Half Moon (Ardha- Chandrasana)
Beginners: Side Stretch – make sure your head stays between your arms and your chin is level so that your throat is visible in the front mirror. Holding this symmetry throughout the pose is the key or primary thought to achieving good alignment and position. Avoid collapsing the shoulders by turning the upper shoulder slightly toward the back wall, thus aligning the upper shoulder directly on top of the lower shoulder. Don’t forget to shift your hips in the opposite direction of your arms, keeping them square to the front mirror and pushing them out in equal proportion with your upper torso. Don’t worry about how far down you’re going; be more concerned with the proper alignment I just described.
Beginners: Back bending – the most important direction for the back bending is to protect and support your lower back (lumbar and sacrum) at all costs by first lifting up and out of your waist, creating space between your ribcage and hips. Keeping your elbows straight at all times will help with this process. I see too many students drop down and crunch their lower backs. This can cause unnecessary soreness and injury! The half moon back bending is scary at first, it’s a new range of motion to our physiology, so once again, be patient, with time and experience you will improve dramatically.
Intermediate: Side Stretch – keep a strong foundation by anchoring or (strengthening) your buttocks, hips, and legs. Let your upper torso extend out of this foundation. Assuming you’re practicing the right side, think of the energy flowing down from your left hip, through your left heel and pressing into the floor. At the same time, feel the energy initiating from the left hip all the way up the left front part of your upper torso and out through your finger tips. This creates another very important opposite direction. So don’t drop down into your right side, instead extend up from your left side.
Intermediate: Back Bending – too many students experience unnecessary lower back pain by focusing their attention on the lower back. Instead think of the middle back (dorsal vertebra). It’s the middle back that has to bend in order for you to improve in the pose. Work back further into the pose on the exhale, that’s when the body is most pliable, and send the exhaling breath into the middle and upper back, at the same time (another opposite direction), open your chest and heart chakra. By exhaling you’re allowing the back to relax and let go! If you hold your breath your body will have a tendency to tighten. Give yourself a tangible goal; reach back for a spot on the wall behind you, and with each exhaling breath reach back for another spot two inches below your fingers. Sometimes in class I’ll go over to a student and place the palm of my hand two inches below their fingers and ask them to touch my hand. Just before they touch I lower my hand further down, and keep repeating never letting them touch. It’s a dirty trick, but it works! You’ll be amazed how far you can go when you have a tangible goal in your mind.
Advanced: Side Stretch – as your flexibility improves, be careful not to twist your upper torso to avoid the confrontation. Even though this is not an exact lateral stretch (you should be working slightly toward the back corner of the room), you want to avoid turning the side stretch into a back bending pose. If you are very flexible you may have that tendency. Keep you hips and shoulders square, legs, buttocks and hips tight, and extend up and over as far as possible. Remember, since this pose is done early (it’s a warm-up pose), less in the beginning, more toward the end! You don’t want to “go for it” until the end, that’s when your body is ready to respond without injury.
Advanced: Back Bending – the same principals for the Intermediate section apply with one addition – ISOLATION. If you’ve been getting my past newsletters I have previously expressed the term isolation. In this case the isolation is to relax the spine and at the same time tighten the buttocks, legs and hips. Don’t let the contraction of the lower body radiate into your spine.