2010-02-13

The Meaning of a Full or New Moon

The next time you look at the moon do you know which one you are gazing at? Full or a new moon? Many traditions of yoga follow these cycles by either taking days off from the practice or meditating. Why?

Because the body is made up of 70% water, the moon naturally has a strong impact on both the human body and mind. The full and new moon cycles symbolize completion and celebration. In one year there are about 24 to 25 new and full moons. Some of these relate to the Buddha moon of birth, the Mother Earth and the ancient masters, sages and saints. Guru Purnima (a day to honour and give respect to our teachers) is best done just after the moon has risen and with direct contact to the rays of the moon. According to the lunar cycles, the moon also has a large impact on ocean tides.

During a full moon the sun and the moon are in opposition to each another while in the new moon cycle they are in conjunction. These positions create different energies on the earth, which correlate to the cycles of the breath. The full moon relates to the end of the inhalation; the rising of prana (energy). This is the vital life source that rises upward, expands and increases energy both physically and mentally. A characteristic during full moons is that of becoming head strong. Conversely, the new moon relates to the end of the exhalation; the emerging apana (downward energy). This is understood to develop feelings of earthiness, calmness and physical exhaustion.

Honouring these cycles is a way of aligning ourselves to the planetary forces that are always around. They also help us to live and breathe in harmony with nature. In Ashtanga–yoga, the practice is not taken on both new and full moons. In classical hatha-yoga and the Himalyan traidtion meditation is recommended on full moons. This is considered an especially auspicious time as you tune yourself inwardly to the energies beyond materialism and toward the cosmos.

I first learned about new and full moons, and their relationship to the physical practice during the my studies under Pattabi Jois in Mysore. As a beginner, I had no idea what it meant or why. In fact, I showed up for class one morning at 3:30 a.m. and could not figure out why no one else was there. Strangely enough, as well, I had very little problems getting to class that morning. I had been coming from the downtown core of Mysore into the district of Lakshmipuram where Pattabhi Jois first had his shala (school). Every morning was a fiasco to find a rickshaw. And if that was not enough, trying to give directions to a Kannada-speaking driver who never heard of Pattabhi Jois made it more frustrating. This, of course, shattered my illusion that all Indians knew yoga, do yoga and definitely knew of PJ. It was just sort of strange that things went really smoothly from getting to the hotel to the school.

While wondering why no one was around, I sat down on the front steps of the school. By then it was closer to 4 a.m. Being alone and a woman, I started to imagine the worse when I heard ruffling noises. Jumping up and ready to defend myself, I noticed a bull-frog gracefully landing beside me. I had to laugh. For the next few minutes, I watched him/her jump around until I finally decided to leave. It was about a 6 km walk back to the hotel. On my way I vaguely remembered something being said by Sharath (PJ's grandson) about “no practice, you take rest...new moon.”

Well, it all made sense.

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The Journey So Far

Life is an adventure and yoga is the greatest one of all. Here I share my love of Yoga, travel, practice and becoming a part-time cook. My life adventures have taken me from growing up in Toronto to living and working in South Korea to studying in India, marriage and finally closing my Yoga school of 15 years.

What I can say so far is that I truly believe that it is necessary in life to let go of one dream in order for another to be born. This might be painful to do so but it is the only way to move forward. We often believe that if our original plan does not succeed it is the recipe for failure. But what if it is the door to something new and great? The horizon is wide and life is not a straight line. This is the way I see it and my journey so far. Having also recently given birth to my first child and at 43, it is another new beginning.


ME

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Heather Morton
is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
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