The Moon Salutation, known in Sanskrit as “Chandra Namaskara” (SHAHN-drah nah-muh-SKAR-uh), is a series of poses performed in a particular sequence to create a cooling flow of movement. Like the popular Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara), each pose in a Moon Salutation is coordinated with your breathing: Inhale to extend, and exhale to bend. But unlike Sun Salutations, which are heating and stimulating, Moon Salutations are cooling and quieting. They are used to calm the mind and draw your awareness inward. Moon Salutations are useful when energy or temperatures are high and a tranquil, quiet presence is required. Follow the steps below and familiarize yourself with the essential components of the Moon Salutations!
In the Ashtanga Yoga tradition, yoga is not practiced on the full moon or new moon. These are called "moon days" and are days of rest for practitioners. In Ashtanga, it is believed that there is an overabundance of "prana," or life force energy, during the full moon, which causes too much imbalance for a good practice. During the new moon, Ashtangis believe there is too much "apana," the life force of elimination, which causes too much heaviness for practice. Since dedicated Ashtangis practice six days a week, it's probably beneficial to take a few days of rest each month!
Moon Salutation, Variation One
There are many variations of Moon Salutations. The sequence presented below is a simple one that is suitable for yoga students of all levels. There are nine poses to this sequence; you will build up to the ninth pose, and then progress back down to the first pose, focusing on the opposite side of the body. Always breathe through your nose; this warms the air entering your body and provides a meditative aspect to your practice. If you’re struggling to breathe, ease up a bit. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Press your palms together in prayer position. Rest your thumbs on your sternum and take several breaths.
Inhale as you sweep your arms out to the side and overhead. Interlace your fingers and point your index fingers to the ceiling. Exhale and press your left hip to the side, bending your upper torso to the right. Keep your feet grounded and your thighs firmly engaged. Inhale and come back to center. Exhale and bend to the left, and then inhale to come back to center. Exhale as you release your arms.
Inhale as you step your feet wide apart and turn your toes out slightly. Exhale as you bend your knees directly over your toes and lower your hips into a squat. Extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder-height with your palms facing forward. Then bend your elbows and point your fingertips toward the ceiling; your upper arms and forearms should be at 90-degree angles. To deepen the pose, come onto your toes.
4. Star Pose
Inhale as you straighten your legs, keeping your feet wide apart. Extend your arms at shoulder-height, facing your palms forward. Spread your fingers and reach out through your fingertips.
Rotate your right (front) foot 90 degrees so your front foot’s toes point to the top of the mat. Turn your left toes in slightly. Exhale as you reach through your right hand in the same direction that your right foot is pointed. Shift your left hip back, and then fold sideways at the hip. Rest your right hand on the outside of your shin or ankle and extend your left hand straight up to the ceiling.
Inhale as you lower your left hand and turn your upper torso to the right until it is in line with your right leg. Exhale as you fold your torso over your right leg. Rest both hands on your lower leg, foot, or the floor. Ground down through the heel of your back foot.
Inhale as you bend your right knee and place your fingertips on the mat in front of you. Exhaling, step your left foot to the back of the mat, keeping your right foot at the front of the mat. Align your right knee over the heel of your right foot. Lower your left knee to the floor and slide your leg back a few inches. Un-tuck your left foot’s toes and rest the top of your foot on the floor. Keep your fingertips on the mat and gaze between your hands.
Inhaling, place both hands to the inside of your right foot on the floor. Rotate your right foot and leg to face forward, keeping your knee bent. Exhaling, turn your left toes forward, keeping your left leg extended and your palms on the floor. If that is too deep of a squat for you, rest your hands on your right thigh, instead.
Inhale as you step your right foot in toward your left and lower your tailbone, coming into a low squat. Bring your upper arms to the inside of your knees. Press your elbows against the inside of your knees and bring your palms together in prayer position. Exhale fully. Keep your feet as wide apart as needed to feel steady.
10. Low Side Lunge
Inhale as you place your hands on the floor to the inside of your left foot. Extend your right foot out to the right. Exhale as you slide your torso toward your left foot. If needed, rest your hands on your left thigh instead of on the floor.
Inhale and turn your left toes to point to the back of your mat. Rotate your right leg inward and bring your right knee to the floor, pressing through the top of your right foot. Align your left knee over the heel of your left foot. Exhale and place your fingertips on the mat in front of you. Keep your fingertips on the mat and gaze between your hands.
Inhale as you straighten both legs. Exhale and fold your torso over your left leg. Rest both hands on your lower leg, foot, or the floor. Ground down through the heel of your back foot.
Inhale as you extend your right hand straight up to the ceiling, opening your torso to the right. Rest your left hand on the outside of your left shin or ankle. Exhale fully.
14. Star Pose
Inhale as you raise your torso with your arms extended and palms facing forward. Keep your feet wide apart. Spread your fingers and reach out through your fingertips.
Exhale as you bend your knees directly over your toes and lower your hips into a squat. Bend your elbows and point your fingertips toward the ceiling.
Inhale as you straighten your legs. Turn your toes forward and step your left foot next to your right. At the same time, sweep your arms out to the side and overhead. Interlace your fingers and point your index fingers to the ceiling. Exhale as you press your left hip to the side and bend your upper torso to the right. Keep your feet grounded and your thighs firmly engaged. Inhale and come back to center. Exhale as you bend to the left, and then inhale to come back to center. Exhale as you release your arms.
Bring your palms together in prayer position. Rest your thumbs on your sternum and take several breaths.
Do as many rounds of this Moon Salutation as you like. Try a few rounds in the morning for a soothing way to face the day. Practicing Moon Salutations in the evening can restore balance and peace throughout your body and mind. You may notice a feeling of serenity that stays with you throughout the week!