There is a story in Hindu Mythology about the phases of the moon came to be. As usual, there are numerous variations of this story, but the basic gist is that Ganesha (the elephant-headed deity) was returning from a great feast at a palace where he overindulged his sweet tooth and was feeling quite full as he teetered atop the mouse he rides upon (kind of like me at Mother’s Day brunch on Sunday…). In the moonlight a snake slithered onto the path and startled the mouse, knocking Ganesh off his mount. When he fell, the impact caused his belly to split open and all the sweets to spill out (“Like a piñata!” as one of my students said). Dismayed that he lost his delicious meal, he crawled around picking up the delicacies and stuffing them back into his belly, tying the snake around his middle like a belt to keep them all inside for good.
The moon, known also as Chandra, watched this scene unfold beneath him to great amusement and was laughing quite raucously. Ganesha, like most people, did not like to be made fun of, so he cursed Chandra that his light would never shine again. The moon immediately realized how much he had hurt the sweet and normally quite jolly deity and became very contrite and apologetic, begging Ganesha’s forgiveness. Ganesha of course accepts his forgiveness, but tells Chandra that unfortunately he is not able to rescind the curse. The moon is distraught – his beautiful, auspicious light would never shine again! Ganesha realizes that although he can't abolish the curse, he can modify his harsh judgment: for the first half of the month the moon’s light will get smaller and smaller until there is only one day with no light, then gradually get bigger and brighter for the second half of the month until he is returned to his full glory. Chandra is placated and slips easily into his new rhythm of life, and Ganesha goes home, happily full again.
Often in yoga we draw on the wisdom of nature to guide us, and the phases of the moon give us insight into the human condition. The moon is the moon: a giant hunk of rock circling the Earth. It doesn't change, it is always there, and no matter where we are on Earth, we see the same moon. But our experience of it is different - sometimes we see it at night, sometimes during the day, sometimes huge and full and sometimes not at all. One of my favorite Sanskrit sayings is "Ya drishti sa srishti”, which means “As your vision is, so is creation.” or in other words "The world is as you see it.”
Our “reality” is as we see it – just as our experience of the moon changes based on the position of the Earth and the Sun, our experience of the hidden beauty of the universe shifts and changes based on the circumstances of our lives. Some days are half moon days, some days are full moon days – some days we remember clearly our wholeness and freedom, and some days we can only access a sliver of it, or none at all. As the moon phases remind us, although the light is smaller as the moon waxes and wanes, it is no less brilliant. The moon reflects its radiant light no matter how big or small it appears in the sky, and even on a new moon day when we can’t see it at all, we can always remember that it is there and hopefully that is enough to get us through until the next phase. And just as the moon is tethered to the Earth through the pull of gravity, our practice can help tether us to what keeps us in orbit in our own lives – the “giant hunk of rock” that is the core and truth of our true nature: radiant, illuminative grace.
Tantric philosophy tells us that the sun and moon, light and dark, are simply opposite sides of the same coin. Just as we can’t have an inhale without an exhale, they are inextricably linked and one is not “better” than another, they just “are" (like the sun and the moon). Our yoga practice helps us to find as much joy in the shadows, the lunar side, as we do in the bright solar places in our lives. No matter what cycle of life we find ourselves in, yoga helps us to connect to fullness and shine as bright as we can whatever phase we find ourselves in. We always have the choice to be as radiant and full as the moment allows for.
Off the Mat:
Make it a point this week to notice the moon. Observe its subtly shifting and changing form. Each time you see it, remind yourself that it is the same moon, only your limited experience of it has changed.
On the Mat:
Warm up with a Chandra Namaskar or Moon Salutation - there many variations found online and work towards Ardha Chandrasana in your practice this week. If this is a pose you have already mastered, try a more challenging caritation such as Ardha Chandra Chapasana, Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana, or Baddha Ardha Chandrasana. The moon represents cool, quiet, calm energy, so even if you are doing a vigorous practice work to invite lunar qualities to all you do. Finish with Chandra Bhedana pranayama to seal your practice.
For the Anusara junkies:
Open to Grace: Open to your breath and open whatever phase of your life you find yourself in with acceptance.
Muscular Energy: Drawing in (to FP) and connecting to that which is ever present and constant and holds you steady as a rock.
Draw muscles to bones like the moon is drawn to the Earth.
Standing strong and firm in whatever chapter of your story you are living today.
Like the pull of the moon on the oceans, draw into that which is heavy and strong in your life.
Organic Energy: Shine brightly in whatever phase of existence you are in.
Root (from FP to floor) and ground yourself in your true nature of freedom and joy.Shine and radiate luminescent lunar light from the core of your being.