“Where are you?” asked John Scott to a room of yogis in TriYoga’s now defunct studio in Primrose Hill.
“At TriYoga in London” someone replied.
“Yes, but where is this? Where are you? Where is the sun? Which way is East?”
We struggled to look through the coloured glass to get our bearings, I taking solace in the fact I didn’t have a clue because I’m not a Londoner and I barely find my way home at the best of times. Everyone looked confused.
“Don’t you want to know where you are? How you fit into this cosmos? Do you know where the moon rises? Where it sets?”
Here’s a man who takes heed at celestial movements and here we are as ashtangis after a morning of intermediate practice having no idea as to where we actually were. We’d neglected our place in nature; big buildings blocked out the sun, pollution cast shadows over the stars and moon. Maybe we were on the way to knowing our bodies in the confines of a sticky mat, but we’d lost connection to the bigger picture.
Being an ashtangi and teaching the Mysore method, we observe “Moon Days” on which we do not take practice. Why is this?
Yoga was born of India, a country whose culture looks to the stars and planets for guidance by Vedic Astrology. I have seen with my own eyes the gratitude modern Indians have for the full (Purnima) and new moon (Amavasya) each month by performing rituals and offerings (puja).
When it comes to observing Moon Days in Ashtanga, it is important to note that Sri K Pattabhi Jois (founder of Ashtanga Yoga) was of the Hindu Brahmin caste (and coincidentally born on a full moon which would have been auspicious to his astrology following family). Later in life he attended a college which observed the phases of the moon, and on days of full/new moon there were no classes – this longstanding habit is thought to have spilt over into his yoga teachings (see Eddie Stern’s explanation that explains this more here). Having long days of prayers, offerings, ritualistic bathing and attending the local temple would have meant there was less time to go to college or roll out a mat for a couple of hours practice. It seems to be a simple case of time management and adhering to religious customs.
Beyond the time management , there are yogic texts that highlight the effects of the cosmos on the body and how we can reflect on this. For example: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s 3.26, 3.27 and 3.28 are good places to start reading and think upon.
It is said that “…the days preceding full moon cause a subtle change to the fluid in the body, an internal high tide, a general increase in energy. The days preceding new moon cause an internal low tide to the fluids in the body.” (Vinyasa Krama: Five Unique Sequences, Matthew Sweeney pg. 25). So to protect oneself from injury, pushing too hard or creating further imbalance in our gunas (qualities) we stop, change or adapt our practice at the times of full or new moon. What should be noted here are the important words “days preceding”… days… with an “s”. A full or new moon doesn’t just happen on that one day. As a rule of thumb, the days preceding and succeeding full/new moons lasts three days either side; bare that in mind as you practice.
So what happens if you think all this energetic talk of lunar pulls and influences is a little hocus-pocus and a bit too far-out? Do you just stop practice because your teacher tells you to? No. Do you carry on regardless? No. It may be better to use the time your shala (yoga studio/school) is closed to practice some self-awareness and self-exploration off the mat to be conscious of your own biorhythms and to adjust your practice accordingly, not because someone else says so and to blindly follow orders.
Personally I find it important to adapt your practice as you delve deeper into yoga, one cannot practice the same thing every day expecting the better and better results. This will lead you to instant self-comparisons, dogma and lack of awareness. What was it Einstein said…? Oh yes, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This is why I practice holistically with Yin Yoga and appreciate Matthew Sweeney’s intelligent Vinyasa Krama sequences that are designed to complement the body’s different needs over time.
Last year I had the chance to take practice with Lino Miele in his home in Italy. One afternoon the there was a Q&A session and it went like something like this (this was a rough translation from Italian that I scribbled in my notebook):
“Why don’t we practice on Full or New Moons, Lino?” asked a long term student.
“Well firstly you have to believe in that stuff that the moon does to you, if you don’t believe in zodiacs and celestial influences, keep practicing!” It caused a giggle as there was a whole back story to it with wonderful gestures that only an Italian man who used to work in theatre production could do. When he started out on his yogic path, Lino didn’t understand Pattabhi Jois when he told him to observe moon days so he carried on. However, over time it seems Lino gained more of an understanding and respect for his subtle energies. There was a lot following this but the interpreter only chose to interpret this concluding sentence that Lino had to say on the subject:
“Your body talks to you and tells you what to do. Listen.”
Your body and your mind are your own to explore, question and observe with the tools a teacher or practice give you. Listen to your teachings, but more importantly, learn the art of listening to yourself too.
As Eddie Stern says, “Surrendering oneself to a lineage has its own charm and effect on our character, so why should we not try it? I do not believe that all yoga students should refrain from practice on these days – they too should follow the observances of their teachers, and hopefully by aligning our minds with higher principles, we will all find happiness in our practices. On moon days or not!”
Or, you could just do what I do and take the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful lie in on moon days… treat them like an Ashtanga Bank Holiday!