This article is part of a series on the Bikram Yoga posture sequence. I will eventually add a Table of Contents linking to each of the postures.
After Standing Deep Breathing, the first posture in the Bikram Yoga series is a combined sequence of three individual postures: Lateral Half Moon; Half Moon Backbend; Hands to Feet Pose. This article is concerned with Lateral Half Moon. The Backbend and Hands to Feet Posture will be discussed on their own.
The primary purpose of this sequence at the start of class is to warm up the spine by bending and stretching it in four directions. This is a simple-looking posture but it can also be quite challenging since it involves stretching the entire body from the feet to fingers that are held high above the head.
- Creates lateral flexibility of the torso.
- Strengthens and stretches the muscles of the ankles, calves, thighs, buttocks, abdomen, back, shoulders, arms and hands.
- Stretches lymph glands.
- Improves balance.
- Prevents cramping in legs and arms.
- Firms breast muscles after nursing.
Start Position. Raise the arms over the head and clasp the hands firmly together with fingers interlaced. Keep thumbs crossed and release the index fingers into a pointing position, pressing them together. This grip is sometimes known as Kali Mudra (Mudras are like mini postures created with the hands, fingers and thumbs.)
It's also fine to do this posture with hands in a praying position, which uses the arm muscles in a slightly different manner.
In either case, it's suggested to maintain a firm grip throughout the duration of the posture. Note that firm doesn't mean, "as hard as possible." It just means firm enough to keep the palms, fingers and thumbs pressed together. Stretching the arms fully will help keep the hands together.
The arms stretch upwards alongside the ears, if possible (never bring the arms behind the ears). Some people may find it difficult to bring the arms as far back as the ears. No matter, just bring them as close as you can. The upward stretching of the arms should be firm enough to press the arms gently into the ears or the sides of the head. Keep the chin lifted slightly higher than it's normal position.
Stand with your body weight on the heels (still keeping the toes down, gripping lightly, if you like, which will use the leg muscles in a slightly different way). Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in and upwards throughout the posture.
On an inhale and with the arms stretching straight up towards the ceiling, lift the torso and ribs, lengthening the entire body.
On an exhale, slowly bend the body to the side in a straight lateral line, without bending the knees or the arms. Go to your limit and hold for 10-30 seconds. (In class the posture takes 40-60 seconds but that includes the set up described in the first two paragraphs above.) Emphasize the lengthening of the stretched side of the body. This is more important than how far your body bends, although the two actions are complementary.
The hips and shoulders should be in parallel alignment with the wall in front of you. Keep the head framed nicely between the arms, the same as it was in the set up. As you lift and bend the body to the side, gently press the hips in the opposite direction.
The natural curve of the spine from front to back will diminish due to the stretching. This is not a back pending posture so don’t bring the body back much, just enough to keep your weight on your heels.
- If the arms pull forward as you move to the side try drawing the shoulder blades together behind you.
- Try to avoid twisting the torso. There can be a tendency for the bottom shoulder to drop back and the opposite hip to pull forward as you move. To avoid twisting think about keeping the bottom shoulder forward and the opposite hip back slightly.
To create stability in this posture be sure to contract all the muscles of the legs, abdomen and arms continuously. Be especially attentive to the gluteus and abdominal muscles. In class you will hear the instruction to "suck your stomach in." This is shorthand for using Uddiyana Bandha, which is a drawing in and upwards of the abdominal diaphragm. Mula Bandha is also helpful in this Posture but don't worry if you're not familiar with the Bandhas. Just suck in your stomach and squeeze your butt.
Try creating the feeling of using the feet and legs to push your body into the stretch.
Some people may require some space between the feet for this pose, which is fine. It depends on the shape of your legs so experiment to find your correct distance. Feet apart will also help with balance, especially for people with knock knees or bow legs.
To accommodate shoulder conditions, such as frozen shoulder or rotator cuff injuries, this posture may be done with only one arm overhead. The injured arm can simply stay by your side, or you could place your hand on your hip. Mild shoulder injuries may be accommodated by simply keep the hands a few inches apart with palms facing each other or facing forward. In severe cases this posture may be done with both arms down. This variation is known as Penguin Posture (just kidding).
People with conditions such as vertigo, frozen shoulder and rotator cuff injuries may want to skip this posture, or do it with extra caution.
- Improves kidney function.
- Relieves back pain.
- Digestive issues.
- Low Blood Pressure.
- Rheumatic shoulder.
People with conditions such as vertigo, frozen shoulder and rotator cuff injuries may require avoiding this posture or do it with extreme caution.
Don't Tell Anybody
In my personal practice I like to do Half Moon Posture with approximately 80% of my weight on my toes and only 20% on my heels. The standard Bikram approach is exactly the opposite! But I like the way this change of weight distribution increases muscle contraction in my feet, ankles and legs. I have arthritis so I use subtle changes like this throughout my practice to meet my unique personal needs.
I don't recommend this technique for beginners but I do encourage all practitioners to explore subtle variations in postures like this to find what works best for you.
I hope you'll use the comments below to ask questions, offer criticism and feedback, or to share your own personal tips and experiences.