Posts by: Griffin

Moon Days in Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga has the interesting and unique tradition of abstaining from practice on the days of the full and new moon, called “moon days.”

I recently received a question regarding the timing of moon days, which got me thinking. (What follows is simply my conjecture & curiosity, I am not an expert.)

Q: If a full or new moon occurs before sunrise, should it be observed on the previous day?

For example, if the new moon is at 4:29am on Wednesday, should the Ashtangi take off practice on Tuesday?

There are separate but overlapping calendars in India, the solar and lunar. The solar one is used by most people for everyday purposes. It begins at sunrise and there are 4 periods of the day, ending at sunset.

Then the lunar one is used for ritual purposes. It is divided into tithis, or lunar days. Each day is the period in which the moon travels 12 degrees. It is not connected with the sunrise, and each tithi varies between ~19-26 hours of duration.
So perhaps a technical answer for Ashtangis is that we should “observe” or not do asana practice on the lunar days of Purnima and Amavasya, rather than on any particular day of the Gregorian calendar.  For example, a Purnima could start at say, 3pm of Tuesday and last until 2pm Wednesday. So if you had a morning practice, you would want to take off practice Wednesday morning, even if the full moon is at 7:49pm Tuesday.
For our school, we simplify the schedule to make it easier for students: if a moon is after 12:00am on a day, that day is the moon day.
But then I started wondering about other aspects of our moon day habit…

Q: Where did moon days come from?

To my knowledge other styles of Yoga do not discourage practice on moon days. I suspect that the original reason that Guruji did not teach Ashtanga on moon days is that he was a Vedic and Sanskrit scholar and professor. The Maharaja of Mysore’s Sanskrit College was closed on the moon days. Brahmins have certain traditions to follow on the moon days, rituals, bathing, ceremonies. They take a lot of time and ritual purity so it’s not a “work day.” There are also other Vedic traditions implicating that teaching on a moon day may be inauspicious or detrimental (in contrast to a home practitioner performing the Ashtanga asana sequence). There may also have been other threads of technical logic, since Jois and his father were accomplished in jyotisha. So that perhaps habit carried over into his Yogasana teaching…Krishnamacharya did not seem to advocate taking off moon days, so it probably wasn’t part of Guruji’s yoga training. I have found no mention of moon days in Krishnamacharya’s writing or in the teachings of his other students.

So, ultimately, we just look at it as the teacher having a day off! But it may be that we can retroactively find additional reasons why it could be a good idea to observe that custom as practitioners. Even if the original reason for observance doesn’t apply, should we continue to abide by it, or cut out a “vestigial” trait of Ashtanga?
Reason 1: Just having a break.
For Ashtangis with a daily practice, taking moon days off is a way to have some rest, plain and simple. Ashtanga practice can be very strenuous, and some time off may help to “soften” the practice and allow the body to incorporate changes.
For Ashtanga teachers with a daily teaching schedule, moon days can be a blessing!
Reason 2: The moon exerts influence on the human structure.
This moon day question has been asked many times over the years, and often the response goes along the lines of:
“The body is made up of 65% water, and look how the moon influences the ocean tides. The human body is also affected by gravitational forces from the moon.”
An effect like the tides requires large distances of open bodies of water: the ocean on the side of the Earth closest to the moon is pulled towards the moon more strongly than the core of the Earth, which in turn is pulled more strongly than the water on the far side of the earth. This deformation results in the tides. The human body is small enough that there is no appreciable differences of the moon’s gravitational influence on one part of the body vs another part.
Additionally, the water & gravity theory of a localized “human-sized tide” fails to account for the tides being on a daily rhythm, not the lunar month.
Simply being near a large building or other people has a greater gravitational influence (though still negligible)  on a human body than the position of the moon. Even an insect landing on your skin has a more impactful effect on your gravitational field.
Could there be an electromagnetic effect? Many studies have attempted (and many failed) to find a link between the lunar cycle and epilepsy, mental illness, crime, accidents, surgery success rate, and other markers. Despite mixed and negative reports, it may not yet be time to close the book on physiological effects of the lunar cycle.
Living beings generate an electromagnetic field (EMF), and there is evidence that humans and other animals are attuned/have a synchronistic relationship with the EMF of the Earth.
The earth’s EMF is generated by currents in its dynamic molten core in relationship with the electrically charged currents of the ionosphere. The moon plays a significant role in the movement of the liquid core. Certain studies have shown that certain animals exhibit behavioral changes in response to lunar phase, even in controlled environments.
Any such effects could be either direct or indirect. In addition to any effects the Earth’s EMF may have on any animal’s EMF, it also acts as a protective mechanism against solar and cosmic radiation. In a review of 28,000 psychiatric hospital admissions, Dr Robert Becker found a significant relationship between admission rates and the timing of the 67 magnetic “storms” during that period. Further research revealed a correlation between cosmic rays and EMF variations and behavioral changes in psychiatric patients. Dr Becker writes that “[the earth’s electromagnetic field] varies with the lunar day and month, and there’s also a yearly change as we revolve around the sun.”1
Variations in the human electromagnetic field occur in concert with changes in sensation, emotion, healing, etc., and changes can be induced by artificial manipulation of human or animal EMF. In light of this, it seems theoretically possible that the the moon could exert some influence over human workings, though exactly what that effect may be is unclear. Further research is hampered by the difficulty of isolating the low “background” levels of the earth’s EMF from the other artificial/electronic and natural electromagnetic forces that surround us.
Anecdotally, I notice differences in my own physical stamina and sensations on moon days, generally for a 2 or 3 day period around the precise time of the astronomical event. If that actually correlates with any external phenomena is uncertain, however.
If this hypothesis were validated, it would likely open up other questions, such as whether it would be logical to start taking days off for practice during other variations in the EMF, such as sunspots or magnetic storms.
Reason 3: Ritual
Many people are feeling increasingly detached or isolated from the natural world. Having a ritual that centers on a natural phenomenon can be a way of feeling an increased connection to and paying more attention to natural rhythm. It can be especially powerful if the moon day is observed as a special time to set aside for self-reflection (svadhyaya), meditation, or reading of shastra. This necessitates that the practitioner actually observe the day as a holiday of some sort, rather than replacing their usual Ashtanga class with crossfit or running because the studio is closed.
Ultimately, the moon day tradition has value to me, and I appreciate observing it. I also think it is just fine to practice on a moon day if it feels right for your circumstances, especially considering the lack of any firm evidence supporting moon day theories. I hope that further scientific advances will be made to shed further light on whether or not there is any direct relationship between the lunar cycle and human physiology. Since this is not extremely likely due to biomedical field’s focus on biochemistry at the expensive of other sciences, just do your best and practice with wisdom.
1. p245-247, The Body Electric. Robert Becker, MD & Gary Selden


Following Utpluthih, jump through and lay down on your back. There is no particular technique to follow here: just rest, this is not an asana. Do not try to control your breathing or bandha. Relax your feet and let them splay out to the side, let your palms face upward. Close your eyes. Beyond this, just lay there and enjoy the residue (shesha) of practice. Stay in rest for as long as you want. At minimum, allow for 5-10 minutes of rest. If circumstances allow, 20-30+ minutes can be very therapeutic. Beyond the simple harmony offered by laying around doing nothing, laying flat on the ground can provide therapeutic benefit to the alignment of the spine.




Alternatives & Solutions

If laying flat on the ground isn’t comfortable, trying one or more of the following ideas:

  • Blanket beneath the pelvis
  • Blanket beneath the head
  • Block or bolster beneath one or both knees


Sometimes it is very uncomfortable to lay still. If this is due to emotional discord or a hyperactive mind, start small but slowly increase the amount of time spent. There is no need to try and clear your mind or feel blissful and tranquil. Just observe and hold your experience. It’s okay for it to be unsettling or uneasy. Yoga cannot occur while avoiding or rejecting experience, emotion, or thought.



  • Utpluthih: From Utplu, to rise or jump up.

In this and other flexion arm balances, it is common to see a lack of strength between the shoulder blades and ribs. Thus the torso can be seen “hanging” loosely off of the shoulder blades (which bear the full weight of the body) resulting in the shoulder blades pinching together and a deep depression between one scapula and the other. This can be remedied by drawing the shoulder blades around towards the sides of the ribs (protraction) and lifting the ribs up to fill the shoulder girdle. The process of strengthening may take some weeks or months, but don’t sidestep it.

From Padmasana, put your hands on the floor to either side of the thighbones. The hands should be about halfway between the hips and knees.

Inhale, push firmly into the ground and lift up. Round your back deeply and look forward. Make your breath and face as smooth and measured as possible. Hold for 25 breaths.



Without setting down, exhale, jump back and take vinyasa.

Watch this video to see jump back from Lotus.

Alternatives & Solutions

To do this without Lotus position, cross the legs and squeeze the knees towards each other and towards the chest as much as possible. Without lotus, it’s much the same as lifting up to take vinyasa. Actually, it is much easier to lift yourself while in the lotus position than unbound.

If the body will not lift off the floor, follow these steps with a few weeks of practice between each step.

  1. Place blocks under the hands for a couple weeks.
  2. Don’t use the blocks anymore. Lift the hips off the ground, but keep the feet touching lightly.
  3. With the hips off the ground, lift one foot up.
  4. Lift the hips & both feet.

Can’t hold for 25 breaths:

Take it in a 2 cycles of 12 breaths each, or 5 of 5 breaths. Make your rest period between each lift as short as possible.

If in lotus, but can’t jump back:

Set down after 25 breaths, walk your hands forward so you’re on your hands and knees (still in lotus). Make sure you’ve walked forward enough that you’re leaning forward and there’s not much weight on your knees. Tuck your elbows under your body and lift the lotus up (similar to mayurasana), then untuck the legs midair and land in chaturanga.






  • Padma: Lotus
  • Asana: Pose

Padmasana is one of the classical and literal “asana,” which means “seat.” It is considered the finest meditative posture. Personally, I find one of its primary benefits to be that it is the only seated posture I have found in which there is no pressure on the spine—the weight of the body is on the thighbones, not the pelvis. Allowing the spine to “float” in this way helps prevent back pain during extended meditations. (However, there is an acclimation period of the legs “falling asleep.”)

This is one of several important asana in which the bandha can be most manifest and strongly felt. While you are in this position, focus on the interaction of the breath with the three areas of the bandha. The lessons learned here by careful attention can be applied with immense benefit to the other asana. (The other kingpin asana for cultivation of the bandha are Adho Mukha Svanasana and Dandasana.)

Oftentimes, the entire spine moves as if one unit. When uniting the chin and the sternum in this position, or other asana with this full expression of jalandhara bandha, move the head while keeping the rest of the spine still and stable.

Vinyasa of the Pose


Inhale, sit up from Yoga Mudra.

Exhale, touch the tip of the thumb and forefinger and place the wrists on the knees. Straight arms; push gently downward to encourage the heart to rise. Take the chin forward and down toward the chest, and lift the heart to meet the chin. Lifting the heart is important—if you just take the chin down towards the chest, you’ll end up slouching and slumped forward. Take 25 breaths in this position.


Lift directly to Utpluthih on an inhalation—no vinyasa between.

Alternatives & Solutions

If lotus is not practical, sit cross-legged; the rest of the pose is the same.

I frequently see spinal misalignments in this asana ranging from excessive flexion (hyperkyphosis), to the opposite of excessive extension (hyperlordosis) or leaning forward.

To get a vertical, neutrally sinuous spine, sit in lotus with your sacrum touching a wall. Several vertebrae in the upper back (approx. T8-T11) should touch the wall. The lower back should not touch the wall. Lower the chin and raise the sternum without moving the rest of the spine from this position.



  • Sirsa: Head
  • Asana: Pose


It is important that the weight of the body be borne on the forearms, rather than on the head. This means that careful alignment, control, and shoulder strength is necessary. As one of the final postures of the series, the practitioner should have developed sufficient strength by the numerous repetitions of lifting up and jumping between various asana. Though this is a beneficial pose for all practitioners, it should not be approached before the time is right: beginners ought to wait several months before incorporating this asana unless they possess significant preexisting shoulder strength.

The positioning of the hands in this style of headstand is the best for beginners. Though it has become vogue in some circles for beginners to try “tripod” headstands because of perceived ease, there is greatly increased risk of injury to the neck if the weight of the body is on the cervical spine. However, over time and with diligent practice, the muscles of the neck do strengthen, and in fact, the bone density of the cervical spine increases. (This increase in bone density may help to prevent the extremely common spinal microfractures that affect the majority of elders.) We see the appearance of headstand variations that increase the amount of weight on the head at the end of the 2nd series, at which time the practitioner has had adequate time to become comfortable, strong, and competent in the Sirsasana position.

To find the correct hand, arm, & head position:

Wrap each set of fingers around the opposite elbow. This creates a fairly equilateral triangle between the hands and elbows. Watch out for the prevalent tendency of the elbows to slide farther and farther part, which creates trouble in maintaining strength and balance.


Keeping the elbows in place, bind the hands firmly together. Fingers interlaced, palm to palm. Tuck the bottom pinky finger inside your fist so it doesn’t get crushed. Many people try to lace the fingers but not put the palms together. Do not allow this! When the palms are not together, the forearms can rotate freely. They will rotate externally and prevent you from exerting strength.


Place the head down so that it touches the wrists. When you’re lifted in headstand, pull the head into the wrists, not down into the floor. 

The head may contact the ground anywhere between the hairline and the crown of the head. Experiment and go with the position that feels most natural to you.

Lifting Up

I highly advise against hopping, jumping, bouncing or springing into Sirsasana: LIFT BOTH LEGS SIMULTANEOUSLY WITH CONTROL. 

Do not focus on the legs. Though it may seem that getting the legs straight up is the course of action here, that is a misdirection.

Focus on your spine and make the action of backbending: contract the muscles along the spine. The pelvis will begin to tip anteriorly. This action will make the legs weightless and lift up effortlessly.

If possible, keep the legs very straight and enthusiastically active the entire time. The less the legs move around or wobble, the easier time you will have both lifting up and balancing in the final position.


Having trouble with headstand? I see two common obstructions that hold students from Sirsasana:

  • Hands won’t stay together, elbows won’t stay put, arms don’t make a firm foundation ⇒ Lack of arm/shoulder strength
  • Can’t lift up with control ⇒ Hamstrings are immobile, or lack of spinal muscle strength

In either case: Stop trying to do Sirsasana! Keep working on Primary series to solve the aforementioned problems. This isn’t a good asana to be ambitious with; it will be easily within reach once the prerequisites have been mastered. There is no reason to do it poorly, especially since the risk of injury is high if done improperly.

Vinyasa of the Pose

From Adho Mukha Svanasana, lower the forearms to the ground. Bind the hands and place the head.


Inhale, lift up.

Hold for 25 breaths.


Exhaling, lower to Ardha Sirsasana (aka Urdhva Dandasana) for 10 breaths.


Inhale, return to Sirsasana. Lift the head off the ground and hold for 10 breaths.


Exhale, gently set the head back down. Slowly lower the feet to the ground.

Keep the head on the ground, let the hips sink to the hips (Balasana). Spend 10 breaths here, or until you feel your blood pressure has equalized.




Sirsasana can be a pain in the neck if you rest primarily on the head and don't use the strength of the shoulders, engage the serratus anterior and use the legs and bandha to create lift. Keep the elbows squeezing toward the midline to engage the serratus, and keep the legs straight and strong to come up. The smooth, measured lift of the legs is a result of the pelvis rotating and finding the balance point where the legs feel weightless. Once you're up, protect your cervical vertebrae! The head should rest on the mat lightly so that no pressure is put on the neck. You know your neck is safe if someone could slide a sheet of paper under your head. When you get strong, balanced and integrated, add the challenge of lifting the head off the mat and bring your chin to your chest.

A video posted by Ashtanga Yoga Room (@yogawithgriffinamelia) on

Notes on Practicing Ashtanga

Ashtanga Vinyasa is a system based upon Krishnamacharya’s teaching of Vinyasa Krama Yoga. Vinyasa Krama means a “carefully ordered sequence.” Krishnamacharya taught asanas, yoga positions, in groups with specific methods of entering and exiting them. During practice, each breath and movement is choreographed to maximum effect.  Pattabhi Jois, one of Krishnamacharya’s senior students, was a Sanskrit scholar and accomplished Yoga practitioner. He taught Yoga for therapeutic benefit in Mysore. Over time, and especially as more and more westerners came to take practice, the sequences became more solidified. Today, there are six Ashtanga series, known as Primary (1st), Intermediate (2nd), and Advanced (3-6). Should you want to practice this style, mind the following guidelines:

Practice is taken 6 days per week, with days off for new and full moon. If you are very tired, try just a couple sun salutations, a few seated poses, or practice the sequence backwards. A little bit still counts. Try to practice with a gentle, inquisitive intellect in order to avoid rigidity. Discipline is a necessary part of practice, but as Richard Freeman says, “Discipline is necessary to the correct degree.”  Viewing the practice as a dull, rigid, dead thing runs the risk of burn-out, stagnation, or zealotry. Remind yourself to approach each practice with new eyes and a new mind, for though the sequences of poses may be constant, your experience of the practice will be different and new each day, and your approach must recognize that.

Each pose is to be learned one by one, in order. Do not skip around or allow your personal preferences to dictate the practice. This allows the practice to do its work. That said, some poses are not appropriate for some practitioners. For example, someone who has had knee surgery can enjoy the full practice by doing lotus positions with crossed legs. It is best to have a teacher in order to have an expert opinion. If you do not have access to a teacher, practice in the most intelligent way you can; there are many alternatives suggested on this website. Many things maybe uncomfortable, unfamiliar, but if something is painful find a kinder way to practice it.

Ashtanga uses the Tristana method, the “three-pronged” approach. 1) Asana. 2) Pranayama (Breathing, Bandha) 3) Drishti (Gazing point). Employing this method allows the practitioner to develop focus and concentration, keeping the mind busy enough to help ward off stray thoughts and distractions.

Each pose is done for a minimum of 5 breaths. Some have a higher minimum number, mostly finishing poses. Any pose can be done for a longer period of time. I recommend spending extra time on poses that are especially challenging, or ones that feel particularly beneficial.

“As long as you can do a pose, you do.” -Pattabhi Jois

In a led class—a guided “count” of the vinyasa—each series takes roughly an hour. 90 minutes is enough to finish the series, backbending, finishing postures, and rest. If you always have a short window of time to practice, say, 45 minutes or so, you can still practice full primary series by practicing standing poses and the first half one day, then standing poses and the second half the next day.

It typically takes 1-3 years for a practitioner to become reasonably competent in the Primary Series. Its proper name is Yoga Chikitsa, or Yoga Therapy. This sequence is aimed at creating mobility in the hips (especially hamstrings) plus core and shoulder strength.

The second sequence is called Nadi Shodana, Energetic Cleansing. It introduces deeper twists, a long section of backbending, and deep flexion, including leg-behind-the-head poses.

I believe that everyone can and would benefit from learning primary series, plus the first half of second series. I have worked with a diverse group of people who are doing just that, from generally healthy 20-somethings to 36 year olds with hamstring injuries, to 50 year olds with 2 fused vertebrae and knee surgery, to 70 year olds with a previously sedentary lifestyle.

Pattabhi Jois said, “Any man can take practice except lazy man.”

I have seen amazing transformations through dedicated Ashtanga practice. If you have the motivation to practice, there are no obstacles that cannot be overcome. I think that full primary plus half intermediate represents the basic level of strength, mobility, coordination, and focus necessary for general health.

The second half of second series onward demands intense dedication. It is generally accessible to those who make Yoga practice a high priority in their lives. The advanced series are known collectively as Sthira Bhaga, or divine resolve. They are very demanding of every faculty.

If you practice more than one series, they are practiced on alternating days. When learning a new series, it is tacked onto the previous series until you have grown familiar with at least half of the sequence. For example, when learning second series, the first pose of second series, Pasasana, is done after Setu Bandhasana. The second series poses are added on one by one, until Karandavasana, at which point second series can be practiced by itself. Third series is tacked onto the end of second series until Hanumanasana. Fourth series is tacked onto the end of third until Mandalasana.


  • Matsya: Fish
  • Asana: Pose

 Vinyasa of the Pose

From Pindasana, lay the hands flat on the ground. Slowly roll down to a supine position, exhaling smoothly.

Inhale, press your elbows into the ground, arch your back deeply and place the crown of the head on the ground. Grasp the big toes, and pull on the big toes to encourage the fullest backbend possible. Keep the knees touching the ground.


Stay for 10 breaths, then transition directly to Uttana Padasana.


If lotus is not feasible, this pose can be done with the legs straight (this is preferable to cross-legged). Keep the hands in the lap, press the palms firmly into the thighs to encourage the lift and expansion of the ribs.

Urdhva Padmasana

Urdhva Padmasana

  • Urdhva: Upward
  • Padma: Lotus
  • Asana: Pose


Many practitioners of Yoga find Padmasana to be at least temporarily inaccessible. In that situation, should this asana be done with the legs unbound, in a cross-legged position? Some teachers encourage it. I do not encourage or dissuade students from trying with unbound legs if lotus is impossible; personally, I think it feels very unstable without the lotus and I’m not sure the correct forces of motion can be brought into play without lotus. Try it for yourself and proceed in the most intelligent way.

When entering lotus, it is best to avoid using the hands as much as possible. If the action is done using the strength of the legs alone, the risk of injury to the interior structures of the knees greatly reduced. This is the easiest lotus position to enter without using the hands, so it is a good place to practice the action.

Once you’ve gotten yourself into the general shape of the asana, stabilize the body by pressing the knees into the hands and resisting with the arms. This will help keep you from tottering about, and additional help give leverage to maintain the neutral serpentine shape of the spine.


Vinyasa of the Pose

From Karnapidasanainhale and lift your legs as if returning to Sarvangasana. Bind the legs in Padmasana position:
First, bend the right knee deeply while keeping the left straight. Place the right as close to the left hip crease as possible without using your hands.

Next, lift the right knee straight up and pull the left leg down towards the ground. This action will slide the right foot into place.


With the right knee lifted as much as possible, slip the left foot into the right hip crease.



Place the hands on the knees. Press the knees firmly into the hands, and resist with the strength of the arms. This action encourages the uddiyana process.


Take at least 10 measured breaths here.

Enter Pindasana with no intervening vinyasa.

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