Learn how to salute the moon plus a moonlight meditation
Soma, the watery bliss-nectar of the moon, is delight, gentleness and peace. Soma is moonlike bliss, and yoga teaches that it is within you, accessible through egoless, joyful surrender and intimate devotion to the divine. Is this how you practice yoga? Or is yours a practice of will, determination and strength?
Hatha (sun-moon) yoga is not just about the body’s core (fire). Soma is vital for the awakening of kundalini (feminine energy) for spiritual evolution. Could this be why practising sun salutes at night feels incongruent with your nature? Are you getting enough soma?
Let’s take a look at lunar yoga, including chandra namaskar, the moon salutation sequence, and learn how you can access soma in your life. Bliss … isn’t that what yoga is all about?
Saluting the sun and the moon
Surya namaskar, the sun salutation sequence, has 12 yoga postures that relate to the 12 zodiac or solar phases of the year. Some yoga traditions chant mantras for each of the solar phases at the corresponding positions in the sequence, and others honour the solar phases with visualisations at each posture.
The Sun is a masculine, energising planet with a strong pitta Ayurvedic constitution. Pitta dominates the day and is strongest when the sun is at its highest peak, at midday. Symbolically, the sun represents atma, the soul, and is all about ambition, dignity, confidence and discipline. This solar energy can be harnessed for rajasic (energetic) daytime activities by honouring the life-giving force of the sun through surya namaskar. The fire of agni is purifying and detoxifying, helps strengthen digestion, burn up ama (toxins) and keeps you motivated in life.
With reverence, bathe your practice in delicate, lunar qualities of peace, grace and compassion, honouring the moon and drawing on kapha's balanced energy of nurturance.
However, this is not the energy you want to be channelling in the cool sweetness of the evening. According to Ayurveda, 6pm to 10pm is kapha time: the air is cooled, activity naturally slows and you prepare for deep sleep. Night is the time to cultivate soma through gentle yoga, including gentle salutes to the moon. With reverence, bathe your practice in delicate, lunar qualities of peace, grace and compassion, honouring the moon and drawing on kapha’s balanced energy of nurturance. Separating your yoga into a heating agni daytime practice and a cooling soma evening one can bring tremendous balance and harmony to your life.
In Vedic astrology, the moon is manas (consciousness), and is considered the most important graha (planet) there is. As Vedic astrologer Dennis Flaherty explains, “Chandra represents the fertile ground of consciousness upon which the drama of life is perceived.” The moon represents the mind, memory, feelings and wellbeing, which you can attend to through a healing lunar sequence. As you practise, consider that the moon reflects the sun and manas reflects atma (the soul), just as chandra namaskar reflects surya namaskar.
To understand this, contemplate the duality of the cosmos. All of the sun’s qualities can be actively engaged as you practise surya namaskar; the qualities of the moon can be gently drawn in during chandra namaskar and other soma practices.
Qualities of the sun and moon
Atma (soul) Manas (consciousness)
Ascending force Descending force
Pingala nadi Ida nadi
Soma and agni, bliss and fire
Devotion is soma. It is the pure delight of complete surrender to the divine, to isvara pranidhana, and key to entering bliss. Devotion is a kapha quality that lends itself to the kapha time of the evening, although all yoga at all times can be devotional. Soma flows through communion with God and is a gift of divine grace. It is a form of bhakti yoga: devotion to the undying divine love that connects to the all-pervading beauty and delight of the universe.
Soma can be harnessed during an agni practice, just as agni can be utilised during a soma one. Spiritual evolution requires integration of both.
Consider the concept of “kundalini rising”. The crown chakra is associated with soma while the root chakra contains agni. You awaken the kundalini Shakti — the feminine energy in us all, coiled at the base of the spine — at the root chakra, and it rises up in search of soma, to drink from the nectar of bliss. Once awakened, soma then descends down from the crown chakra, unifying with the rising kundalini, opening all the petals of all the chakras as it does.
You awaken the kundalini Shakti - the feminine energy in us all, coiled at the base of the spine - at the root chakra, and it rises up in search of soma, to drink from the nectar of bliss.
Imagine this imagery occurring within you right now. The joy you receive from this visualisation is soma, which is only established in deep peace and reverence. Take your time, and connect inwards before considering this imagery again. Soma is also present in each yoga posture. Tune into it, find grace within the pose, begin. Since seeking soma is a desire, and yoga is a practice to help reduce desires, focus instead on the joy of devotion at your spiritual heart.
Finding soma in food
Soma is also the elixir found in certain healing plants. It is the name for rejuvenating plants and herbs called rasayanas. To enhance lunar bliss, Ayurveda suggests adjusting your diet and aiming for sattvic, pure living, eating soma-filled foods including saffron, rose and hibiscus to enhance your spiritual practices. Enjoy the use of fragrant oils like rose, jasmine, lily, gardenia and honeysuckle. Drink prana-filled water, such as occurs through aerating water in the sunlight, keeping it in a copper vessel overnight and chanting mantras over it.
Ayurvedic scholar Dr David Frawley describes soma practices in great detail in Soma in Yoga and Ayurveda: The Power of Rejuvenation and Immortality. In his book, Frawley explains that building your soma is about refining your nature, “becoming more sensitive, aware and perceptive, patiently developing a deeper feeling and knowing”. He advises to “search out the soma in our lives as a great spiritual adventure, unfolding our higher potentials and capacities with steadiness and determination, and practise the yamas and niyamas (yoga’s ethical and moral codes).”
Asanas for the moon
Inversions are powerful soma postures. To access soma, practise poses such as salamba sarvangasana (shoulder stand), viparita dandasana (upward-facing staff pose) and viparita karani (legs up the wall). Shoulder stand in particular works on the jalandhara bandha, or chin lock, protecting your soft palate (the soft region at the top-rear of your mouth) and so holding and protecting soma nectar. Using a neti pot also energetically helps the brain’s soma to flow by clearing the sinuses.
The Ayurveda of soma
Kapha, the quality of night, can generally be heavy and in excess of water, mucus and attachment. Kapha types need to increase solar energy with vigorous sun salutes in the morning, applied with a devotional intention and balancing pranayama (breathing practices) to lift and lighten the kapha personality. Vata and pitta types benefit greatly from soma practices, which counter vata’s nervous energy and help stabilise pitta’s excess fire. Overall, all constitutions will benefit from lunar yoga practice with deep connection to the moon.
Soma of the tongue
The ancient text Hatha Yoga Pradipika mentions that physically placing the tongue at the soft palate will allow soma to flow down to be drunk with the tongue. Frawley suggests practising this tongue placement throughout the day as a way to control appetite and the need for stimulants such as coffee or alcohol. He says placing the tongue on the soft roof of your mouth helps with pratyahara (control of the senses), explaining that it helps prevent soma from dispersing through the emotions, mind and senses. To accompany this position, try fixing your gaze at the third eye and breathe into the belly.
Pranayama for soma
So ham, explains Frawley, is the sound of the “soma of prana (life force)”. Begin with a so hum meditation, silently repeating “so” up the spine on inhalation and “ham” (hum) down the spine on exhalation. After a while, visualise the disc of the moon (chandra bindu) as the representation of the mind as you silently breathe in “so” up the spine, right up to the thousand-petal lotus at the top of your head at the crown chakra. From this place, breathe out “ham” down to the base of the spine. Continue with every breath.
Frawley builds on this for a complete and serene soma pranayama practice. He advises to, next, add the balancing solar and lunar breathing of nadi shodhana to the so ham pranayama, and combine it with a Shiva/Shakti meditation.
In the evenings, allow the image of water to pervade your chanting practice and offer mantras to the moon while bathing or standing in flowing waters.
To start, inhale through the left nostril, silently repeating “so”, visualising the nourishing white, lunar or Shakti (Divine Feminine) energy moving up the left side of the body. Exhale through the right nostril, repeating ham, visualising the stimulating, golden solar or Shiva (Divine Masculine) energy moving down the body’s right side. This is the lunar phase, connecting to the higher forces of bliss, devotion and cooling peace.
The second is the solar phase, explains Frawley. Inhale through the right nostril with the mantra “ham”, visualising the stimulating golden, solar or Shiva energy moving up the right side of the body. Now exhale through the left with the mantra “sah”, visualising the nourishing white Shakti moving down the left side of the body. This solar phase connects with the higher forces of awareness, perception and consciousness.
Mantras of the moon
Devotional mantras stimulate the flow of soma. In the evenings, allow the image of water to pervade your chanting practice and offer mantras to the moon while bathing or standing in flowing waters. Bathe in mantra itself, experiencing a shower of Divine sounds pouring over you, as you surrender with devotion and joy to the Divine. Moon mantras such as hrim srim klim are good for this purpose, and all-cooling, Divine Feminine mantras are ideal.
Allow your yoga practice to align with the dual qualities of the sun and the moon for blissful unity, practise yoga for the day and yoga for the night for harmony, and honour the agni and soma of life. Seek soma, strengthen agni, and find nourishment in the serene, graceful nectar of Divine bliss.
Om (Aum), Om, Om.
How to salute the moon
The physical difference between surya namaskar and chandra namaskar is one additional pose in the lunar sequence: a high crescent lunge, repeated. Yet moon salutations work on the ida nadi, or lunar energy channel, while the sun sequence works on the pingala nadi, or solar channel. There are many variations to moon salutes. Your yoga tradition may practice differently to what is described here, although traditionally chandra namaska has 14 postures that correspond to the 14 lunar phases.
Chandra namaskar is soothing, and designed to be slow moving and gentle, practised with receptivity. It is potent when practised at full moon, during a new moon and when there is a waxing moon in the night sky. Place your intentions on channelling lunar energy, those changeable, creative, cooling and relaxing qualities.
The chandra namaskar sequence that follows is from the Bihar School of Yoga book Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. As described in this book, before commencing the sequence, centre yourself with the breath, then bring your attention to the third eye centre, between the eyebrows. Visualise a full moon on a clear night sky at this third-eye point, brightly shining on the waves of the ocean. See the images clearly, and observe the light of the silvery moon dancing across rippling waters or the crashing ocean waves. Become aware of the feelings and sensations within you, and touch the mystery of the natural world from within.
After some time, gently return your attention to your body, standing on the mat, and your breath, ready to perform this delicate, soft sequence:
- Tadasana (mountain pose)
- Urdhva hastasana (upward salute) with arms above head, palms together
- Uttanasana (standing forward bend)
- Anjaneyasana (low crescent lunge) with hands on the floor
- Ardha chandrasana (high crescent lunge). Note: this is not the half-moon one-legged standing balance known to most hatha yogis; this is anjaneyasana with arms raised, palms together
- Adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog)
- Ashtanga namaskara: this pose is similar to chaturanga dandasana yet knees and chest are on the floor
- Bhujangasana (cobra pose)
- Adho mukha svanasana
- Anjaneyasana with hands on the floor
- Ardha chandrasana
- Urdhva hastasana with arms above head, palms together
To start round two, step your other foot back into the low crescent lunge. Keep the practice soft and gentle, alternating opposite sides until all rounds are complete. Perform 3-7 rounds in total.
Afterwards, standing, eyes closed, return to the visualisation of the moon at the beginning of the practice and feel into the full effect.
A moonlight meditation
Seated in a cross-legged position, close the eyes and feel into your breath. Imagine sacred soma within all of nature’s waters, waterfalls, oceans, river and streams, in clouds, the moon and stars, and in the Beauty of this magnificent universe. See these images clearly, their colours and luminescence in the night. Bathe in the mystery of life and revere the rejuvenating qualities of water. In your mind, visit India’s mighty river Ganga, the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas, and revere these sacred waters from your third eye centre. Allow grace and love from the Divine Mother, the Divine Feminine, to fill your spiritual heart through the energy of Shakti within sacred waters throughout the entire universe.
Draw further in, connecting again with your breath. Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth at the soft palate. With devotion, see the thousand-petal lotus at the crown of your head, feel for it, surrender to it. Soften. In this chakra, within this lotus, is the pure, full Moon, shining across the delicate, sacred waters within you. Revere the image for as long as you can.
Silently chant Om as an act of devotion. See yourself as a swan on a soma-filled lake: graceful, elegant and serene. Then imagine yourself as a bird, soaring across the expansive, eternal sky.
To close, meditate on an image of the sri yantra. Sri yantra, a sacred geometric pattern, has five downward-pointing triangles and four upward triangles: 43 angles representing the 21 lunar nakshatras and 16 kalaas, or digits of the moon. Meditate on the majesty of this lunar perfection within sacred geometry and, closing your eyes, go within, where there is Soma, where there is peace.
How to reawaken your yoga practice with spirituality
Have you hit a yogic plateau and lost the spark in your practice? Here’s how to recharge your spiritual batteries...
Wondering why to become involved with International Yoga Teachers Association (IYTA)? We take a look
In a very crowded market place it can be hard to work out where to do your yoga teacher training....
Do you want to be a yoga teacher? Find out how to pick the right yoga teacher training course for you
Do you dream of becoming a yoga teacher? The International Yoga Teachers Association share how to find the perfect yoga...
A Q&A with John Ogilvie, owner and founder of Byron Yoga Centre
We sit down with John Ogilvie, owner and founder of Byron Yoga Centre, based in Byron Bay, New South Wales.