Nothing lights up the yoga room like students shining in half moon pose, or ardha chandrasana. As our limbs reach out in all directions, it’s as if we’re floating, suspended in space like the moon in the night sky.
The brilliance of this pose derives from the enhanced proprioception it provides, which is a deeper understanding of where the body is in space. In this article, I'll show you two ways to practice ardha chandrasana with a strap, both of which come from the Iyengar method. These variations are designed to help you to feel your limbs emanating from the steadiness of your hips. This allows you to feel more grounded in the pose while maintaining a feeling of spaciousness.
Along with your strap, you'll need two blocks for these variations.
Brightening the Connection Between Your Bottom Heel and Top Hip
If you strengthen all the muscles from your foot to your hip, your balance will undoubtedly improve. But sometimes making the connection between your bottom heel and top hip is challenging in half moon pose. It helps me to imagine that the muscles surrounding my pelvis are sending electrical impulses down to my heel, magnetizing it to the floor.
As my heel gives itself over to gravity, my torso seems to lift away from the heel more effortlessly, creating more space between my torso and hips while my limbs extend outward in space.
To develop a more tangible sense of this cue, try the following variation.
To start, make a loop that’s much bigger than the distance between your heel and hip. Have ready your two blocks to place under your hands as you come into this version of half moon.
In mountain pose (tadasana), hold the looped strap in front of you, step into it with both feet, and fold forward into standing forward fold (uttanasana). Slip the rest of the strap overhead, resting it on your sacrum and aligning it with your outer hips (think gluteus medius). Adjust the strap so that it’s taut, with just enough give to allow you to lift one leg behind you.
Place your hands on the blocks (starting off with the blocks at their highest height and adjusting if needed) and lift halfway to half standing forward fold (ardha uttanasana); keep your torso long and hips over your ankles. Press your right heel firmly into the strap as you lift your left leg behind you, opening your hip to the left (your hip does not have to face the wall completely). Lift your left hand away from the block and turn your torso to the left, reaching your left hand to the sky. (You can also practice this with your back near a wall, and bottom hand or forearm on a chair for more support if you like.)
As you hold the posture, be aware of both your left outer hip pressing up into the strap and the way the strap moves deeper into the flesh of your outer left buttock. Notice that your hips may feel as if they are becoming more “compact” and moving closer to the floor, solidifying the connection between your right heel and left hip. See if you can find more length in your torso, your “wingspan,” and your right leg. Stay here for about five breaths before making your descent.
To come out, slowly lower your left leg to the floor behind you and step forward to uttanasana. Switch sides.
Rotating Your Pelvis Over Your Femur
One of the most challenging features of ardha chandrasana is the lateral hip hinge, in which the pelvis tilts sideways over the head of the femur. But using a strap around the bottom hip and the heel of the lifted leg can help educate the thigh of the standing leg to move back in order for this tilting action to occur.
This setup mimics a frequent yoga adjustment in which the teacher helps the student to hinge from their hip by the teacher placing the outer blade (pinky side) of their hand under the student’s hip crease, and then pressing the thigh back as the student moves into the posture. That encourages the hip to roll over the head of the femur. This strap technique helps students learn how to hinge from their hips on their own.
To begin, stand in tadasana. Make a large loop with your strap (as you did for the previous variation), and step into your strap so that both of your heels are on it. Place your blocks on the tallest setting more than a foot in front of your feet. Then, step your right foot forward a few inches, solidly onto the floor, and place the other end of the loop under your right hip point. Turn your left foot, leg, and hip, along with your torso, to face the long left side of your mat. Tighten or loosen the strap until you can straighten your left leg completely and feel the strap pulling just under your right hip point as you push into your left heel and hover your left foot slightly off the floor. This process of finding the best strap length may take a few tries.
Once you've adjusted the strap tautness and hovered your left foot about an inch or two away from the floor, keep pressing your heel into the strap, and notice the feedback from the strap around the front of the thigh of your standing leg. Continue tilting your hips laterally as you lift your left leg to about hip height; spread your arms away from each other, lowering your right hand to a block (and adjusting it so that it is slightly in front of your shoulder) and reaching your left arm toward the ceiling. As you hold ardha chandrasana, play with bending your lifted leg to give the strap some slack (and to release the pulling back of the root of the right thigh), and then re-straighten your leg.
Can you feel your left leg radiating brightly from your hip? Can you spread that radiance into the rest of your body by expanding your wingspan and the reach of your head away from your left heel?
To come out, bend your right knee and lower your left foot to the floor behind you, bringing your torso upright. Switch sides.
Putting the Pieces Together
After you’ve practiced each version, try practicing ardha chandrasana without a strap. Can you reproduce the effects of the strap, actively engaging your hip muscles and initiating the hinge from your front hip? Does the rest of your body feel effervescent from the imprint of the strap’s work? When practicing without it, it’s not uncommon to feel as though the strap is still wrapped around your body.
Enjoy these strapped variations of this classic pose, returning to them often in practice. See if they truly do illuminate your proprioception—helping you to confidently expand your limbs into the vastness of space, allowing your own half moon to glow.
Photography: Andrea Killam