Each month we dig into a different asana by looking at common valves in major joints (spine, etc) and asking why do these valves or energy leaks occur? To answer that, we go under the hood and explore the asana’s kinesiology—what the muscles and bones are doing! This information lets us build valve “fixes,” practical teaching ideas you can try in your classes and privates. Each week builds on the next, giving you a month-long outline for how to help your students uncover their variation of the asana.
We’re floating into our third week focusing on ardha chandrasana (half moon pose) with lots of good stuff to share!
Can you stay calm, cool, and collected and use proprioception to find a neutral spine when gravity and balance are working against you?
Maybe you know this practice from your everyday life. We all know times of chaos. When things get hectic juggling family, work, school, friends, significant others, health, etc and it feels as if all the forces are conspiring against you, how do you stay calm, cool, and collected and use your awareness of self to find balance? To find your neutral?
Maybe with a little bit of investigation into what makes a busy life feel chaotic, you can learn to manage it –just like you can explore neutral in ardha chandrasana.
Ardha chandrasana puts us in a challenging balance position. If you’re practicing this pose with one hand on the floor, it’s even tougher to get the clean shape and neutral spine it asks for. When the task you set for yourself doesn’t match where you are right now, the struggle can lead to unwanted chaos!
When it comes to the spine in ardha chandrasana, this “unwanted chaos” or valve shows up as
- Spine lateral flexion: The side of the torso with the hand on the floor is bending and collapsing.
- Spine flexion: The front side of the torso is veering towards the floor.
By contrast, the original ardha chandrasana shape asks for axial elongation in the spine: length from the tailbone to the top of the head.
When you factor in gravity pulling you toward the floor and the work of balancing on one leg, this can be a tremendous task. Axial elongation can be difficult to find even in simple poses, such as sukhasana (easy pose) and tadasana (mountain pose), let alone ardha chandrasana.
When a challenge seems to be too much, what can we do? Break it down and tackle one piece at a time.
What’s Weak and Needs Strengthening
Because gravity is pulling us into lateral flexion and general flexion of the spine, we need to work against that, finding strength on the top side lateral flexors, and back side spine extensors.
- Spine lateral flexors (on the sides of your torso): internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum
- Spine extensors (along the back): erector spinae
Once we get to neutral, all the trunk muscles should be working on a long length to maintain the axial elongation. Anatomists call this an isometric contraction: work is happening even though nothing, we hope, is moving.
Practice Axial Elongation
Teach your students to create and feel axial elongation by first introducing it in similar, but easier positions. This lets them build their proprioception strength. Once they’re getting that, you can also work axial elongation through repetition and progressively more muscularly challenging shapes to build the strength needed for ardha chandrasana
Try creating simple ways to play with the action of the lifted leg in places other than full ardha chandrasana. Here are a few examples:
- “Easy” – mostly just about proprioception:
- “Medium” – side-leaning relationship to gravity, challenges proprioception and core muscles more:
- parsvakonasana (side angle pose)
- trikonasana (triangle pose)
- modified ardha chandrasana (kneeling with hand on the floor)
- “Harder” – same side-leaning relationship to gravity, double the core work!
- uttitha parsvakonasana (extended side angle)
- trikonasana core strengthener variation, i.e. arms overhead in shoulder flexion
- vashistasana (side plank)
Check Your Props
Everyone’s individual musculoskeletal make up is unique, which means that the old standby of using a block to help you balance may be making your work to find axial elongation harder, not easier. Why is that, you ask? Let’s see.
The normal range of motion for hip flexion is 90 degrees on a straight leg. In ardha chandrasana, the tilt on your standing leg toward the floor is the action of hip flexion. If you tilt far enough to reach your hand to the floor, you will have either used more than 90 degrees of hip flexion or added a spine action (lateral flexion or flexion, most likely). Just compare your leg length to your arm length: if all is relatively normal in your skeleton, your arm is shorter, right?
If you keep your spine in neutral, tilt 90 degrees on your leg at your hip, then there’s no way your hand can reach the floor! For many people even the height of one block doesn’t make up the difference in arm and leg length. Help your students find a block height that matches that difference and it will go a long way towards helping them find axial elongation!
When one block isn’t enough: stack two blocks (make sure they’re sturdy) or… use no blocks!
Wait a second, no block?! What if your student can’t balance comfortably?
They can always put a hand on the wall if they’re unable to work effectively without some balance guide. The wall lets them take advantage of support at the height they need it. That said, if a little stumble and fall isn’t a concern (as it would be for pregnant yogis, students with osteoporosis, and other conditions), working without the aid of a block is a great place for almost all students to play with ardha chandrasana.
A No-Block Method
Try coming into ardha chandrasana from virabhadrasana II (warrior 2) while keeping the torso at a high tilt as the back foot starts to float (i.e., they don’t need to immediately attempt to tilt to parallel with the floor). Once students have their balance there, then they can begin to tilt further, but caution them to tilt only as low as they can while maintaining the neutral spine they started with in virabhadrasana II. This lets students start with proper axial elongation and work to maintain it.
Try these ideas and when gravity and balance begin to throw you off, you and your students will be better able to stay calm, cool, collected, and aware!
And of course, let us know how it goes! Share your ideas here or on social with the tag #216infrastructure. We’d love to hear your stories of ardha chandrasana!
See you here next week for a word or two about the shoulders and arms!
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