January 27, 2013

What’s the Deal with “Moon Days” & other Ashtanga Traditions?


Last night, I slept for almost 12 hours.

Since it was Saturday and the full moon—both traditionally off-days in Ashtanga—I decided I would sleep in. I think I actually slept a little too long, and was pretty groggy for the first hour or so I was awake.

Traditionally, Ashtanga is a six day a week practice, with Saturdays, new moons and full moons off, as well as “Ladies’ holidays.” After practicing daily for the past 25 days, the idea of taking a day off made me a little anxious. Part of what makes Ashtanga feel like a match for me is the intensity. I definitely have that oldest child, type-A, competitive, stubborn determined streak in my personality. When I do something, I don’t do it half-way. So, if exploring a traditional Ashtanga practice means certain days off, I’m willing to go with it.

Why the moon days anyway?

I get the idea of taking Saturday off. It’s good to have a day to rest and replenish. I love doing the castor oil bath. I can definitely agree with taking at least the first day of my period off. But I was curious about the reasoning behind the “moon days,” so I did a little looking.

From Ashtanga Yoga Center:

Like all things of a watery nature (human beings are about 70 percent water), we are affected by the phases of the moon. The phases of the moon are determined by the moon’s relative position to the sun.

Full moons occur when they are in opposition and new moons when they are in conjunction. Both sun and moon exert a gravitational pull on the earth. Their relative positions create different energetic experiences that can be compared to the breath cycle. The full moon energy corresponds to the end of inhalation when the force of prana is greatest. This is an expansive, upward moving force that makes us feel energetic and emotional, but not well grounded. The Upanishads state that the main prana lives in the head. During the full moon we tend to be more headstrong.

The new moon energy corresponds to the end of exhalation when the force of apana is greatest. Apana is a contracting, downward moving force that makes us feel calm and grounded, but dense and disinclined towards physical exertion.

Practicing Ashtanga Yoga over time makes us more attuned to natural cycles. Observing moon days is one way to recognize and honor the rhythms of nature so we can live in greater harmony with it.

I tend to be a little headstrong regardless of the moon phase, so since today is Saturday and the full moon, it was probably wise to heed tradition and take the day off. The point of having a practice isn’t to have flawless alignment, to never miss a day or to be better than someone.

The point is to dedicate ourselves to change; we change ourselves so we can change the world.

So if we have days where we do less asana or it’s a day off, it isn’t ever a waste; It’s part of the bigger picture. After a wonderful day with a good friend, being silly, playing in the ice and snow and eating delicious food, I’m taking some time by myself now that everything is quiet to just be still. I’ll spend a few minutes practicing tratak to calm my eyes and meditating to prepare for sleep and peaceful dreams.

Whether your practice today was an hour and a half of asana, or simply practicing kindness to those around you, may your practice be a gift to you so that you may be a gift to the world.

Enjoy the spectacular full moon!


What was your practice like today? Are you doing #yogaeverydamnday this month? Check back for my updates and follow along on Twitter @kate_bartolotta and Pinterest.

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