The opening posture of the Bikram Hot Yoga Series after Pranayama Breathing is Half Moon with Hands to Feet Posture. The Sanskrit name for the pose is Ardha Chandrasana with Pada Hastasana which is defined in English as Ardha meaning "half", Chandra meaning "moon", Asana translates to "seat" or "posture". Pada Hastasana translates from Sanskrit to English as Pada meaning "foot", Hasta means "hand" and once again Asana is "seat" or "posture". It is a four part posture which includes a side bend on each side of the body called Half Moon. Following doing both sides of the body in Half Moon you do a back bend and finally a forward fold with hands to feet. The pose moves and stretches the whole body especially the spine in each direction. To simplify things we are going to break this post into three separate sections starting with Half Moon.
The starting portion of the opening pose in the Bikram Series is Half Moon Posture. The purpose of doing the Half Moon Pose is to open and stretch your whole body from your heel up the entire side of the body. You are opening up the whole front of your body, your shoulders and neck in the Half Moon as well. As with all yoga poses you should match each movement with an inhale or and exhale. In the Bikram Series, you do the Half Moon twice on each side of the body for thirty seconds each. Let us not waste any more time and begin looking at how to do Half Moon.
The key to the pose is the grip of the hands, which are to go above your head. The grip is to have calms pressed together with thumbs crossed and index fingers pressed together, released from other fingers and pointing towards the ceiling. This is the basis of the whole posture, so maintain this grip no matter how deep you go into the pose. The palms should be so tight you can hold a pencil between your palms throughout the posture.
Once you have your grip correct, stretch up towards the ceiling and try and lockout your elbows. If you can not lock your elbows, it is okay to keep your elbows bent but remember that overtime work on straightening out the elbows. You should be continuously stretching up towards the ceiling while pressing your hands and body to one side of the room. You should feel a stretch on one side of the body and a contraction on the other. So as say you are pushing to the left you should feel your right side stretching. At the same time you will feel left side compressing. Keep the chin and chest lifted the whole posture. Slightly press your hips and pelvis forward and notice the opening of the chest. The upper body is leaning slightly back but this pose is not a Back Bend.
Some people make a mistake when they start just bending to the side and at the waist without the lift of the posture. You need to make sure you are doing both throughout the whole posture because this gives you a stretch along the side of the body. Your legs should be strong with the hips square. The weight should be in the heel on the side of the body you are lifting from. So if you are pushing to the left the weight should be in the right heel. Press your thighs together and have the stomach pulled in. You are doing each side of the body twice during the Bikram Yoga series.
There are more details to this posture which I have listed below but what we have discussed so far is the basic concept of what the Half Moon Posture is in Bikram Yoga. The most important thing to remember is to have your palms pressed tight throughout the posture and from there stretch up towards the ceiling while at the same time pushing the hands and body to one side of the room. This posture will give the sides of your body the stretch and movement needed to open the sides of your body from your ankle and the through the thighs, hips, ribcage, shoulders, and up into the neck to make the Bikram series a more relaxed and comfortable experience.
The second part of Half Moon with Hands to feet is one of the most powerful poses in the whole series. The backbend is one of the most basic but most essential yoga postures in the Bikram Series. The posture is not hard to understand, but there are certain concepts you should know before doing the pose. For some reason they snuck this pose in without adding it to the Sanskrit name. Even though it is not mentioned in the Sanskrit name the Back Bend is just as important as the other parts of the posture.
The first thing to understand is maintaining the grip that you did the first part of the Half Moon Posture. Press the palms together, cross your thumbs and release your index fingers as you did in Half Moon. The next thing you need to do is drop your head back and stretch up towards the ceiling. Try and lockout the elbows, but if you cannot just press your palms together, stretch up to the sky with the elbows bent. If this is all you can do, congratulations, you are doing the backbend.
Lifting through the chest through the whole posture is one of the most important things to remember. You are not collapsing into your lower spine; you are lifting up from the chest and upper body for the posture duration. Once you have the lift of the posture, then you work on bending backward.
While maintaining the lift of the posture, drop your head back and fix your eye gaze on the ceiling or the wall behind you is the next concept. While stretching towards the top and lifting through the chest, keep looking back and point to the spot you are looking at with your index fingers. The legs are always strong in this posture, while the weight of the pose is in your heels.
On your inhale, lift up through the chest, and on the exhale, drop the upper body back and try and touch the spot you are looking at on the ceiling or the back wall. You should feel stretch along the front of the body, and your back should be contracting.
It is not the depth that matters to do backbends but using the proper form to wrap things up. If you are using the appropriate grip, stretching up towards the ceiling through the chest, and dropping your head back, you are doing the backbend. Make sure you are breathing and be patient and add the depth of the posture over time.
The third and final part of Half Moon with Hands to feet is the Hands to feet portion of the posture. The name in Sanskrit of the pose is Pada Hastasana with Pada meaning foot and Hastasana, which means hands posture. The Hands to Feet posture can be very intimidating with its many different moving parts, but let us break it down to make it easy for beginners to do.
The first thing to do is bend forward and put your hands on the floor in front of you. If you are having trouble putting your hands on the floor in front of you, it is ok to bend the knees as much as you need to put your hands on the floor. When you have your hands on the floor in front of you, you can do a warm-up by moving your heels back and forth a couple of times and letting the head hang heavy.
When you are done doing your warm-up, the dialogue says to grab your heels from behind, but you may not be able to do this. If you cannot hold your heels, just grab the outside of your feet or over your toes. Once again, bend the knees as much as you need to to get the grip and maintain the grip for the duration of the entire posture.
The next important thing to add to the pose once your grip is established is to press the upper body with the thighs as tight as possible. The purpose of doing this is to protect your lower back and elongate the spine from top to bottom. From here, you just need to let your head hang heavy and start to pull on your feet and lift your hips while you maintain the compression of the upper body and lower body. Straighten out he legs and roll the body weight into the toes.
Pada Hastasana or Half Moon is the third and final pose in the Half Moon with Hands to Feet pose. It is meant to stretch the whole back of the body and compress the front of the body. You are simultaneously pulling on your heels and lengthening the spine towards the floor. This is the simplest explanation of the posture, but if you feel good, you can add some of the instructions below. Remember, the purpose of the pose is more about lengthening the spine than anything else. Worry about your spine first and worry about the legs later on.