Yoga and the Moon Cycle: How The Moon Affects Us
This week, another fellow yoga guide and friend, Nathalie Claes aka Inner Wild Yoga, provides part 2 of our yoga & the moon series, in preparation for the next full moon (Harvest Moon) on Sept 24. Read more below about how the moon affects us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually and click here to join her donation-based Full Moon Yoga Hike on Friday, Sept 21, 7:00 - 9:30 PM. Nathalie is also an avid hiker and teaches several yoga classes at Asheville Yoga Center.
A bit about Nathalie and her yoga/travel journey.
I was born and raised in Belgium, and when I was seven we moved as a family to Texas. Since then I've moved to Michigan, England, China, Hong Kong, back to England - and now Asheville. Phew! I owe my love of travel to my upbringing, and am grateful that my parents taught us the skills of adaptability and understanding different cultures. They also lived in the Middle East while I was studying for my Bachelor's in the UK, and traveled there off and on for five years as well.
I found my yoga roots while I was living and volunteering on a remote corner of Lantau Island, Hong Kong. I was studying for a Master's and chose to do my project at this wonderful little farm/non profit called Ark Eden. The woman I was working for was amazing. She had gathered up every last penny she had to buy this chunk of land in a valley on Lantau Island, so that she could protect it and teach others how to live more sustainably. I was there to help run environmental education programs for school and corporate groups. It was here that I finally felt grounded in the world around me, and practicing meditation in these mountains really helped me connect with who I was.
In the winter of 2013 I moved back to the UK and threw myself into the practice of Hatha Yoga. After almost two years of a regular, consistent practice with a beloved teacher I felt ready to dive into a yoga teacher training and chose the Asheville Yoga Center in North Carolina. I completed my 200 YTT in the Spring of 2016 and am now on a journey to connect others to this wonderful practice.
How did your love of nature develop? / How and why did you start combining yoga and nature?
I believe we are all born with a love of nature, and this unbreakable bond with the natural world is buried in our genes. Nature is where we came from and evolved, not in cities, in front of computers or in cars. Throughout my travels I've been lucky enough to see many beautiful places and feel inspired by the natural world. But my wake up call as to how integrally we are linked happened when I moved to China in 2011. Here the streets, parks, oceans, and all wild spaces, were mistreated and neglected in a way I had never seen before. This lit a fire inside of me to learn more about our environment and how we can rally to protect it.
I began a Master's degree in Sustainable Development and as a part of my final thesis spent six months living in Hong Kong working for a small non profit. It was here that I truly learned the meaning of living in harmony with the land. I realize now that my yoga practice began as a spiritual reconnection with nature. A remembering of who I truly was, and what I alone wanted to manifest in my life without the expectation of others. While living in the jungle of Lantau, I found union and aliveness in the rushing streams, walking barefoot on the earth, taking care of land, growing food. I found wholeness in truly listening and coming home to nature.
Since then I've been on a mission to create experiences that allow people to fall in love with nature again. Because how can we expect people to care about these places if they don't know they exist? And if they know these places exist, how can we expect someone to develop a reverence for a place if they haven't experienced it, felt it, breathed it in, and laid their eyes upon it? A photo, well written prose, art or film will never replace the effects of a sunrise or swim after a long hike. Or a moon salutation on top of the mountain. Yoga is Union - a doorway to becoming more connected - to self, to community, to the earth. Connection between mind, body and spirit. It helps us peel away the layers and find out what's beneath so that we can truly experience the world.
How did you arrive in Asheville? / How and why did you become a yoga teacher?
I was living in near London and working for a wonderful environmental non profit, but just wasn't feeling fulfilled. Commuting five hours to work and back left me feeling exhausted and uninspired. The only thing that kept me going during that time were (a) great friends, and (b) my yoga practice. I had started practicing at a local gym and met the teacher who got me hooked on the practice. It was not only a great workout but allowed my mind to finally be at peace. After two years of practicing with her I felt ready to dive into a yoga teacher training. As for the Asheville connection... while I was working in the UK my parents had bought a house near Asheville. I visited there almost every summer and fell in love with the mountains and all the nature that was so easily accessibly. While the UK is stunningly beautiful in many ways, in London wildness truly felt so far away. When choosing the studio for my teacher training I settled on Asheville Yoga Center. It felt like the right time to move back stateside and start fresh. For the first time in my life I was doing something that I truly felt I wanted to do for me - not for anyone else.
What does yoga have to do with the phases of the moon?
Hatha yoga, the practice of moving our bodies through different poses in sequence, is what is generally meant when people refer to yoga in the form of exercise. Translated from Sanskirt, ha means 'sun' and tha means 'moon'. In the practice we are continuously trying to find balance between these two opposing halves - our energetic, solar side, and the calm, lunar side. Hatha yoga asanas are meant to create balance within the body, and unite the opposites.
Within our yoga practice, we learn the truth of that age old wisdom. "As above, so below. As without, so within." - as with the sun and moon in the sky, so with those in our heart - and we seek to find as much joy in the shadow and lunar places of our existence as we do in the bright and solar places of our life. Honoring the phases of the moon allows us to celebrate the phases of our lives. Especially in our fast paced society now an emphasis on honoring the slow, watery, cool parts of us can be especially healing for the nervous system.
What effect does the moon have on our bodies physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually?
The moon exerts a gravitational pull on the Earth, and her positions create different energetic experiences that can be compared to the breath cycle.
The full moon energy corresponds to the end of inhalation when the force of prana is greatest. Take a deep breath in, hold it, and feel the prana (energy) in your body. This is an expansive, upward moving force that makes us feel energetic and emotional, but not well grounded. During a full moon, most of us feel exhilarated, inspired and motivated towards accomplishment while others may feel chaotic and disorganized. This is a time to practice the intention of letting go of what no longer serves us.
The new moon energy corresponds to the end of exhalation when the force of apana is greatest. Take a moment to exhale completely, feeling your energy drain with the breath. Apana is a contracting, downward moving force that makes us feel calm and grounded, but dense and disinclined towards physical exertion. Symbolic of new beginnings, this phase is supercharged with the renewing, spiritual energy of the Universe. This is a time to plant seeds of intention that we might carry into the next 28 days.
By nature, women are lunar. It's no coincidence that the length of our menstrual cycles are synced up with the waxing and waning of the moon, occurring around every 28 days. If we are synced up with the moon's cycle, we will menstruate around the new moon and ovulate around the full moon.
How and why did you start doing Full Moon Yoga Hikes?
Because of the high energy around the full moon, I wanted to create an experience where we could root into our community and connect with the rhythms of nature. By starting with a hike up the mountain, we are shedding some of the chaotic energy that might be making us feel anxious or stressed. As we watch the sun set, we can begin to set intentions and then move into a slow, lunar movement practice to ground more deeply into letting go of what is no longer serving us. The hike down in the dark under the light of the moon helps us overcome our fears and remember that anything is possible.
I began offering these hikes when first completing my yoga teacher training in the Spring of 2016. I was born on the full moon, so this time of the lunar cycle has always felt special to me. Bringing my community outdoors to tune into the lunar cycle through yoga felt like a beautiful way to honor the rhythms of nature and to live in greater harmony with it.
What yoga poses/asanas do you recommend doing during each cycle of the moon?
New Moon: Child’s Pose (Balasana)
The new moon brings the darkest night of the cycle, and is a great time to rest and reflect. In Child’s Pose, there is no need for further action, just allow your body to rest and reflect.
Waxing Crescent: High Crescent Lunge It’s nice to actually visualize and think of a crescent moon when you’re in this pose. Remember that the crescent moon can be either waxing or waning, either building up and growing to the full moon or winding down to the new moon. In this pose, decide if you’d like to focus on building your strength, or calming down and taking it as a chance to reflect inward.
Half Moon Waxing: Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasana) While in Pyramid pose, focus on the “waxing” or growing of strength in your legs. Root down through both feet and feel the strength of your core supporting your upper body as you hold your torso parallel to the ground.
Waxing Gibbous Moon: Half Moon to Half Moon Bow (Ardha Chandra Chapasana) As the light builds in the night sky with the growing moon, so does our creative energy. Half Moon pose cultivates confidence, strength, and balance. Enjoy taking up space in this pose as you cultivate the courage to try something new.
Full Moon: Upward Bow (Wheel) Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) The Full Moon represents a time to harvest…time to pick the fruits of the seeds you’ve planted. It can also shine a light on hidden emotions. There’s a reason why strange occurrences are historically associated with the full moon: our repressed natures can bubble to the surface during this time. Upward Bow pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) opens the chest and throat, encouraging anything stuck to come loose.
Waning Gibbous Moon: Wild Thing As the pinnacle of the Full Moon shifts to waning, it often feels as if a fever has broken. Continue to bask in everything that came up for you previously, and enjoy the ecstatic heart opener of Wild Thing. Allow yourself to take up space in this big movement and express yourself fully.
Half-Moon Waning: Side Lunges (Skandasana) As the moon lights up less of the sky, this is a perfect time to be quiet, enjoy stillness, and be physically closer to the ground. It’s a perfect time to set intentions for the new cycle that will soon be waxing, and to ground down and rebalance. These side lunges are great for working your hamstrings, core and hips, and also keep us close to the ground for stability.
Waning Crescent Moon: Easy Seated Pose (Sukhasana) Sukhasana, or easy seated pose, is a perfect place to revisit your intentions for the full moon. What is it that you need to let go of? What is it that you would like to bring forth?
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Baker Photography