Full Moon

Credit: Rowena (Rubber Slippers in Italy) on Flickr Creative Commons

Tomorrow night, a beautiful full moon will grace our night skies. In my morning Vinyasa class at plan-B-fitness, we’ll embrace this lunar energy by doing Chandra Namaskar, or Moon Salutations, as the basis of our practice. There are many versions of Chandra Namaskar, but most are a little deeper and slower moving than the corresponding Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) to reflect the difference between lunar and solar energy.

The term Hatha Yoga is often used to describe the yoga of asana, or physical postures, pranayama, or breathing techniques, and sometimes meditation. Hatha includes all styles of yoga that focus on these areas, including Vinyasa flow, but you will often see “Hatha” used to describe a class that does not follow any particular school or tradition of yoga, but is perhaps a blend of different influences. Ha represents masculine, solar energy, and tha represents feminine, lunar energy, so one interpretation of Hatha Yoga is the unification of solar and lunar energies within each of us. In our practice, we are always working to acknowledge and balance opposing forces: yoga is envigorating and calming, grounding and uplifting, building confidence and humility.

In the Ashtanga Yoga tradition, days of the full moon and new moon are considered rest days on which no asana are practiced. “Moon days” arise from the belief that, as beings made up largely of water, we are affected by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun in different ways. It is believed that we are more headstrong during the full moon phase, lacking grounding and therefore more likely to injure ourselves, whereas during the new moon, we may feel a lack of energy. In other traditions where moon days are not observed, practitioners have still developed special full moon and new moon practices, such as Chandra Namaskar, to acknowledge the changes in energy that may occur at these times.

Even if you do not believe that the phase of the moon has any connection with how we feel, there are lessons that it can teach us. The moon with its cycles reminds us to tune in to the changing rhythms that are inherent in all aspects of life. It shows us that it is normal sometimes to shine brightly and at other times to rest, quiet and dark – and how to transition smoothly and calmly between these states.

Acknowledging the moon phase in our practice is really a way of acknowledging our connection with nature. Taking time to slow down and move a little more deeply within can be an act of great courage and a considerable challenge in our fast paced, externally focused urban world. However, taking the time to be quiet and look within can be one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and has considerable healing power.

On Thursday, I hope you will join me for a Moon Salutation flow! And if you cannot be there in person, I hope you’ll take a little time to reflect on how the energy of the moon manifests itself in your life. Namaste.

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Today, September 11th, 2011, would be a great day to affirm the Charter for Compassion, and/or make a commitment to compassion on the site. Today, I made the commitment to have more compassion for myself. Through this commitment, I hope to spread peace and lead by example.

Balance

Credit: I Nengah Januartha (Flickr Creative Commons)

If you’re new to yoga, you may notice that balance is a challenge. While some seem to soar effortlessly, you wobble and fall. At some point you may notice that the rest of your life is out of balance too. What happens on the yoga mat is often a metaphor for how we live the rest of our lives, which means that learning to balance in our yoga poses can help us find a healthy balance in everything we do.

How do you learn to balance on the mat? Well, you practice. You keep striving. The factors that can help you create balance in your physical body are many. With asana practice, you strengthen your muscles – not only the major muscle groups, but also the small stabilizer muscles that help steady your joints and keep you upright. You calm your mind, not getting caught up in your thoughts, and to support this practice, you focus your gaze and your attention on a fixed point (drishti). You learn the muscular and energetic actions needed for balance, such as grounding down through your base and pressing into the earth to create a lightness and lifting sensation, or hugging your legs in towards the midline to create stability. Through practice, you find your center of gravity and learn to align your body with it to find balance with minimal effort.

If yoga is a metaphor, then we can transfer the lessons we learn on the mat to the rest of our lives. How can you learn to balance your life off the mat?

  • Like those little stabilizer muscles that grow stronger with use and keep our joints steady, there are many small activities that we can do throughout the day that keep us steady and on track. It might be remembering to take a slow, deep breath now and then. Planning meals in advance so that there’s always good, health food available. Scheduling time each day to do something fun, even if it’s just reading a book for five minutes. These habits become strengthened with practice and can go a long way towards creating balance in our lives.
  • Practicing meditation and breath awareness, even for just a few minutes a day, can help us become aware of our thoughts so that we can detach from them, even in the midst of our busy lives.
  • Just as we find a drishti, a point of focus, in each pose, our lives need a point of focus. We need goals, dreams, objectives, and priorities in order to help us make choices about how to spend our time. By keeping our attention focused on stillness in the midst of chaos, we may be able to find more balance in our lives.
  • Staying grounded is important. There are a lot of ways you can stay grounded off the mat. Breath awareness and meditation support this feeling, but also having routines is grounding for some people. For others, it’s taking time to connect back in, whether that’s by taking a walk, playing music, doing yoga, painting, or any number of other activities. Finding what grounds you and making space for that in your life is an important part of balance.
  • The equivalent of hugging your legs and hips in towards the midline of your body might be keeping your energy focused on what is important. Although we’re often taught in our culture to see multitasking as a good thing, for many people trying to do too many things at once can throw your life off balance. Learning to say no to some of these things, or at the very least organizing your life in such a way that you can do one thing at a time can be an important part of finding balance for some people. What is most important to you? What can you let go of in your life?
  • Finally, building all these aspects of balance into your life can assist you to find and align with your center. Who are you at your core? Who do you want to be? What makes you happy? What are your goals? Are the things you’re choosing to do in your life aligned with those goals?

Over the past several years, my yoga practice has supported me as I move towards a greater sense of balance in my life, on and off the mat. Just like physical balance, life balance takes work – and it’s so worth it!

Lessons the blackout taught us

Here in San Diego yesterday, we were affected by the large power outage which made the national news. Not to minimize the negative effects of this situation in any way, but I wanted to talk instead about the wave of positivity I noticed during this event and in its aftermath. People came out onto their porches and front lawns to converse with other neighbors. They talked about how fun it was to leave their TVs and computers behind and make connections with the people who live around them. Restaurants started giving away free ice cream. Everyone broke out the barbecue, and spontaneous block parties started up. People shared food, crank radios, ice, and other supplies, while even children and dogs were shared, looked after by whoever was closest. Fireworks were set off. People played the guitar and sang for their neighbors. Some enthusiastic young people danced down the center of our street after dark with their glowing hula hoops and poi and gave us a show. In short, it was the most fun anyone ever had during a disaster.

People talk about “unplugging” all the time, but yesterday we were “unplugged”. We had no choice but to kick back and enjoy each other’s company and the simple things in life: food, the moon, funny stories. The power’s back on now, and everyone is speaking nostalgically of the “blackout block party”. I hope we don’t forget the lessons we learned last night. I hope we go outside more and spend time with our neighbors. I hope we go running sometimes after work, read instead of messing around on the internet, and go to bed early. And I hope some of us actually put together a disaster readiness kit and a disaster plan. That would be good, too.

In honor of this lingering post-blackout sense of camaraderie, I leave you with the following reading from my class today:

“What if our religion was each other
If our practice was our life
If prayer, our words
What if the temple was the Earth
If forests were our church
If holy water, the rivers, lakes, and ocean
What if meditation was our relationships
If the teacher was life
If wisdom was self-knowledge
If love was the center of our being.”

(~ Ganga White)