The benefits of Half-Moon (side bending only…we’ll get to the backbend and forward fold next month…be patient!) are many fold. After warming up the elasticity of our lungs and pulmonary prowess in Pranayama breathing, we begin to wake up the spine’s energy, preparing our bodies for the deeper yoga practice. Hatha yoga (all yoga methods that use the body to bring the mind to meditation) will always begin warmer the larger muscle groups first, before accessing the more subtle energy body…and that’s essentially what we do in Half Moon.
Stand with your feet touching side by side. Inhale your arms over your head sideways and interlace all 10 fingers. Release your index finger and cross your thumbs to seal off any gap between your hands. Make a nice, strong fist to activate your arm muscles.
Push your feet firmly into the floor to engage your leg muscles and draw that energy up toward the belly. Tighten the belly, lengthen the spine and reach through the crown of your head. Squeeze your arms as close as you can towards your ears, keeping the elbows locked and the arms straight. Relax the shoulders.
Take a deep breath, stretch up towards the ceiling and slowly bend your body to the right, keeping all major joints of the body aligned and squared off to the front mirror. You hear it all the time “as if you’re squeezing yourself between 2 panes of glass,” because it’s true. We are seeking true, lateral stretching of the bones of the spine and the space between the bones of the spine.
Continue to keep your belly tightening, so your breath is lifted higher up the lung. See your ribs moving with the breath, not your lower belly. Widen the collarbone, squeeze the palms tight and breathe in and out through the nose with a relaxed face. Use your legs to support you as you reach over more and more, increasing the stretch to the entire left-side body. At full stretch, you will begin to stimulate a stretching and detoxifying action to the left kidney, left lung, and lymph in the left armpit.
Hold the stretch and breathe for 60 seconds. Stretch up to through the center and begin the side stretch to the left.
Again, in it’s full form, Half-Moon will activate the central nervous system by opening the spine with flexibility, muscle tone, and breath. Moving the spine in a lateral direction helps to release toxins from the spaces between the bones of the spine, and more importantly, opens that space to receive nourishment from our fluid intake of oxygen. Remember, nothing counts without the breath! So, no matter how beautiful your pose may “look,” the body only receives the yoga on the wind of the breath. You literally breathe your way to health in a yoga practice…so once you have the form down, regardless of how deep in you are, your body is receiving the benefits from your commitment to “breathing the stretch.” That’s why yoga is never really about flexibility (although it looks pretty and a yoga practice will definitely increase your flexibility). It’s about how you commit to your breath under the stress/tension of the stretch. The theory being: if you can commit to your breath under this tension, you’re more likely to commit to your breath in tense moments outside the yoga practice.