After the opening breathing exercise, the first posture in the Bikram Yoga series is actually a combined sequence of three poses: Lateral Half Moon; Half Moon Backbend; Hands to Feet Pose. This article is concerned with Lateral Half Moon. The Backbend and Hands to Feet Pose will be discussed on their own.
The primary purpose of this sequence at the start of class is to warm up the spine by bending and stretching it in four directions. This is a simple-looking posture but it can also be quite challenging since it involves stretching the entire body from finger tips to toes.
- creates lateral flexibility of the torso
- strengthens and stretches the muscles of the ankles, calves, thighs, buttocks, abdomen, back, shoulders, arms and hands
- stretches lymph glands
- improves balance
- prevents cramping in legs and arms
- firms breast muscles after nursing
Stand with feet together. Raise the arms over the head and clasp the hands firmly together. The classic Bikram method grip is with fingers interlaced, index fingers released and thumbs crossed. This grip is known as Kali Mudra (Mudras are like mini asanas, usually created with the hands, fingers and thumbs.) It’s also fine to do this posture with hands in a praying position (Namaskar). In either case, it’s suggested to maintain a firm grip throughout the duration of the posture. Note that firm doesn’t mean, “as hard as possible.” It just means firm enough to keep the palms together.
The arms stretch upwards alongside the ears, if possible. Some people may find it difficult to bring the arms as far back as the ears. No matter, just bring them as close as you can. The upward stretching of the arms should be intense enough to press the arms lightly into the ears or the sides of the head. Keep the chin lifted slightly higher than it’s normal position.
Stand with your body weight on the heels (still keeping the toes down). On an inhale and with the arms stretching straight up towards the ceiling, lift the torso and ribs, lengthening the entire body. On an exhale, slowly bend the body to the side in a straight lateral line, without bending the knees or the arms. Go to your limit and hold for 10-30 seconds. (In class the posture takes 40-60 seconds but that includes the set up described in the first two paragraphs above.)
The hips and shoulders should be in parallel alignment with the wall in front of you. Keep the head framed nicely between the arms, the same as it was in the set up. As you lift and bend the body to the side, gently press the hips in the opposite direction.
- If the arms pull forward as you move to the side try drawing the shoulder blades together behind you.
- Try to avoid twisting the torso. There can be a tendency for the bottom shoulder to drop back and the opposite hip to pull forward as you move. To avoid twisting think about keeping the bottom shoulder forward and the opposite hip back slightly.
To create stability in this posture be sure to contract all the muscles of the legs, abdomen and arms continuously. Be especially attentive to the gluteus and abdominal muscles. In class you will hear the instruction to “suck your stomach in.” This is shorthand for employing Uddiyana Bandha, which is a drawing in and upwards of the abdominal diaphragm. Mula Bandha is also helpful in this pose but don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the Bandhas. Just suck in your stomach and squeeze your butt.
Some people may require some space between the feet for this pose, which is fine. It depends on the shape of your legs so experiment to find your correct distance. Feet apart will also help with balance.
To accommodate shoulder conditions such as frozen shoulder or rotator cuff injuries this posture may be done with only one arm overhead. The injured arm can simply stay by your side or you could place your hand on your hip. Mild shoulder injuries may be accommodated by simply keep the hands a few inches apart with palms facing each other or facing forward. In severe cases this posture may be done with both arms down. This variation is known as Penguin Pose (just kidding).
- improves kidney function
- relieves back pain
- digestive issues
- low Blood Pressure
- rheumatic shoulder