There’s about to be a supermoon. And it’s a little bit special. But what significance could this lunar experience have for our yoga practice?
2016 is set to close with the biggest moon that most of us alive today will ever have seen. On 14 November, the moon will be closer to Earth – and so brighter and bigger – than it has for almost 70 years.
What is a supermoon? One part of the moon's orbit known as the perigee, is about 30,000 miles closer to earth than the apogee, or the furthest part. If the orbit of the moon lines up with the sun and the Earth, it causes an effect called perigee-syzygy – meaning that the moon appears far bigger in the sky and that's when we see a supermoon.
How often do Supermoons come along? Relatively often. But it’s very rare that they’re quite as big as the one coming this month. And that will be just one of three supermoons that will close 2016, the last was in October, and the December moon will fall on 14th.
What is so special about this moon? The moon will appear bigger than it has for almost 70 years – the last time it was so close was 1948. The moon won't be this close again until 2034.
Why does the moon appear bigger in one place than another? It mostly depends on the “moon illusion” rather than it actually expanding. When the moon is low-hanging, near the horizon, it can look extra big because of the trees or buildings in front of it – which is more of an optical illusion than a reflection of how big it really looks from Earth.
But why is the moon so significant in Yoga and modern day life? The effect of the moon on our mood (and the mode of our children!!) has long been discussed in both the science and yoga worlds. The word ‘lunacy', meaning madness, comes from the term ‘luna', meaning moon in Latin.
In India, the Full Moon is referred to as the ‘Guru Purnima' or Guru Moon, and is believed to be a source of wisdom. Throughout history, many associations with the moon have evolved including as a symbol of intuition, creativity, feminine power and water.
The word ‘Hatha' (a type of Yoga) in Sanskrit (the language of ancient Indian) is made up of ‘ha' meaning sun, ‘tha' meaning moon- suggesting the practice of Hatha Yoga is innately linked to both. So perhaps a yoga practice that involves a balance of heating practices such as Sun Salutations coupled with more cooling lunar practices such as Moon Salutations, breath work and meditation would be the ideal?
I am a qualified Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow teacher and some members of the Ashtanga community do not practise on the Full and New Moon as they believe that the moon affects tidal rhythms, and as humans are made up of 70% water, the moon is said to have a similar effect on our internal tides, affecting our energy levels, joints, increasing the likelihood of injuries and our emotional life.
People often comment that around a Full Moon, their sleep is disrupted, or that they have less energy around a New Moon. But why would this be? The yoga theory is that the Full Moon is dominated by pranic energy (Prana Vayu). The Prana Vayu (or wind) is an upward moving energy and during this period there can be an increase of internal fluid and physical energy, and can lead to the over-stimulation of both body and mind. This can make us feel disconnected from our surroundings.
The New Moon is dominated by 'Apanic' energy and during this period there are decreased fluids in the body, which can potentially give us the feeling of lower physical and mental energy. In both cases, we could adapt our practice to include postures and flows to combat this feeling.
I always prefer to discover my own understanding of things, rather than taking others' words as gospel, so since starting YOGADOO I decided to see for myself whether I noticed any effects on my body or mind (as well as my yoga practice) in response to the Moon cycles.
The answer is yes, I have certainly noticed a difference in my energy levels, sleep patterns, emotional mood and behaviour. In the few days before the New Moon I often feel low in energy, whereas the night before the Full Moon, though I am usually a very sound sleeper, I feel wide awake and my sleep is disrupted.
I then started to adapt my yoga practice to chime with the lunar cycle. In the run up to the New Moon, I shift the tone towards a more restorative slant allowing for my lower energy levels. Around the Full Moon I concentrate on grounding, stability and balance and discovered that my energy levels became much calmer.
Of course, we all respond to external circumstances differently - but it is certainly an interesting experiment to connect more with our bodies throughout the month and allow our yoga practice to be appropriate to our mood and energy levels on any given day. So next time you notice big, unexpected shifts in your energy, check and see where the Moon is in its cycle and you might be surprised to see a correlation.