When I took my first Bikram yoga class I remember thinking how cruel it was to call half-moon with hands-to-feet the “first” posture in the series. It’s not a posture, it’s four! Here are some of my tips for ensuring half-moon with hands-to-feet pose works for you during and after class.
Work harder than you want to.
Martha Williams is the Minneapolis Bikram Yoga studio owner and close friend (pictured above). She taught me something very important about this posture: The harder you work in all four parts of this asana, the easier class will be. (I would say the only exception to this rule is if you have been practicing less than a month, in that case, pace yourself.) The beauty of this posture is that you stretch your body in every direction and work your major muscle groups, ensuring that you fully warm up and prepare for class. To top it all off, you will raise your heart rate, increase circulation and start the sweating (aka cooling) process.
Hung over? Work your side bends.
I used to be a bartender and I’d have a few drinks after my shift, then I’d get up and go to the 9:30 AM class the next morning. Sometimes I was … dehydrated. A wise teacher once said that if you’ve had too much to drink to work really hard in half-moon pose. This posture helps get your heart rate up, moving the blood around your body and engages all of your muscles and core. A steady breath throughout this posture will help increase your circulation and oxygen to your blood stream, getting rid of the residual alcohol.
Half-moon comes from your core and inner thighs.
Alignment is key in half-moon. How you execute the posture is always more important than the depth. Be sure to lift out of your hips and engage your lower abdomen during half-moon, this will help with your alignment more than rotating your shoulders and hips as the dialogue instructs (still make those adjustments if you need to). I find that if I enter the posture with a large breath and engage my core to its fullest, the alignment comes more naturally than if I simply move to the side and then try to make adjustments. Think of the side bends as coming from your core and inner thighs. Notice how Martha has a perfect half moon shape on the left side of her body and she is lifting – not crunching – the right side.
Anxious? Go back, way back in your backbend.
If you’re feeling particularly anxious, agitated, annoyed, or tired, work your backbend to its fullest and you will release that negative energy, clearing the way for a fun and strong class. Would you rather have a few seconds of discomfort or a grumpy 90 minute yoga class? The choice is yours.
Squeeze your buttocks in your back bend.
Also during my first class, I remember seeing this young bendy thing nearly touch the floor in her backbend. I thought, there’s no way I can do that, a common lie we tell ourselves in yoga class. There are two simple ways to go deeper in your back bend, squeeze your butt while pushing your hips forward and roll your weight into the back of your heels.
I lean into my backbend in one fluid movement but there are two distinct phases. The first phase is taking a deep breath, stretching towards the ceiling and lifting out of my lower spine. The second phase happens when I’m about a quarter of the way back, at that point I consciously move the weight back into my heels while simultaneously pushing my hips forward. Squeezing your buttocks not only helps move your hips forward to balance out your weight, it also helps you lift in your spine so you get a perfectly even back bend (rather than folding over in one part of your spine). Notice how Martha’s spine is evenly bending all along her back and although it may not look like it, her weight is in her heels. I simply love this photo of her!
Hands-to-feet pose is key to your flexibility throughout class.
I’m not naturally flexible, so hands-to-feet pose, the fourth part of this posture is key to opening my hamstrings and hips. The work I put into this posture is directly proportional to how deep I can go in Standing Head to Knee and Standing Bow, working hard here pays dividends. Even if this posture is hard and uncomfortable try sticking with it, keep breathing and in time you will learn what a healthy “pain stretching sensation” feels like.
Watch for uneven hips when you’re pulling and lifting.
I never realized that my hips were very uneven when I was in this posture, until a teacher pointed it out for me. Stay after class sometime or ask a teacher to take a look when you are in the posture. You want your hips to be aligned rather than one popping up higher than the other. This will ensure you have an even stretch on your legs and hips.
The four parts of half-moon with hands-to-feet pose are challenging and also incredibly important, combine this with pranayama breathing and you’ll be ready to go. I think of this posture as a metaphor for class, what you put into it determines what you will receive in return. Work hard and you shall receive endless benefits.