prāna – might be felt more in the run up to and at full moon. 

In Indian tradition Chandra is the God of the moon, he is linked to Soma – the drink of the Gods and his relationship to Soma and rasa or sap links him to the vegetation Gods. Chandra literally means shining and brilliant. In the energy channels of the body, the left nostril is the lunar channel, Ida (meaning calming) and whilst Chandra is a male lunar God in this somatic experience the lunar is often linked to the Goddess and the divine feminine. Maybe this duality of identity reflects the dual nature of the moon’s being calming yet commanding.

There was a particularly large full moon on Tuesday the 1st of August (this month) as I returned home to have a month of quiet rest without my usual travel schedule. For many Ashtangis and other yoga practitioners too, the moon comes to signify rest as we often do subtler practices or rest on moon days (full and new moon) especially when we might be feeling the energetic shifts in our bodies. Don’t get me wrong, I do sometimes practise on moon days, but I do feel into the energetics and attempt to honour them in the practices I choose. This moon, I rested and for some time I stared at her, so heavy it looked like she wouldn’t be able to lift herself off the horizon.

I could always recognise the full and new moon, but I wasn’t able to identify the waxing or waning moons. In ‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver she explains that in Spanish the letter D from the word Dios (the fullness of God) is said to be reflected in the curve to the right of the letter D – the waxing moon. Whereas, the letter C from the word Christo (his son on earth) is reflected in the curve to the left of the letter C- the waning moon. Now I always check if the moon is making a D or C curve to know if it is waxing or waning.   

The root of the word moon (mene) is me from which we get measure and metre. It is from the Indo European, and in Sanskrit the word mātra (measure or metre in Vedic chanting) is the same. There are so many beautiful songs and poems about the moon. So it is not just our yogic practices, but: song and poetry; stargazing; salt water adventures and the planting schedule for our vibrant gardens are all deeply connected to the moon. 

August is always a good month for meteor showers in the UK, but this year will be particularly good as the moon is in its waning phase – since that full one at the start of the month. The showers will peak around the 12th-13th – why not go do some star gazing and watch the moon for a time to feel that sense of our tiny place within it all and to escape the entrapment of the all too tantalising luminescent glow of digital devices. As Joni Mitchell said, ‘we are stardust, we are golden and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden’.