The Moon – How it Affects Our Energy and Yoga Practice
As many folks know, this Saturday will be a full moon. Because the moon will be the closest to the Earth for this year on Saturday, the press calls this full moon a ‘supermoon’ because it will appear larger than usual when it rises on the eastern sky around dusk. If the sky is clear make sure you set aside some time to watch it rise!
I think most of us who live in the modern Western world don’t pay much attention to the moon unless we read about some event in the news. Yet, if we take time to understand the lunar cycles just a bit, following the moon can be extremely rewarding. It even feels more natural once you understand the rhythms.
The calendar that we have in the United States is based on a solar phenomenon, which is the rotation of the Earth around the sun. It takes about 365.25 days for the Earth to complete it’s journey around the sun, and we base on calendar on that cycle. Have you ever wondered, however, what the ancient peoples used as calendars? Many of them followed the lunar cycles in conjunction with solar events (such as the equinoxes). Following the moon and the changes of the seasons allowed everyone to plan for planting and harvesting crops, holding festivals and religious holidays, etc. Because a lunar cycle is relatively short, it is easier to follow than trying to mark the exact times when solar events (like the Summer or Winter solstice) occur.
Here’s how it works. A lunar cycle is a lunar month, which lasts either 29 or 30 days. Lunar months start when the first sliver of a new moon is visible in the sky. The last day of a lunar month is therefore the day when the moon completely disappears from the sky. This is called a new moon (or sometimes called a dark moon). The full moon is therefore halfway through a lunar month.
Because a lunar month lasts 29-30 days, 12 lunar months are equal to 355 days. Readers will note that 12 lunar (or synodic) months are therefore about 10 days shorter than a solar year. The ancients knew this, but it was the Greeks that figured out an important fact. Meton of Athens discovered that, over a period of 19 years, the solar and lunar calendars matched. In other words, 19 years on a solar basis is almost exactly equal to 235 lunar months. Both are equal to 6940 days in other words. This is called the Metonic cycle. Because of that ten-day difference, the ancient Greeks would insert an extra lunar month from time to time in order to keep their calendars more or less consistent year to year. Instead of a leap year of adding a day like we do, they would add a month every two or three years. The ancient Greeks had 12 months, all with names, that were associated with lunar months, and these stayed around the same time of the year by inserting that extra month.
For the Greeks in Athens, the new year was when the month of Hekatombaion started. This was always some time between the middle of June and the middle of July. It comes close to the Summer solstice, which begins on June 20 or 21st. So for the ancient Athenians, the New Year began with the first sliver of the new moon around the time of the Summer solstice.
Whew! I know, that’s a lot of information! It sounds complicated, but the ancients couldn’t buy a calendar or find one on-line. Someone had to follow the solar and lunar cycles and let people know when important dates were coming. Most of these important dates were religious in nature, as it was critical to know when to hold religious festivals.
All of that is interesting of course, but what about practical day-to-day applications to our yoga practice? One thing to remember is the way the moon affects our energy levels. When the moon is waxing, or going from a new moon to a full moon, energy is rising. When the moon is waning, which is going from a full moon to a new moon, energy is falling. A full moon sees us full of energy, and a new moon sees us as much more grounded. This is important in a yoga practice. Sometimes we may feel a surge of energy, at other times our energy levels might be low. Check the lunar cycle. Are we close to a full moon, or a new moon? And is energy rising, or falling? That can make a big difference in our yoga practice.
I was always taught, before I started taking yoga, that you can try to bring positive things into your life during a full moon, and try to eliminate negative things from your life during a new moon. Often we hear our yoga instructors tell us to set an intention for a class. We can use the lunar cycles to help us. Around a full moon, maybe we ask to bring more joy into our lives. Around a dark moon, maybe we ask that sadness be eliminated. We can connect these intentions with the moon’s energy and with our practices to enhance our efforts and boost our chances of success.
The moon plays a huge part in our lives and I’ve only touched on a piece of it here. I hope to post more as time passes. In the meantime, enjoy the full moon this weekend, and start noticing the lunar cycles as the months pass. Soon you’ll be much more in tune with the moon.
- Purcellville Loudoun Yoga
- Photographs Tulum, Mexico and Lucketts, VA – Jeremy Lee