When I first started practicing yoga, ardha chandrasana (half moon) was the most challenging pose for me. Sure, half moon looked simple enough, and thanks to years of ballet, I was quite accustomed to balancing on one leg, so my struggle to find stability in this pose came as a shock (and a bit of a blow to my ego). I chalked my lack of balance up to the fact that, in ballet, my standing-leg foot was almost always turned out, whereas in ardha chandrasana my standing-leg foot was supposed to be parallel (warrior III caused similar frustration—sure, it looks kind of like an arabesque, but thanks to constant reminders from my teachers to point my front foot straight ahead and square my hips toward the floor, I very quickly discovered that this ain’t no arabesque!) Half moon provided the added challenge of facing the long edge of the mat while keeping that bottom foot parallel; these slight differences forced me to renegotiate my balance, and quickly brought muscles that I didn't even know I had to the forefront of my attention.
When I first started practicing yoga, ardha chandrasana (half moon) was the most challenging pose for me.
Eventually, I did learn to like half moon, mostly thanks to regular practice (a lesson that I seem to keep learning again and again—that if I want to get “better” at a pose I don’t particularly like or feel “good at,” I actually have to practice that pose consistently), and some really helpful balancing and alignment tips that I picked up from skilled teachers over the years (the second half of that seemingly perennial lesson is that consistent practice has to include safe and effective alignment).
Here are a few tips that I've found especially helpful for finding balance, stability, and—most importantly—confidence in ardha chandrasana.
Practice with Your Back Foot Against a Wall
For a lot of us, half moon feels way more comfortable and free (particularly on the bottom-leg side of the pelvis) if we place the bottom hand on a block. However, using a wobbly yoga block (especially your standard uber-light foam block) can feel a LOT less stable than placing your fingertips on the floor. Unfortunate trade-off? It doesn't have to be! Practicing with your back foot pressing into a wall makes the pose way more stable—even when you're practicing with a block!
Bring the short edge of your mat to the wall, toting a set of blocks along with you. Place your blocks near the top of your mat, at their highest height, and sit with your back against the wall, legs extended forward as in dandasana (staff pose). Take note of where your heels are (you could even momentarily place your blocks there, as markers), and then come to standing, facing away from the wall with your heels in that exact same spot. From here, come into ardha uttanasana (half forward bend) with your spine long, and all of your fingertips pressing into the blocks. Transfer your weight onto your right foot, and extend your left leg back behind you, as in warrior III (both hip-points facing the floor to start). In this position, you want your back foot pressing into the wall, back heel at hip height, toes facing down toward the floor, and your front hip right over your front heel. If this isn’t happening for you, scoot your front foot forward or back until you find this alignment.
Keep Your Front Knee Safe
It’s super-common for the front knee to collapse in toward center in half moon, which can make the pose feel more wobbly, and, over time, can lead to some not-so-happy knees. Before you open up into the pose, align your front knee by bending it slightly and lifting your heel, as though you were wearing a high-heeled shoe. Press into the ball of your right big toe, and track your knee toward the pinky-toe side of your foot. (If you’re wondering “why the pinky toe?” instead of the oft-cued “second toe,” Amber Burke offers a fabulous explanation in her recent YI article, “Keeping the Doctor Away: Ten Doses of Yoga Alignment for Preventative Physical Therapy”.) Keep rooting through the ball of your big toe and continue to track your knee toward the pinky toe as you slowlylower your front heel to the floor. You can keep a small bend in your front knee if it helps you to keep it aligned, or you can move your front leg toward straight. Maintain this healthy-knee alignment as you open up into the pose.
Before you open up into the pose, align your front knee by bending it slightly and lifting your heel, as though you were wearing a high-heeled shoe.
Opening into the Pose
Once you’re stable in this supported warrior III variation, you can open up into half moon. You may need to adjust your right block so that it’s six to ten inches in front on the pinky-toe side of your right foot (basically to a place where you feel stable, and where your right shoulder is stacked over your hand and block in the pose). Keeping your front leg as is, bring your left hand to your hip, and open up to face the long edge of the mat. Now you’re in half moon with your back foot against the wall at hip height. Instead of pointing down toward the floor, now your back toes point toward the direction you’re facing—just like they would in half moon away from the wall.
Super-Cool Balance Tip
Keeping your front knee aligned, press your front foot down into the floor, and resist it to the right, as though you were trying to turn your front foot out, but can’t because it’s stuck to the floor.
Keep that, and press your back foot against the wall, and resist up, as though someone was trying to push your back thigh down and you were resisting against them (your foot and leg won’t actually move, you’re just resisting).
Maintaining this dual resistance (pressing down and resisting out with the front foot, and pressing back into the wall and resisting up with the back foot), you might even find that you’re so stable that you can not only extend your top arm up, but you might even be able to lift your bottom hand away from the block!
Taking It Away from the Wall
Once you’ve worked with those stabilizing actions at the wall for a while, you may naturally find that half moon in the center of the room is much easier to maintain.
Enter the Pose with Mindful Awareness and Control
When practicing in the center of the room, you can enter the pose via supported warrior III (just like you did at the wall). But perhaps the most common transition you’ll encounter in the classroom is entering half moon via an “open-hip standing pose” (warrior II, reverse warrior, triangle, or side angle, for example). While it can be tempting to use momentum to “shoot” forward into half moon, you’ll likely have an easier time balancing if you take your time: Transition your weight onto your front foot, walk your front-leg-side fingertips (or block) six to ten inches in front of the pinky-toe side of your foot, and on an inhale, float your back leg up (I sometimes find it helpful to imagine that I’m “breathing my back leg up”).
While it can be tempting to use momentum to “shoot” forward into half moon, you’ll likely have an easier time balancing if you take your time.
Keep the knee of your standing leg pointing straight ahead (err on the side of moving the knee toward the pinky-toe side of the foot). Feel free to bend your standing-leg knee to aid in finding this alignment. Keep your lifted leg hip height (not higher), and avoid turning the toes out or in.
Work the same actions in your legs that you did at the wall: Without actually moving it, resist your standing-leg foot outward to help work the outer hip under. Imagine that you're pressing your lifted-leg foot straight back into a wall behind you, and resist up.
Don’t Roll Your Top Hip Back (Move from Your Belly Instead)
Resist the urge to roll your top hip back (which can be destabilizing and somewhat precarious for the pelvis). Instead, keep working the actions in your legs, and turn from your belly: Spin the right (bottom) side of your belly toward the top side of your belly, and turn your belly and chest toward the ceiling. Extend your top arm up only if your shoulders are stacked and you feel stable with your balance.
What to Do with Your Head
Keep the back of your skull in line with the back of your pelvis, and either gaze down toward your front big toe, straight ahead, or up.
Here's to happy (and stable) half moons!