Originally published in Yoga Journal (Basics Column)
Ardha Chandrasana, the Half Moon pose is said to resemble the image of an Indian moon floating in the sky. The Sanskrit word Chandra also refers to the qualities of brilliance or shine of the moon. Although the torso is not dangling but is held up by strong legs, a lightness and freedom can be experienced in this pose as if you can radiate in all directions. Once you have mastered the act of balancing, you may find this to be your favorite standing pose as the whole front of the body is free to open and expand.
In this balancing version of Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), you apply what you’ve learned in Trikonasana to stabilize yourself. The work of your front leg in Trikonasana for example has to be well ingrained since it becomes your pillar on which to stand in Ardha Chandrasana. Even though you have one hand on the floor, most of your weight should be on your standing leg. With your back leg lifted in the air, you actually have more mobility to open your pelvis and extend your torso. You can feel the direct connection between the work of your limbs and the extension of your spine.
We pass through Trikonasana to enter and exit Ardha Chandrasana. You may be tempted to come out of the pose by simply placing your top foot next to the standing foot on the floor rather than going back to Trikonasana but in the process you will lose the lateral extension in your torso cultivated in Ardha Chandrasana. The action of the hips, sacrum and back from Ardha Chandrasana is carried into Trikonasana. You may evenfind that your Trikonasana improves in the process.
Because of the strong extension, Ardha Chandrasana can be a very beneficial pose for lower back problems relieving sacrum pain, sciatica pain, and lumbar aches. If your lower back or legs are weak or if you are pregnant, practice with the support of a wall (figure #…). The version at the wall is also beneficial when you are fatigued and don’t have the endurance to otherwise practice standing poses. If you have a stiff back or hamstrings, use a block for your hand so that you can straighten both legs.
Against the wall:
Doing this pose with your back against the wall removes the challenge of balance from the pose enabling you to work on proper alignment and muscle actions. Oftentimes in fear of falling backwards, beginners allow the muscles to go loose and tilt their bodies out of alignment in order to balance. The block for your hand essentially raises the floor so that you can get more lift in the pose.
Stand with your back against a wall and spread your legs wide apart and extend the arms to the sides. Turn the right leg out ninety degrees to the right so that the inner edge of the foot is parallel to the wall and the back of the left heel is at the wall. Place a block in between the right foot and the wall. Exhale and extend the torso over the right leg, place your right hand on the block coming into Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle pose). Now bend the right leg and step your left foot closer to the right foot as you move the right hand and block at least one foot away from the right foot. Straighten and firm the left leg and keep the right leg bent as you lift the left leg up the wall until the foot is slightly above the level of the pelvis. Turn your right knee out (towards the wall) as you pull the quadriceps muscles up and straighten the right leg.
Press your left thighbone and heel straight back into the wall. Extend the back of the left heel along the wall away from the head as you lengthen your chest away from the left heel. Roll the shoulders back against the wall and extend the left arm up the wall directly in line with the right arm.
Don’t push your right buttock into the wall but as you turn the right leg out, take your tailbone and buttock towards the left foot. Turn your chest towards the ceiling and the left side of the waist towards the wall.
To come out of the pose, bend the right knee and reach back with the left leg to place the left foot far back and down on the floor. Put your right hand on your right ankle and straighten both legs returning to Utthita Trikonasana. On the inhalation come up, turn your legs to the left and repeat on your left side.
Heel on the wall:
Now you are going to use the wall only for the top foot. In this variation, the wall does not aid with balance as much as it brings awareness to the uplifted leg and foot. When we raise the leg in the air in Ardha Chandrasana, the leg loses its sense of orientation and strong earthy quality from contact with the floor. The uplifted leg easily bends or sways forward or back. In this variation the wall acts like the floor in Trikonasana to give you something to press into, align the leg with the spine and bring more life into your uplifted leg.
Begin with the outer edge of your left foot against the wall and the right leg away from the wall turned outward. The distance between the feet will be shorter than they would be as if preparing to do Trikonasana. Place a block at the outside of your right foot. Take your right hand down to the block and bend the right knee. Step the left foot and the block away from the wall and then raise the left leg and place the sole of the left foot on the wall. Look at the left foot to make sure that it is parallel to the floor, just higher than the left side of the pelvis and that the arch of the foot is in line with the right heel. Then take your head back so that the back of your head is in line with your buttocks
With your knee still bent, turn your right thigh out so that your kneecap faces towards the middle of the room and pull your right kneecap and quadriceps up as you straighten your right leg, maintaining the rotation. The rotation of your right leg should be felt all the way up to your hip so that your outer right knee, hip and buttock turn towards the wall.
If your right leg is not perpendicular to the floor, you may need to step your right foot closer or further from the wall.
Push the left foot into the wall and straighten the left leg by pressing the front of the thigh towards the back of the leg. As you lengthen the left Achilles and inner heel into the wall, lengthen the entire backside of the left leg from the buttocks towards the wall. Again bend the right knee for a moment and turn the right leg out and both buttocks towards the wall. Then again straighten the right knee keeping the buttocks and outer right thigh turning towards the wall as you pull the right thigh muscles up from the knee to the hip. Repeating this will help train and strengthen your legs and hips for proper rotation and alignment so that rather than sinking into your hip and knee, your joints are supporting the lift of the spine.
Extend the left arm straight up towards the ceiling and revolve your chest towards the ceiling. If you feel balanced, turn your head to look up at the left hand. To come down, bend the right leg, step the left foot back to the floor at the wall and straighten both legs before standing up. Now turn around and repeat on your left side
On Your Own:
To do the pose in the middle of the room, you need to bring the awareness of the alignment of the back body from the first variation and the alignment of the uplifted leg from the second variation into the final pose. The back of the body needs to be strong to support you as the wall did. Both the outer hip of the standing leg and the shoulder blades are very firm in this pose to help you maintain your balance. The backside of your uplifted leg should be long which helps you lengthen the sides of your back.
The uplifted leg now has to hold itself up which requires that it be fully straightened. If the uplifted leg becomes lazy, it feels heavy and as if the weight is born on the spine and the pelvis. However if you lift the top leg from the inner thigh (the part closest to the floor) towards the outer thigh so that it remains higher than the pelvis and stretch the leg strongly away from the head, you will feel levity and lift in the entire pose.
Begin in Trikonasana. Open your chest and stretch the arms and legs. Now bend your right leg and step your left foot closer to the right foot and reach your right hand a foot or a foot and a half (depending on your height) away from the right foot. Align the right thumb with the right little toe. At this stage, most of the weight should be on the right hand and foot, if not step the left foot closer to the right foot. Extend the left leg fully and look straight ahead, not at the floor. Lengthen the chest to the right so that the right armpit comes directly over the right hand.
Keeping your left leg absolutely straight and your inner thigh firm, lift your left leg up towards the ceiling. Reach out from your inner left thigh through your inner heel, broaden the bottom of the left foot and extend the entire backside of your left leg.
Balance the weight evenly on all four corners of your right foot. Turn the right leg out and pull the quadriceps up as you straighten the right leg. Cut your outer right hip and buttock forward as if you still had a wall behind you and you were attempting to take them off the wall. Lengthen your tailbone away from your head without throwing the left leg forward or back.
Keep your right leg perpendicular to the floor and extend your torso to the right as you lengthen the right armpit away from the right thigh. Straighten the left arm and extend it to the ceiling to pull the left side of the chest up and away from the right arm. Move the shoulder blades forward towards your chest and open your chest as you turn your trunk towards the ceiling. Lift the front of your pelvis from the right side to the left so that your abdominal and pelvic cavities are not dropping towards the floor.
Roll both shoulders back like when you had the wall behind you and as you revolve your chest upwards, turn your head to look up at the top hand. With your legs, hips, spine and shoulders aligned, you can elongate your lower back by extending your top leg and torso away from each other. The tailbone becomes like the center stabilizing point of the pose. The firmness in that region allows you to extend and expand in all directions.
To come out of the pose bend your right knee deeply and reach back with the left leg to take a large step back with the left foot. Straighten the right leg and return to Utthita Trikonasana.