As I begin to write this, it brings back memories from childhood where I am perched at my bedroom window gazing at the moon. Someone had told my mom that moon-gazing helps improve memory, willpower and vision. Since then she always encouraged me to do so. Luckily for her, it didn’t require much coaxing—I was in love with the moon at first sight. Even today, a glimpse of the illuminating full moon against a starry back drop lifts my spirits sky high.
While the Chandra Namaskar or moon salutation may not enjoy the worldwide popularity of the Surya Namaskara [sun salutation], it does offer powerful benefits of its own. A sequence of 17 yoga asanas, the moon salutation is a good warm up before your yoga practice or a cool down for your evening restorative yoga session.
In Hatha yoga, ‘ha’ stands for the sun or yang or fiery energies. ‘Tha’ symbolises the moon or yin or cooling energies. There are several variations of the moon salutation, each very different from the other. What I am sharing below is a traditional form of the Chandra Namaskar. Read the steps and see the accompanying pose in the illustration, before trying it:
- Tadasana: [Mountain pose] Stand with your feet together, body aligned with breath. Bring the palms into namaskara position, stretch the hands above the head and lengthen the spine. Stay in this position and take a few breaths before you move to the next asana.
- Chandrasana: [Side stretch pose] Inhale deeply and as you exhale bend to the left side. Appreciate the gentle stretch you will feel on the right side. Be careful to not tilt forward or back, only sideways.
- Utkata konasana: [Victory squat] Return to the centre, step the feet apart and turned slightly out. Inhale and as you exhale bend your knees, bringing the thighs parallel to the ground. Keep the forearm at 90 degrees to the arms and palms facing you. This is also called the Goddess pose, but that shouldn’t deter the guys from trying it out. It helps strengthen the back and the thighs.
- Utthita tadasana: [Five pointed star] For this, simply raise yourself from the squatting position and straighten the elbows. Hands parallel to the ground. Relax the shoulders and chest.
- Trikonasana: [Triangle pose] Step the left foot out and slide down to the left side. Extend the right hand up. This helps improve flexibility of the spine and corrects mis-alignment of the shoulders.
- Parsvottanasana: [Head to knee pose] Now, bring the head to touch the left knee. Relax both the hands down on the left foot. This asana helps improve posture and balance. It also improves digestion and lengthens the muscles on the back of the leg.
- Left side lunge: Bend both the knees and move into lunge on the left side. Keep looking to your left.
- Forward facing lunge: Straighten the right knee and do a forward facing lunge. Bring both the hands in front on the floor.
- Malasana: Squat with the feet firmly on the floor and the palms joined in front of you. Maintaining your balance with the feet down and the spine extended may be a bit challenging for some. This pose is often erroneously referred to as the ‘garland pose’. ‘Mal’ in sanskrit means impurity. Since regular practice of this asana helps to improve bowel movement, hence the name. However, some people pronounce it wrongly as ‘Maalasana’ and since ‘maala’ refers to a garland hence the confusion. That is the wrong translation of the name.
- Forward facing lunge: Now do a forward facing lunge, just as you did in step 8, but bend the right knee and straighten the left. Keep the palms on the floor.
- Right side lunge: Lunge to the right side, keep looking to your right.
- Parsvottanasana: [Head to knee pose] Straighten both the knees and bring your head to rest on the right knee, both hands near the right foot.
- Trikonasana: Move up into the triangle pose.
- Utthita tadasana: [Five pointed star] Straighten your knees and elbows.
- Utkata konasana: [Victory squat] Repeat step 3
- Tiryaka tadasana: Hands in namaskara position, extended overhead, bend to your right side.
- Tadasana: Conclude one sequence, returning to where you began—hands in namaskara position and extended overhead.
The best time to do Chandra Namaskar
You can do it at any time of the day. But the best time is the evening, around sunset or when the moon is up. Just as mornings are a good time for sun salutations, evenings are considered best for moon salutations.
It’s known that the phases of the moon have an effect on earth and its inhabitants. The Siva Samhita, an ancient Indian text [almost 500 years old] mentions the moon as a source of immortality.
In fact, the moon phases affect everything on the earth that contains two elements—namely salt and water. That’s probably why people suffering from chronic diseases may experience an aggravation of their complaints during the full moon, especially those suffering from asthma. Though there is conflicting scientific research to support these observations, the number of people who experience this phenomenon are testimony to it.
Benefits of Chandra Namaskar
Practising the moon salutation on days of the full moon can help balance fiery energies and calm you down if you’re feeling stressed or over-stimulated. It also helps channel your creative energies. If you get an opportunity to practice the moon salutation outdoors on a moonlit night, don’t miss it.
The physical benefits include stretching and strengthening of the muscles of the thighs, calves, pelvis and ankles. The focus here, mainly remains on the lower body.
It also helps activate the root chakra.
Who shouldn’t do it
There aren’t any specific contraindications to doing the Chandra Namaskar. But it’s better to avoid it if you have any pain in the lower back or knees.
How is Chandra Namaskar different from Surya Namaskar
One of the key differences in the sun and moon salutations is the tempo—the latter is always done in a slow and relaxed manner. While the Surya Namaskaras are often done in several dozens and are a complete work-out by themselves, one would not exceed more than 4 – 5 moon salutations at a time. Also note that while doing Chandra Namaskara you begin on the left side and then continue on the right. That is perhaps because the left side represents the ida nadi, which is related to the moon whereas the pingala nadi or the right side represents the sun.
So block your calendar on the next full moon night for a mini date with yourself. Bring out the scented candles and play some soothing music. Start off with a few minutes of candle-gazing [trataka] meditation, followed by the 4 – 5 rounds of the moon salutation and finish with yoga nidra… pure bliss!
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