While you wouldn’t necessarily attend a yoga class at night under the stars (it would be tricky to see what the teacher was doing), practising by yourself at night can be very powerful
It helps us to focus on the quieter, more inward, softer parts of ourselves, and encourages us to honour that dimension of our natural world, writes astrophysicist and Zen teacher Mark Westmoquette.
Yoga means union, and the primary pair of opposites yoga is concerned with uniting are the energies of yin (ida/feminine) and yang (pingala/masculine).
By balancing and harmonising these poles we can find an ease of being and steadiness that allows us to be of genuine help in this world.
Ultimately this balance helps us to step into the non-dual perspective (advaita) of liberation (moksha).
A good proportion of modern yoga practice leans towards the yang side – strong, fast, hot, with an external drishti (gaze point) – and for good reason.
This kind of practice strengthens the body, increases fitness and challenges the mind. Yin and restorative yoga emphasise the feminine, yin dimension by holding postures, often with the help of soft supports and props, for long periods.
Here I wanted to describe a different kind of yin practice comprising a soft flowing sequence with an inner focus that can be done at night time.
The night time is itself the yin time of the day, and the moon (chandra) is traditionally seen as the symbol of this feminine aspect (whereas the sun – surya – represents the yang/masculine side).
So, the next time it’s a clear night, unroll your yoga mat outside on the grass (it it’s too cold to be outside, move your mat to a window where you can see the stars).
Lie down, soften your body, face, hands and start by practising some mindful stargazing.
Centre your gaze on one spot in the sky and become aware of the whole of your field of vision.
Allow your eyes to be filled with the vista of the night sky and the landscape around you.
There’s no need to work out what constellation or star you’re looking at. Just immerse yourself in the experience of being with the night sky.
As you move through this sequence, honour the night-time, lunar, yin energy by moving gently, slowly, and taking your time in each posture.
Never force things. Even if your eyes stay open, try to have an inner drishti by staying very aware of your inner feelings and sensations as you move.
If the moon is up, you might want to angle your mat to face it so this becomes a genuine salutation to the moon.
Moon Salutation – Chandra Namaskar
- Mountain Pose – Tadasana.
Prepare by standing upright in Mountain Pose towards one end of the mat. Bow to the night time, to the stars and the moon, and to your own yin dimension.
- Standing Crescent Moon Pose – Parsva Urdhva Hastasana (in Japanese this is known as Yashinoki, the palm tree pose).
When doing these side bends you can have your arms overhead as pictured, or down by your sides.
- Moon Goddess Pose – variation on Deviasana.
Step wide and sink down into a horse stance. Make sure the knees are moving backwards in line with the toes and you your upper body remains upright. Raise the hands in front of you with the palms facing outwards (holding the hands in this way is known as ‘gazing at the moon’).
- Triangle Pose – Trikonasana.
Spin the right heel out and align the left toes with the front of the mat, keep the hips aligned with the long edge of the mat. Straighten both legs (but avoid locking the knees), lean to the side and reach towards the earth and sky at the same time. Look up at the stars if you feel comfortable in the balance. Feel free to hold the front leg for stability.
- Pyramid Pose – Parsvottanasana.
Sweep the top arm towards the front of the mat and rotate the hips and feet in the same direction. Bring both hands down, keep both legs strong and fold towards the front leg. Only fold as far as is appropriate for your body. Make sure to keep the knee joints unlocked. To make this more accessible, have a bend in both knees, and/or being the feet closer together.
- Crescent Moon Pose – Anjaneyasana.
Drop the back knee into a low lunge, then sweep the hands up overhead. Make sure the front knee stays over the foot. If it goes beyond it, lengthen your stance. For a stronger version, keep the back knee up.
- Revolved Side-Angle Pose – Parivrtta Parsvakonasana.
Bring the arms down. Plant the left hand below the left shoulder and sweep the right hand up towards the stars. For a deeper version of this pose, you could lift the back knee and/or experiment with moving the left hand closer to the front foot (or even to the other side of the foot).
- Nectar of the Moon Pose I – Somachandrasana I.
With the left hand remaining firm on the ground, rotate the body to the right while flipping onto the outside edge of the left foot. Drop the hips for a side-stretch and reach towards the back of the mat. To make this more accessible, you can let the lower hip come on the ground and shift the right foot more towards the back of the mat.
- Nectar of the Moon Pose II – Somachandrasana II.
Sweep the right hand around towards the front of the mat and over the head for a delicious front lengthening.
- Side-lunge – Ardha Malasana (also known as half-squat, Skandasana). Briefly return to Somachandrasana I. Then, using the right arm as momentum, sweep it across the front of the body, helping you swivel all the way around to face the opposite direction as you sit into this side-lunge. Let the feet move accordingly. You could reach for the big toe and spread the arms as pictured. To make this pose more accessible, don’t feel like you have to get the heel of your bent leg full flat. Have your left hand on the floor for balance and reach towards your left foot only as far as feels comfortable (as pictured).
- Pyramid Pose – Parsvottanasana.
Wheel the hands overhead and rotate back towards the front of the mat.
- Half-Moon Pose – Ardha Chandrasana.
This is an optional addition since Ardha Chandrasana is a challenging pose for many people. To come into it, bend the front leg and shift your weight into it. Place the same-side hand down in-front and slightly to the side of your standing foot. As you come into this challenging balance pose, make sure you open your hips and chest to face the long edge of the mat. Reach towards the earth and sky. To make this more accessible, stand up against a wall and/or use a block under your lower hand.
- Moon Goddess Pose
Drop the back foot and return to this pose. When you’re ready, begin the sequence on the other side.