Ashtanga moon days are considered special in the Ashtanga yoga world. These refer to both the new moon and full moon. We treat both days like a little holiday or a break from practice.
So why do we not practice on ashtanga moon days?
We don’t practice during Ashtanga moon days as it is a way to honor the rhythms of nature. Also, according to Indian astrological belief, it is not auspicious to do certain things on moon days. Our yoga practice is part of this lineage, and by not practicing we honor the moon days.
There are three reasons in total for not practicing these days.
Let’s have a look at them all.
Reason 1 – Higher and lower energy on Ashtanga moon days
This is the most commonly cited reason for resting during moon days.
The moon cycles the Earth every 28 days. And interestingly, the notion of the month comes from the cycles of the moon.
When Pattabhi Jois was asked why we shouldn’t practice on moon days he said:
“Two planets [grahas] one place, very dangerous.”Pattabhi Jois
This can be interpreted as meaning that on moon days, the Sun and Moon are in a line relative to the position of the Earth. This means that the effect of these planets more pronounced, with one well observable consequence being that the ocean’s tides are higher and lower these days.
In fact, both the Sun and the Moon exert a gravitational pull on Earth, and both influence the ocean tides. However, the Moon plays the biggest role as it is much closer to Earth.
It is around the New Moon and Full Moon we observe the greatest difference between high and low tide. During these Moon phases, the Sun and the Moon are aligned with the Earth and their gravitational forces combine to pull the ocean’s water. This results in high and low tides.
So coming back to how this can influence us, our bodies are made up of 70% water and so it could be argued that just like nature and the oceans’ tides, we too are affected by the phases of the moon.
By observing moon days and taking rest helps us connect with the universe. This connection then may make us more aware of the effect the universal energy can have on us individually.
Full moon – Prana
In yoga, we can associate the moon phases with the breathing cycle. This way, the full moon energy corresponds to the top of the inhalation. At this point, the force of prana is at its greatest. During this day we may feel energetic and not well grounded.
My teacher, Matthew Sweeney gave my fellow classmates and me an assignment. For a period of 4 months, we wrote down how we felt and how the practice felt on moon days. That was over 4 months and involved 8 moon days.
When the time came to report my experiences, I found that the moon days did indeed have an effect on my mood and practice. On the full moon, I felt very energized and my practice was very dynamic. Interestingly, my body craved intense backbends.
It’s has been speculated that we are prone to injury during the full moon as we seem to have a bit more energy in our practice and may push ourselves a bit too far.
And in fact, this is what my first Ashtanga teacher told me as a reason for not practicing on moon days: we are more likely to get injured.
New moon – Apana
After the inhalation and the Full moon, comes the exhalation and the New moon. At this point, the force of Apana is at its greatest. During this day we may feel grounded, but heavy and lethargic.
During my 4 month experiment, I remember feeling very heavy and sleepy during my new moon practices. I would much rather rest as I felt like that is what my body wanted.
Of course, 4 months is not enough to draw any real scientifically accurate conclusions. However, I did get to observe how the moon phases seemed to have an effect on me.
Over time we become more attuned to the universal cycles and may start observing that not everything is within our control. This realization may, in turn, help us live in greater harmony with our environment, and most importantly ourselves.
Reason 2 – Indian astrological belief
In India, where yoga comes from, there is an importance of Full and New Moon in Hindu Rituals.
The lunar month in the Hindu calendar has two fortnights.
- The first begins with the New moon (Amavasya) and ends with the Full moon (Purnima). The fortnight in between is called Shukla Paksha or Bright, as this is the period of the brightening moon.
- The second begins with the Full moon (Purnima) and ends with the New moon (Amavasya). The fortnight in between in called Krishna Paksha or Dark, as it is the period of the fading moon.
In the Hindu calendar, the New moon and Full moon have spiritual significance.
Pattabhi Jois started teaching yoga at the Sanskrit College in Mysore 1937 to 1973. Interestingly, the Sanskrit College was closed each month for classes on the moon days, plus the day before and after. Pattabhi Jois, as well as all the teachers and students there were brahmins (a class in Hinduism specializing as priests).
On Full moons and New moons, the Brāmaṇas have temple duties and so they don’t have time to teach.
And so this is why there were no classes on those days. Thus being a brahmin and a teacher in the Sanskrit College, Pattabhi Jois followed the astrological cycles and performed some observances according to the moon calendar.
This could be one explanation as to why Pattabi Jois did not teach Ashtanga on moon days and why years later these days then became known as a rest day.
Reason 3 – Ashtanga moon days as an excuse for a rest
We traditionally practice Ashtanga 6 days a week.
And so moon days are a rest day. A day when the body can rest and when we may indulge in the things we try to avoid when practicing (sleeping a bit more and maybe even a beer or two).
When are the moon days for this year?
Many Ashtanga studios have a listing of the moon days on their websites. Here is one site with the moon days of 2020.
Do Ashtanga studios teach on moon days?
Most Ashtanga studios close during these days. And this is also a chance for the teacher to have a rest from teaching. However, depending on the teacher and their teachings, they may remain open during these days and may simply advise the students to take it easy or observe how they feel. Additionally, some teachers choose to remain open and teach more gentle restorative classes. If you have such a studio near you it is definitely worth trying out, especially if your energy is a bit higher or lower than usual.
Why do some studios’ moon days occur a day early?
There are a variety of ways of calculating moon days. I remember once turning up to my studio only to find it was closed. I had been checking the moon days of another studio, which had their moon day appear a day early.
The reason for the sometimes different moon days is that rather than following an astronomy calculation, which considers the day to begin and end at midnight, one way of calculating moon days is to follow an Indian astrology system of calculation.
Using this system, the moon day is considered to be the period of time prior to the point the moon becomes exactly new (or full). In Indian astrology, this is called a tithi. Additionally, one thing that can lead to a difference in the calculation is that the day is considered to begin at sunrise, not at midnight as is most commonly considered.
So for example, if the moon is full at precisely 4 am on Friday, according to Indian astrology the day ends at sunrise, this means that Thursday is the full moon, not Friday as we would most likely estimate.