Bear with me. This might get a little new age-y.
Moon Salutations. What are they?
Moon Salutation is a restorative sequence made up of a series of poses performed to create a cooling flow of movement. Similar to Sun Salutations, Moon Salutations poses are coordinated with your breath cycle (inhale, extend; exhale, bend), however, they differ in that they draw the awareness inward, and bring about a tranquil quiet.
Moon Salutations were designed to honor the energy of the moon, rather than the energy of the sun. Energy from the sun is considered masculine, and energy from the moon is considered feminine. So, Sun Salutations, honor the divine masculine energy, and Moon Salutations honor the divine feminine. Things brings a balance to both aspects of, well, all of nature.
According to this philosophy, there is a Yin and Yang aspect to all things. This graphic from The Mountain Mama is a pretty simple breakdown of these two coexistent sides.
According to The Mountain Mama, “Everything in nature, including humans, have Yin and Yang aspects. Yin and Yang flow harmoniously creating balance. Yin and Yang need each other to survive. If we focus on these principles, knowing that after the darkness comes the light will follow, we create more peace in our lives. When we have been very active, rest follows. When we have been very fluid, going with the flow like water for a while, sometimes we need to stop and find some fiery passion. Once night ends, day follows, and vice versa. It is ever-changing so we can find peace in knowing that after the hard times, good times will follow. If you are finding yourself heavily on one side of the Yin/Yang spectrum and feeling out of balance, you can simply bring in the opposite characteristics to create a more harmonious existence.”
Moon Salutations have many variations, and the particular sequence I practice is credited to Megha Nancy Buttenheim of Let Your Yoga Dance and Kripalu. Megha explains, “In Is the late ’80s, I wondered why so little attention in yoga was focused on the moon, as did my Kripalu Yoga teaching colleagues. Sun Salutations come from the masculine historical tradition of yoga, but we wanted to make it more accessible to the scores of women who were getting more and more interested in the practice. While the Sun Salutation raises prana, we wanted the Moon Salute to recognize the downward flow of energy.”
(For reference, “prana” means “breath” and is considered as a life-giving force).
I’m a Christian and this sounds scary. Can I still practice Moon Salutations?
I’m going to share with you my interpretation on the matter, because the Bible doesn’t give a clear cut, definitive answer on yoga in general, let alone something so specific, but I’m going to give this disclaimer: if you’re prone to stumble with things like this, flee from it. The Bible is clear that if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. So, definitely proceed with caution and at your own discretion.
Another thing the Bible is clear on, however, is that the greatest thing we can and need to do is to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strengths, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Yeah? Can we all agree there?
So my question to myself and to my God is, “Can I do this as a way to love God more deeply?”
And, at least for me, the answer I have received and found is: YES.
Yes, this absolutely can cause me to love God more because it calls me into a different kind of worship and meditation than I or we might normally default to.
It’s easy to see God in the light. We know He is the Light of the World, yes? Lest we forget, though, that He is also God of the dark. Nothing is hidden from Him or beyond Him. In the beginning, there was darkness, and from the darkness, He created light. He called the light “day,” but He called the darkness, “night.” He did not reject the night, or say that it was not of Him. It is still His. We can praise Him that even in the darkness, He is still God, He is still in control, He is still on the throne, amen? What more poignant of a reminder than a wholistic worship experience like yoga, practiced at night under the moon?
Similarly, because the Bible and common tradition refers to God using male pronouns (He, Him, Father, etc), and because Jesus Himself was a man, I think it’s easy for us to forget that God is beyond gender. He is both masculine and feminine. Now before anyone cries blasphemy, hear me out: God created them MALE and FEMALE, and He created them in His own image. He is our divine, and therefore, divinely masculine/male and divinely feminine/female.
On the note of femininity, I would add the beauty of God’s feminine creation’s cyclical nature, which is often a little awkward to talk about, but let’s just through it out there: the female menstruation cycle. God created that – He created our cycles and gave us the distinct honor of playing such an essential role in His creation of more people, after the garden, after the fall. The moon itself operates on a frequent cycle and impacts the created world greatly as it does (the tides, mensuration, werewolves… just kidding). Practicing a cyclical sequence of poses like Moon Salutations can bring our hearts and minds into postures of appreciation and gratitude for God’s amazing design.
Furthermore, I find that we are warned against being lukewarm Christians in the Bible, but not against being hot or cold. It’s usual I think to take notice of and understand those we deem “on fire” for Jesus. But what about those that are “cold?” And what does it mean to be a “cold” Christian? I think this is something we can all seek for ourselves. In this practice of Moon Salutations, I find this to call me into contemplation on what it would mean to be a cool or cold Christian, and how I/we/they fit into the Kingdom and God’s greater purposes of sharing the Gospel.
Lastly, (though a book could probably be written about this stuff, and likely has been, for the sake of this just being a blog post, I’m just going to call it here), I love the beautiful parallel drawn between the sun’s light being reflected by the moon and God’s love for His creation by our love for one another. Our practice can be a movement prayer, asking God to help us reflect Himself to the unknowing and unbelieving world.
Again, these are just my thoughts and what I’ve found in my own seeking, studying, prayer, and meditation. You’re welcome to come to your own conclusions. I’ve found things like this, that don’t have clear definitions and commands in the Bible, we are allowed and encouraged by God Himself to seek and discern these issues for ourselves.
So now that we know what they are, how do we do them?
There are many variations of Moon Salutations. The particular version that I practice is simple, and suitable for students of all levels. It’s made up of nine, cyclical poses; you progress through all nine poses, and then back to the beginning. From Yoga Outlet:
1.Standing Mountain Pose
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Press your palms together in prayer position. Rest your thumbs on your sternum and take several breaths.
2.Upward Salute Side Bend
Inhale as you sweep your arms out to the side and overhead. Interlace your fingers and point your index fingers to the ceiling. Exhale and press your left hip to the side, bending your upper torso to the right. Keep your feet grounded and your thighs firmly engaged. Inhale and come back to center. Exhale and bend to the left, and then inhale to come back to center. Exhale as you release your arms.
Inhale as you step your feet wide apart and turn your toes out slightly. Exhale as you bend your knees directly over your toes and lower your hips into a squat. Extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder-height with your palms facing forward. Then bend your elbows and point your fingertips toward the ceiling; your upper arms and forearms should be at 90-degree angles. To deepen the pose, come onto your toes.
Inhale as you straighten your legs, keeping your feet wide apart. Extend your arms at shoulder-height, facing your palms forward. Spread your fingers and reach out through your fingertips.
5.Extended Triangle Pose
Rotate your right (front) foot 90 degrees so your front foot’s toes point to the top of the mat. Turn your left toes in slightly. Exhale as you reach through your right hand in the same direction that your right foot is pointed. Shift your left hip back, and then fold sideways at the hip. Rest your right hand on the outside of your shin or ankle and extend your left hand straight up to the ceiling.
Inhale as you lower your left hand and turn your upper torso to the right until it is in line with your right leg. Exhale as you fold your torso over your right leg. Rest both hands on your lower leg, foot, or the floor. Ground down through the heel of your back foot.
7.Low Crescent Lunge
Inhale as you bend your right knee and place your fingertips on the mat in front of you. Exhaling, step your left foot to the back of the mat, keeping your right foot at the front of the mat. Align your right knee over the heel of your right foot. Lower your left knee to the floor and slide your leg back a few inches. Un-tuck your left foot’s toes and rest the top of your foot on the floor. Keep your fingertips on the mat and gaze between your hands.
8. Low Side Lunge
Inhaling, place both hands to the inside of your right foot on the floor. Rotate your right foot and leg to face forward, keeping your knee bent. Exhaling, turn your left toes forward, keeping your left leg extended and your palms on the floor. If that is too deep of a squat for you, rest your hands on your right thigh, instead.
9.Garland Pose/Yogi Squat
Inhale as you step your right foot in toward your left and lower your tailbone, coming into a low squat. Bring your upper arms to the inside of your knees. Press your elbows against the inside of your knees and bring your palms together in prayer position. Exhale fully. Keep your feet as wide apart as needed to feel steady.
10.Low Side Lunge
Inhale as you place your hands on the floor to the inside of your left foot. Extend your right foot out to the right. Exhale as you slide your torso toward your left foot. If needed, rest your hands on your left thigh instead of on the floor.
11.Low Crescent Lunge
Inhale and turn your left toes to point to the back of your mat. Rotate your right leg inward and bring your right knee to the floor, pressing through the top of your right foot. Align your left knee over the heel of your left foot. Exhale and place your fingertips on the mat in front of you. Keep your fingertips on the mat and gaze between your hands.
Inhale as you straighten both legs. Exhale and fold your torso over your left leg. Rest both hands on your lower leg, foot, or the floor. Ground down through the heel of your back foot.
13.Extended Triangle Pose
Inhale as you extend your right hand straight up to the ceiling, opening your torso to the right. Rest your left hand on the outside of your left shin or ankle. Exhale fully.
Inhale as you raise your torso with your arms extended and palms facing forward. Keep your feet wide apart. Spread your fingers and reach out through your fingertips.
Exhale as you bend your knees directly over your toes and lower your hips into a squat. Bend your elbows and point your fingertips toward the ceiling.
16.Upward Salute Side Bend
Inhale as you straighten your legs. Turn your toes forward and step your left foot next to your right. At the same time, sweep your arms out to the side and overhead. Interlace your fingers and point your index fingers to the ceiling. Exhale as you press your left hip to the side and bend your upper torso to the right. Keep your feet grounded and your thighs firmly engaged. Inhale and come back to center. Exhale as you bend to the left, and then inhale to come back to center. Exhale as you release your arms.
17.Standing Mountain Pose
Bring your palms together in prayer position. Rest your thumbs on your sternum and take several breaths.