This week I've been thinking about the moon. Not the one circling around the planet, but the one I struggle with in Yoga classes. Ardha Chandrasana, or Half Moon, is one of the most challenging, yet satisfying, poses I can think of. It requires a mixture of flexibility, balance, strength, and probably more than just a little courage to pull off properly. One of the reasons I'm fond of this pose is because it was one that I had a lot of early success with when I started taking Yoga classes. I think this is because as a cyclist and a runner, it is one of the few poses where leg strength and endurance is a plus.
Why do I feel this is a worthwhile pose for endurance athletes? Personally, I think this is a "must" pose for anyone who runs a lot. While Half Moon is an excellent pose for creating length and muscular integration of the whole body, it is also a great foot and lower leg strengthener. Because of the nature of balancing on a single foot, the muscles in the foot and around the ankles are constantly active getting an intense workout in just a few moments. From my own practice, I've come to believe this pose goes a long way toward building strong durable feet and lower legs which can help to prevent injuries such as Shin Splints, Plantar Fasciitis and Achilles Tendonosis.
So how do we come into Half Moon? There are actually several different ways to do this but to me the easiest way to get into the pose is to start from a lunge (right foot forward with the foot in between the hands). From the lunge you will come up onto your fingertips and straighten the right leg which causes the left leg to naturally lift from the floor. At this point the left leg is extending straight back behind you with the toes pointing down toward the floor.
Leaving your left hand in contact with the floor move your right hand to a point on the floor just beneath your right shoulder. Your gaze can remain on the floor. Take your left hand off the floor and place it on your left hip. Now without taking your eyes off the floor or your left hand off of your hip, rotate your left hip up toward the ceiling. This should also rotate your left toes to the point where they are now at a 90 degree angle with the right leg (they are pointing out away from the mid-line of your body).
Now you're are essentially in Half Moon. Once you have your balance, you can add more challenge to the pose by taking the left arm from the hip and extending it straight up toward the ceiling. Perhaps if you feel stable here, you can try to lift your gaze from the floor to the ceiling following the left arm. Finally, with your gaze back on the floor, you can bring your right hand from the floor to your ankle to incorporate additional balance into the pose. Remember to only rotate your head at the neck so that your left hip remains pointed up toward the ceiling allowing you to keep both your balance and the integrity of the pose. You will want to stay in the pose for at least 10 breaths. After that you can try this again on the other leg.
If you are finding balance is an issue one thing that is possible is to practice the pose with the extended (in this case left foot) against a wall for additional support.
You can find a picture of the pose and additional guidance here.