Surya namaskar, the Sun Salutation, is one of my all-time favorite flows. It’s enlivening and rejuvenating. But it can be overstimulating on days when you need something more restorative. Several of the poses in this Vinyasa mainstay are also contraindicated during menstruation or pregnancy.
So what’s a girl to do when she just wants to settle into more feminine movement?
The Kripalu Yoga Flow for Women
Moon Salutations aren’t just great for women, they were designed for women, by women. There are many versions of moon salutations from various schools, some of which are nearly indistinguishable to beginners from their solar counterparts.
But the Kripalu version of chandra namaskar was created with women in mind.
According to Laura Cornell’s book The Heart of Moon Yoga, “The Moon Salutation was created by a group of senior female teachers at the Kripalu Center in the late 1980s. Their goal was to honor women’s bodies and women’s rhythms while also complementing the Sun Salutation.”
The flow balances the forward and backward bending of the surya namaskar with side bends, stretches and squats, honoring the divine feminine within.
Benefits of Chandra Namaskar
This flow gets all of us, of any gender, in touch with the lunar nature of the divine femine, the movement of the tides and the changing of the moon. More than that, it offers you the opportunity to flow with gentle movement during the most challenging times of your life, through PMS and menstrual cramps, through pregnancy and birth.
Dr. Cornell explains, “For some women during menstruation and menopause, the more familiar Sun Salutation is too stimulating for the nervous system, and should be practiced gently or not at all. During pregnancy, several of its postures are contraindicated, as they could injure either fetus or mother. In contrast, the Moon Salutation cools and calms the nervous system, and includes several of the most bene!cial postures for menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.”
The Crescent Moon poses through the sequence expand the chest and open up the heart center, helping to bring more love into your life. The Goddess pose stokes the fires in the body. Lunges connect you deeper, rooting you into the earth. You will deepen your connection to your body and open your self up to new opportunities.
And that doesn’t even touch on the physical benefits! Each of the poses is designed to support a fertile body, opening the hips, strengthening the core, stretching the spine. The pelvic floor muscles are both soothed and stimulated, toning the reproductive organs. Not only can this help soothe the pain on a period, but it can even help to prevent it in the future.
The Poses of Chandra Namaskar
Spend a bit of time learning each pose individually. Some beginners may need to modify the squatting postures, so if you find them a bit hard on your body, start by practicing the first half of the flow (Standing Crescent Moon and Mountain) along with the Dark Moon pose, adding in Goddess and Star before moving into the lunges and squats. You can also use blocks in your practice, using them to support your sit bones throughout the squatting movements.
Avoid this sequence or consult a doctor before performing if you have any recent or chronic injuries in the hips, pelvis, back, shoulders, knees or hamstrings.
1. Standing Crescent Moon – Arda-Chandrasana
This pose offers a deep stretch and opening in the sides of the body, strengthening the core and stimulating balance in the body. It also boost strength in the joints of the leg, improves circulation and gives an energy boost to body as well as mind.
To perform this pose within the Moon Salutation, you will be moving from side to side, with Mountain pose (coming up next) in the middle.
With the arms overhead and the feet grounded, on the exhale you will move your hip to the right while arching your upper body to the left, spine in line with the arms. Inhaling, press your feet deeper into the earth and lengthen the spine, reaching with the fingers, relaxing the shoulders.
2. Mountain – Urdhva Hastasana
In this version of Mountain pose, called Urdhva Hastasana, the arms rise up over head, fingers interlocking, index finger and thumb pointing up. It is a centering pose, clearing the channel through the core.
Your feet should be directly under your hips with your weight equally balanced. Arms should stretch high while the neck and shoulders remain relaxed. Look up at the fingers.
This is a perfect pose to pause and check your alignment. It strengthens the lower body and improves posture. Keep your feet anywhere from touching to 4 or 5 inches apart, depending on your need for balance. And stretch!
3. Goddess – Utkata Konasana
Also called the Fiery Angle pose, Goddess is a great pose for all round fitness, especially for toning the reproductive system. It strengthens all over, including the hips and groin, core, thighs, arms, legs, back and shoulders, even the chest.
It pumps up the body’s inner fire, making it an excellent pose to prepare the body for childbirth. The pelvis expands, creating strength and flexibility.
4. Five-Pointed Star – Trikonasana Part 1
This pose, alternatively called the Five Pointed Star and Triangle is a dynamic pose involving movement. The first part, which alternatives with Goddess pose, involves stretching the arms and legs out to the sides, opening the chest, lengthening and aligning the spine.
5. Triangle – Trikonasana Part 2
The other half of triangle pose is a twisting bend. With the legs wide, feet turned to one side (all the way in the front, partially in the back) you bed at the hips from Star. One hand reaches down to your foot and the other up to the sky.
This pose strengthens throughout the body, both upper and lower, as well as stretching the legs, hips and groin. It can improve digestion and mental clarity, reduce stress, and tone the reproductive organs, relieving cramps. Avoid it, though, if you are having digestive stress.
6. Standing Head-to-Knee – Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Janushirasana
From triangle, the hips turn forward and the head comes down to the knee. You can support yourself with your hands on the ground beside your foot, but the aim should be to stretch them as far out in front of you as is comfortable. This pose helps flexibility in the legs and hips, plus eases depression, memory loss, obesity, diabetes, blood sugar abnormalities, abdominal organ issues and an problem or pain with the reproductive system.
7. Lunge – Anjaneyasana
Your basic runner’s lunge with plenty of available modifications, this pose also strengthens the core, touching the pelvis, hips and psoas muscles. Your knee is over the foot on the bent side, toes active on the extended side, hands supporting you on the ground on either side of your bent knee.
This pose strengthens the lower body and opens the chest. Balancing the hips, it can help to relieve sciatic pain as well as tone the uterus and help cramps.
8. Extended Leg Squat – Ardha-Malasana
This is another great pose for strengthening the psoas muscle, which is incredibly vital for good posture, a strong core, and overall good health. This opens up the hips and pelvis, strengthens the legs and offers some healthy pressure for your knees, giving you better balance and stability.
From your lunge, walk the hands out in front of your body as you turn your hips, keeping the weight on the bent knee, the other leg remaining fully extended, heel on the ground. Let your hips sink down toward the heel of your bent leg.
If you have trouble reaching the ground to support yourself in this pose, use blocks. If you have plenty of balance and feel strong here, place the hands in front of the chest in prayer.
From the extended leg squat, slowly shift your weight so you are balanced on both feet, knees bent fully, legs wide. Support yourself by placing your elbows on the inside of your knees, keeping the back straight and chest open.
This squat can do wonders for the pelvis, lower back, sacrum, abdomen and hips. It strengthens the reproductive organs and makes an amazing preparatory exercise for birth. In fact, many women have given birth traditionally in squatting positions just like this one!
You can use props in various ways with this pose, including under your heels if they don’t quite touch the floor, or under your hips if you feel a lot of pressure there.
BONUS: Dark Moon
Think of Dark Moon pose as the Child’s Pose of divine feminine movement. This is a resting pose which, combined with Standing Crescent Moon and Mountain can make a lovely, gentle flow all on its own.
With your legs together, bend your knees completely like you are going into Chair pose, then instead, round your body down over your knees. Tuck your head in, touching your hands to the ground for support, or wrapping them around your shins to go even deeper inside.
Like with Goddess pose, use blankets or blocks to support your heels and hips here.
Chandra Namaskar Yoga Flow
Performing this flow may seem a bit complicated at first, so try reading along while watching someone else perform the movements. Learn the names of each of the poses first, then begin to incorporate the rhythm of breathing.
You can watch a video of this particular Moon Salutation style here. Take the flow as slow as you need to for comfort and don’t hesitate to watch it a few times through first before trying on your own.
Begin standing on the right side of your mat. The following movements are numbered by breath, A being the exhale, and B the inhale.
1A. Exhale, standing with your hands by your side.
1B. Inhale, sweeping the arms up to the side into Mountain pose, with the fingers interlaced and the index fingers and thumb pointing up.
2A. Exhale, bending to the left into Standing Crescent Moon pose.
2B. Inhale, back into Mountain
3A. Exhale, bending to the right into Standing Crescent Moon pose.
3B. Inhale, coming back up to Mountain.
4A. Exhale, bringing your left leg to the center of the mat and squatting into Goddess pose.
4B. Inhale, lifing up into Star.
5A. Exhale, turning your left foot out and reaching your left arm out in preparating for Triangle pose.
5B. Inhale, bringing your left arm down to your foot and your right arm up. Look at your hand here in Triangle.
6A. Exhale, bringing your right arm down close to your ear, rotating your hips to face left, into Head-to-Knee pose.
6B. Inhale. Bend your left knee into lunge.
7A. Exhale, walking your hands out in front of your body, rotating your hips to center. Put your weight over your left tose, right leg extended to the edge of your mat.
7B. Inhale, coming into a full squat. Pause and take three complete breaths.
8A. Exhale, extending your left leg out to the edge of your mat and shifting weight to the right.
8B. Inhale, lunging to the right.
9A. Exhale. Straighten your right leg into Head-to-Knee pose.
9B. Inhale. Keep your eyes down for balance, turning the left foot slightly. Bright both arms in front of your right knee preparing for Triangle.
10A. Exhale, bringing the left arm up, opening your hips and shoulders into Triangle pose. Look up.
10B. Inhale. Slowly lift the upper body so you are standing in Star pose.
11A. Exhale, down into Goddess.
11B. Inhale, up into Mountain.
12A. Exhale, bending to the right in Standing Crescent Moon pose.
12B. Inhale back into Mountain.
13A. Exhale, Standing Crescent Moon pose to the left.
13B. Inhale back into Mountain.
Return to mountain pose, pausing to take several deep breaths.
Make Moon Salutations Part of Every Day
While part of what makes moon salutations such an amazing yoga flow for women is that it can be done all throughout menstruation and pregnancy, those certainly aren’t the only times you should do them. Not only can Chandra Namaskar help strengthen your body in ways that will improve all those reproductive functions, but it offers a great way just to balance your more vigorous practice and wind down at the end of the day.
If you start your day out with a Sun Salutation practice, have you considered finishing with a daily Salute to the Moon?