I’m not shy about my love for Ardha Chandrasana, or, Half Moon Pose. To my heart, it is the embodiment of grace and peaceful power. And there are variations to serve students of all levels that still allow each to receive the bliss of this expansive, radiant posture.
On a physical level, the benefits of this posture are numerous and rich: The muscles of the standing leg are strengthened as that leg acts as the main point of structural stability in the balance. The practitioner grounds through the whole foot, engages the quadriceps to allow the hamstrings to lengthen, and engages the muscles around the calf to stabilize the ankle. The muscles of the raised leg are also engaged. The foot flexes strongly so that all five toes point back evenly and the muscles of the calf lengthen. Again, the quadriceps muscle in the front of the thigh is engaged to allow the hamstring to lengthen and the leg to eventually become straight. The upper body is working and stretching also in this posture. The spine is long; if the spine collapses or curves when the bottom hand is brought to the ground, place a block underneath that hand to lift the torso and encourage length from the heel of the raised leg all the way through the crown of the head.
One way to approach this is from Parivrtta Parsvakonasana / Extended Side-Angle Pose. From Extended Side-Angle, reach the lower arm about 6-12 in. beyond the front foot and press the fingertips into the floor. Bring the overhead arm to the top hip. Begin to shift weight into, and ground through all four corners of the front foot (big toe, little toe, inner heel, outer heel). On an inhale, slowly begin to straighten the front leg while simultaneously raising the back leg and extending it until it is parallel (or slightly above parallel) to the floor. Engage the quadriceps of the standing leg to lift the kneecap and allow the hamstring to release and stretch, while continuing to engage the calf muscles and ground through the foot of the standing leg. The more firmly you press the foot of the standing leg into the floor, the more lift and stability you will feel.
Flex the foot of the raised leg as if you were standing on a wall behind you. By flexing the foot, the leg muscles awaken and make this posture feel more stable.
Inhale and begin to rotate the top hip back, and open the chest toward the sky. If you feel steady, take the top arm away from the hip and raise it straight overhead. Your drishti, or eye-gaze can look either at the toes of the standing leg or up at the top hand. Do whatever brings the most ease and comfort to your neck.
If you have trouble with balancing in this posture or simply want to invite greater length into the spine, try bringing a block under the grounded hand. This will encourage lift and length in the spine while simultaneously offering more stability. A block is especially useful if you find rounding or curving happening in your back as you bring the hand down toward the floor.
You might also practice this posture against a wall. Even if you have strong balance, I often encourage students to try Ardha Chandrasana against a wall to really understand what it feels like to stack the hips and shoulders evenly. The foot of the standing leg remains pointed directly toward the front of the mat while the rest of the body opens toward the long side of the mat. Think about pressing both shoulder blades, the back of the hips, and the raised leg into the wall firmly in order to open the chest and heart more toward the sky.
Breathe deeply in this pose, reaching and lengthening through all of the limbs and the crown of the head. You can even make this into a little flow, lengthening the crown of the head and flexing to reach strongly through the back heel on the ihales, and stretching the arms apart in opposite directions on the exhales. Feel the energy all the way through the fingertips and toes, and expand as if you were trying to radiate across as much space as possible. Open your heart to a feeling of bliss as this energy flows out from you. Take 3-5 breaths and then slowly bend the front knee and bring the back leg down with control. Repeat the asana on the other side.
Once you feel comfortable and steady in Ardha Chandrasana, there are a few ways to challenge yourself if you wish.
For a deep stretch along the psoas and hip, on an inhale, bend the raised leg and reach back with the top arm to receive the foot. Exhale, relax the shoulder, and kick the foot into the hand. You should feel deep opening in the shoulder and a stretch through the hip flexors, psoas muscle, and quadriceps of the raised leg.
If you’re interested in playing with your balance, try bringing the fingertips up off of the ground. I like to rest mine gently on my shin.
One wonderful way to explore your body’s center of gravity and challenge your balance is to create a vinyasa (breath linked with movement) between holding the foot in this posture, and Natarajasana / Dancer’s Pose.
Inhale and kick into the hand strongly, using the breath and the traction created between this kick and extension of the front arm to rise up, coming into Natarajasana. Take one full breath in the posture and reach wide. Kick the foot away from you as you reach the chest and fingertips up and forward. Inhale deeply, and then exhale and reach through the front fingertips as you lengthen the spine and fold back down, bringing the hand either all the way to the mat or back to the shin. Think of moving your body like a seesaw with the hips serving as the axis. And again, always feel free to try these variations with your standing leg against a wall so that you can explore with support. Build a solid foundation and the balance will come.
I hope you enjoy exploring movement freely in Ardha Chandrasana. Remember to listen to your breath always, as it will guide your asana practice. Allow it to be calm and even through the nose. If it gets ragged or choppy, or you find yourself holding your breath, try a variation of the posture with more support. Be open and listen to the messages of the body, so that you can experience your practice in the most complete way possible.