The power of opposites
To create equilibrium in our yoga practice and in our lives, it’s helpful to observe the power of opposites. Yin and Yang, ebb and flow, contraction and expansion, effort and surrender – it’s important that we recognize the qualities and benefits on each side of the spectrum so that we can find balance and unity between them.
Sun Salutations are said to be a yang practice, related to activity, heat and light, whilst Moon Salutations are associated with a yin practice – receptive, meditative and cooling. Although yin and yang represent seemingly opposite principles (dark and light, day and night, passivity and activity etc) they are utterly interdependent. In the same way, although Sun and Moon salutation sequences embrace different qualities, they complement each other perfectly. The yogic term Hatha also reflects these individual yet interconnected qualities – Ha referring to the warming, active energy of the sun and tha – the cooling, receptive elements of the moon. Hatha yoga, therefore, seeks to unify these apparently opposing elements, creating harmony and balance.
Although Sun and Moon Salutation sequences embrace different qualities, they complement each other perfectly.
Sun Salutations awaken
Sun Salutations are often done at the start of a yoga class, to awaken the body and create energy and heat. The modern interpretation of Surya Namaskar (which translates as ‘salute to the sun’) is a dynamic sequence of poses which on a physical level builds stamina and strength and connects fluid movement with breath. On a more symbolic level the sequence offers gratitude to the sun and the energy and light it provides for all of life on earth.
Try a Sun Salutation sequence with breath guidance here.
Moon Salutations soothe
Like Sun Salutations, Moon Salutations can be included as part of a longer class, or practised by themselves as a restorative sequence to cool and soothe the body. They are especially nice to do in the evening as the meditative, calming quality of the poses helps to form a stronger connection to the breath, preparing the body and the mind for a restful night’s sleep.
How to practise Chandra Namaskar
Like Sun Salutations there are many variations of the Moon Salutation sequence. In the version I describe below, (click here for a photo sequence) we face the long edge of your mat, moving first to the right and then to the left. I like to imagine that the side stretches and circular motion of the sequence represent the waxing and waning phases of the moon.
Step by step
Come to stand in Tadasana, in the center of your mat facing the long edge, hands in prayer position at the heart center. Close your eyes and draw the focus inwards, coming to your breath and perhaps reflecting for a moment on what the moon means to you and to the earth…
- Urdhva Hastasana / Upward Salute: Open your eyes, inhale and extend your arms outwards and upwards, interlacing your fingers, index fingers pointing skywards.
- Standing Crescent Pose: Exhale and bend to your right, extending long through the left side, all the way from the outer left foot to the tips of the index fingers. Keep your lower belly drawing in and up to protect your lower back. Inhale to center and exhale and bend to your left. Inhale back to center.
- Goddess Pose: Exhale, step the feet apart, toes pointing slightly out. Soften the knees and squat, keeping the knees in line with the ankles and the back straight. Arms bend at the elbows to a 90-degree angle, fingers in Anjali mudra (thumb and forefinger touching).
- Trikonasana / Triangle Pose: Inhale, turn both feet to the right, arms outstretched and parallel to the floor. Exhale, reach long over the right leg. Lower the right hand to ankle or shin and extend the left arm to the sky. Inhale and rotate the chest to the sky.
- Parsvottonasana / Pyramid Pose: Exhale, take your left arm down to frame right foot with the right hand, rotate the back foot even further and turn both hips forward to fold over your right (straight) leg.
- Lunge over right foot: Inhale, step the left foot back and bend the right knee so you come into a lunge position. Make sure the knee stays in line with the ankle and push the left thigh up and back.
- Skandasana / Wide legged squat over right leg: Exhale, bring both hands to the floor to the big toe side of your right foot. Turn inwards on the ball of the right foot and rotate your body to the front of the mat. Left leg is extended, toes point to the ceiling. If your balance allows it bring your hands together in Anjuli Mudra (prayer position) or keep your hands resting on the floor.
- Goddess Pose: Inhale, come back to a squat in the center of your mat – Goddess pose with hands in prayer position. Exhale – knees in line with ankles, back straight, chest open.
At this point we turn towards the left leg and ‘rewind’ the poses we have already done.
- Skandasana / Wide legged squat over left leg
- Lunge over left foot, right leg steps further back, both hands framing the left foot.
- Parsvottonasana / Pyramid Pose: exhale, right foot steps in a little, left leg straightens, level the hips and come into Parvsottonasana folding over the left leg.
- Trikonasana/ Triangle Pose: Inhale, right foot readjusts and right arm extends upwards, rotate your chest to the sky. Exhale.
- Goddess Pose: Inhale step the feet wide, toes pointing slightly out. Exhale, bend the knees and come into Goddess pose squat.
- Urdhva Hastasana / Upward Salute: Inhale, step the feet back in, arms up towards the sky, hands clasped, index fingers extending.
Then we repeat all of the sequence above but this time bending to the left in Standing Crescent pose.
As the Moon Salutation sequence focuses mainly on the lower body, it’s great for people who have trouble resting their body weight on their arms and there are many physical benefits to the practice. The exercise stretches and strengthens all of the major muscle groups, aids flexibility and increases the functioning and balance of the respiratory, circulatory and digestive systems.