Monday, May 2, 2011

Some random musings on moon days

Sad Steps

Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon's cleanliness.

Four o'clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
There's something laughable about this,

The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)

High and preposterous and separate -
Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,

One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can't come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.
Philip Larkin

One of my first thoughts upon reading this poem was: Most days, if I have to get up to take a piss at four o'clock, I probably won't go back to bed, given that I would have to get up again in half an hour. Larkin, of course, does not have this problem, to my knowledge :-)

But tomorrow is not "most days." Why? Because it is that time of the month again--I mean a moon day (what were you expecting to hear from a guy?).

Happy Moon Day! I don't know how many of you out there in the cybershala observe moon days, and if so, how religiously (am I being blasphemous? If so, judge not, lest ye be judged...), but speaking from my own experience, I really think there is something to this moon day business that warrants our respect. I don't practice on moon days... uh, well, that's actually not entirely true; I usually "cheat" a little by doing a couple of Suryas and maybe even a couple of standing postures. For better or for worse, I am so attached to my practice that something in my mind/body feels "unopened" when I don't do something in the morning. But I haven't done a full practice (or even a half-practice, for that matter) on moon days for almost three years now. In his explanation of the significance of moon days, Tim Miller writes:

"Like all things of a watery nature (human beings are about 70% 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 really believe there is something to this. I have recently begun to notice that I tend to ne more emotional and touchy on moon days. This past weekend, for instance, somebody has observed that I seem to react more strongly to certain things around me.

Moreover, at least one of the SI joint flare-ups I have suffered in my yoga practice career (if I can call it that :-)) can be traced to practicing on a full moon day. This happened almost three years ago. I wasn't conscious of being particularly emotional on that particular day, but I do remember performing Ekapada Sirsasana that morning, and not realizing that my SI joint was "out" until later in the day, when I was teaching my class. I was standing in the front of the classroom moderating a discussion, when I suddenly felt that something was seriously "off" in my lower back. Nothing dramatic happened: I didn't collapse to the ground like a sack of beans, and nobody had to call an ambulance. But it certainly was very uncomfortable and unsettling.  And it took me a couple of weeks of careful work to get my SI joint back into alignment.

Of course, from a purely scientific point of view, there is no conclusive evidence to prove that whatever happened to my SI joint on that particular day was due to its being a moon day and the accompanying effects on my emotional state. Any number of factors could have contributed to the SI joint displacement. But I'm going to make a little confession here: I am not the most scientifically-minded person around. I think that science gives us a wonderful set of tools with which to understand the world and do things in it. But like any set of tools, it is inevitably incomplete and has its limitations. So it may be that, to date, science has yet to demonstrate any sort of meaningful relation between moon days and one's emotional state, and the resultant effects on one's actions in the world. But why should I wait for science to prove something before I choose to believe it? After all, shouldn't one be the master of one's tool kit, rather than allow the tool kit to dictate what can and cannot be done in this world?

But all this is probably neither here nor there. I guess what I'm trying to say is that, whether or not there is good scientific evidence about moon days and their effects on my practice, my personal subjective experiences have led me to believe that I should observe moon days, however imperfect my observance is. So even though I will probably end up doing at least a couple of Suryas tomorrow morning, I will still observe the moon day. And may your moon day be merry and bright... wait, tomorrow's a new moon! Okay, then, cut out the "bright" part...     


  1. Hmm.I used to follow moon days religiously because I had this enat widget on blogspot. When I moved to wordpress, I no longer keep track of moon days.

    I just checked, and moon day is tomorrow, 3 May. Will I practice? Probably - but will do a restorative session as I used to do back with my first Ashtanga teacher. Moon days are ALWAYS restorative sessions with the man.

  2. That poem is beautiful! I'll have to look up Philip Larkin and see what else he's written.

    Regarding moon days, I take them as rest days. I do sometimes feel energetic shifts that I could attribute to the moon, but in large part it's a way of honoring the tradition-- and of course making sure I don't skimp on practice the other days of the week.

  3. Hi Nobel, liked the poem too, as per the moon days, I had read this from Tim, and also just re-read what Eddie says about it on Grimmly's blog, very interesting too... especially liked it when he said "we would not go to hell for practicing on moon days", and how the association goes all the way to the palace, where pattabhi jois workeda and where on those days there were rituals that were observed which took time, and tht is why there were no classes, anyway better to read the link from his post...

    Interesting topic, I always enjoy talking moon days, and I know I welcome the rest! so yes I am one of those that not only respects them but "looks forward to them"

  4. Just realized today IS moon day. Gawds. Which hole did I crawl out from....

  5. Yes, I've heard the same thing as Claudia. It's less about the so-called 'freaky energy' or woo-woo whatever and more about the fact that Guruji used to do lengthy rituals or pujas or whatever on moon days. There simply wasn't time for everything.

  6. Cory: yes, I know quite a few Ashtangis who either do restorative on moon days, or indulge in "yoga tourism" (i.e. try out other yoga styles). For me, restorative just doesn't do it, especially in the mornings. After a restorative session, I just want to go back to sleep! So I "cheat" by doing a few Suryas :-)

    Actually, you might also want to look at Matthew Sweeney's Moon Sequence, if you haven;t done so already. It's basically a less vigorous version of the primary series for moon days.

    Dirghakala and Claudia: Yes, I also welcome the rest on moon days. Our practice is so demanding, it's good to rest when we can. Maybe that is part of the rationale for taking moon days in the first place: Guruji used moon days to conduct these lengthy pujas, which also allowed the body to take a little break from the demands of practice. So it's killing two birds with one stone. Yes, I know that "killing" is not very yogic, but you get the picture... :-)

  7. LI Ashtangini: Yes, I think what Eddie says about Guruji doing the pujas is right.