The concept of “month” is a human invention that as most of us are aware is based on the cycle of the moon and its relationship to the sun and earth. Aligning one’s practice with this planetary body that orbits so closely to the earth, is a great way to cultivate awareness of the waxing and waning of external PRANA available in our everyday lives. The moon’s gravitational field has a huge influence on the earth, (it moves the oceans and creates the tides). Consider for a moment how heavy water is and how much of it there is in the oceans. Also consider that we humans are mostly water, around 70% (sources vary), and salt water at that. Finally, consider the electromagnetic field of the moon and the conductivity of a saline solution…
“We are animated water, pulled by the moon and the sun.”
~ Wendy Johnson, Zen meditation teacher, environmental activist
For thousands of years farmers have understood the importance of the moon’s influence on growing plants, and in ancient times Yogīns also discovered the moon’s influence on the mind, emotions, and body. Farmers know that the time of the “NEW MOON” (the beginning of the lunar cycle when the moon is hidden in the sky), is the best time to plant new seeds. As the moon begins to wax and its influence becomes stronger and brighter with each day, it begins to assist the little seed in its germination and growth process. The same holds true when the new seeds of yoga sadhana are sown at this auspicious time. The energy of the practice waxes as the moon becomes brighter, and then begins to wane after the full moon passes, leading into the next new moon and the beginning of a new cycle.
We emphasize to students the importance of maintaining consistent and constant practice (ABHYASA), throughout the duration of at least one lunar cycle. (about a month). It’s not so much the QUANTITY of practice time that is important, as it is the CONSISTENCY and QUALITY of practice. Therefore, at the beginning of each lunar cycle the student, (with the guidance of the teacher and sangha), charts out a realistic daily practice that he or she can commit to doing every day, and ideally at the same time every day. Committing to the same practice for this duration of time ensures that the sadhaka gets the opportunity to experience what it feels like to maintain steady practice (STHIRA / ABHYASA), even while the environmental pranic current waxes and wanes around him / her. This consistency and steadiness of practice eventually cultivates the fitness of mind and body necessary to reverse the patterns of Attachment to Pleasure (Raga / Sukha), and Aversion to Pain (Dvesha / Dukha), as described by Patanjali in yoga sutras # 7 & 8 of book 2. The yogi then becomes less affected by the pairs of opposites, aka “pleasure and pain”. When we become attached to outside pleasures, we forget our inherent “inner happiness and bliss”, ĀNANDA, “our true SELF”. Since external pleasures are fleeting and impermanent, when they pass away we experience suffering due to the forgetfulness of our true SELF. On the other side, the increase in fitness of mind and body help the yogīn(ī) to endure the many pains experienced in a human body in the world, while not “running away” or engaging in aversion (Dvesha) to intense or painful (Dukha) experiences. In the words of Sri Brahmanada Saraswati “The normal person runs after pleasure and away from pain, while the yogī runs toward pain and away from pleasures”. What does this mean for the average practitioner? In terms of Āsana practice, it means that we turn and twist our bodies into all sorts of shapes and forms creating internal purifying heat, thus “running after” the intense or “painful” sensations of transformation known as Tapas. The result is that in our daily lives the attachment to passing pleasure begins to naturally fall away, reversing our relationship to the pairs of opposites (pain / pleasure). Through the fire that transforms, an inner alchemy is achieved and the inner light of the SELF is revealed, just as precious metals are extracted from hardened encrusted rock formations by melting and refining them.
Maintaining consistent practice for an extended duration of time also builds a safe and stable foundation to work from. The mind and body adapt to the sadhana and the natural processes of healing, transformation, and awakening are catalyzed. Confidence is increased, and a sense of accomplishment is realized by “seeing it through to the end”. When the new lunar cycle (CHANDRA KALA) begins, the previous practice period is analyzed and one’s sadhana for the new cycle is adjusted according to the insights that are revealed. If one found it too easy to consistently practice the original sequence, then it may be intensified, or on the other hand if it was too difficult to consistently maintain, then the practice may be shortened and modified accordingly.
“Hatha Yoga” refers to the union of solar and lunar. The idea is that by balancing and stabilizing the pranic currents that constantly oscillate up and down idā and pingalā nadīs (the solar and lunar channels) within sushumnā nadī (the central channel), union with the Absolute (Brahman) is realized. By harmonizing our practices with the external rhythms of the Sun and Moon, we begin also to harmonize the internal solar and lunar currents, moving closer and closer to a state of Yoga.
We’ll travel this leg of the journey inward to Yoga by connecting with CHANDRA KALA, the lunar cycle. Then, over time, we can look at our relationship with the much longer SURYA KALA, the solar cycle–the year and its seasons. Continuing to keep a practice journal is a wonderful way to follow our sadhana over the relatively short lunar cycle and over the course of the longer solar cycle. Journaling offers us a chance to reflect, record insights, observations, and even inspirations for our teaching that result from our sadhana.
As we each observe our personal practice within the framework of the lunar cycle, we have the opportunity to draw on the strength and support of the sangha as well, our sister and brother yogīns who are also engaged in the practice for this moon cycle as outlined below. We encourage you all to make the effort to stay connected with each other, to meet on occasion, check-in with, and encourage each other. Talk about your obstacles and your break-throughs. Keeping good company is one of the basic guidelines for a yogic lifestyle. Take refuge in the sangha.
– Surdas & Vajra – Rahasya Yogic Arts – Feb 2013