The Moon. At once a side-kick to the Earth and yet a powerful and mysterious entity that affects our oceans and, by some, accounts tempers our moods. The Moon is not only significant to modern science, it is also culturally and spiritually iconic. So let’s investigate: how important is the Moon?
An Introduction to Yoga and The Moon
Ha-Tha (as in Hatha Yoga) translates as ‘Sun-Moon’ which symbolises the unity of opposites. That is the existence of hot active masculine energy and cool receptive feminine energy in all of us. In Yogic understanding the Moon’s phases (the Moon’s position in relation to the Earth) represents a number of Pranic forces that exist in this universe. When the Moon is full it represents upward energy or Pran Pran, which becomes prevalent at the top of an inhalation. Meanwhile, the New Moon represents Apan Pran, downward energy, which is most prevalent at the end of an exhalation. Paying attention to the phases of the Moon is considered to be a tool of transformation. Yoga, in one interpretation, is the discipline of becoming more and more aware of the subtle forces at play in this universe. Only then can you learn to accept their affect on your mood and abilities; and maybe even subvert these effects. What that means for the Yoga practitioner may differ from school to school and individual to individual. Some Yogis do not practice during a Full Moon and some do. Some Yogis fast during the New Moon, while others tend to reflect or rest during this period.
Discovering the Moon
The Mayans, ancient greeks, Babylonians, Chinese astronomers and Indian astronomers made significant discoveries throughout early recorded history. That the moon shines because of the light of the Sun was hypothesised as early as 460BC. The Sanskrit text, in which the period of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun was predicted, the Surya Siddhanta, is believed to have emerged around 400AD. One hundred years later Aryabhatha considered elliptical cycles of the planets. Copernicus’ assertion of the Earth’s rotation around the Sun, then Keppler’s proof of elliptical cycles which coincided with Galileo’s observations of the craters on the moon, all came much later.
The commonly used symbol for the Islamic religion is a crescent moon and a star. Religious educators of Islam suggest this is merely a sign of God, like anything else in this universe. Historians note that Arabian tradesmen used the light of the moon to help them navigate the trade-routes well before the period in which Islam became prevalent. In Ancient Greek, Sumerian and Babylonian traditions gods and goddesses of the Moon were worshipped and in particular the significance of the crescent moon may be dated further back than 2000BC.
The Moon cycle is roughly the same period as the female menstrual cycle, it determines the tides of our oceans and it affects how animals survive including how humans traditionally conducted farming. For example, farmers would sow seeds when the water levels rise due to the New and Full Moons. It is by the most amazing circumstances, the chances of which must be incredibly slim, that the Earth benefits from gravity, water and the pull of the Moon. Only in recent years has the importance of the Moon in making it possible for life to exist on Earth become more recognised.
Modern Science and The Moon
After the Apollo space missions between 1969-1972 it became a commonly accepted theory that two cosmic neighbours melted and reformed as one to become the Earth. The Earth, then Theia, and a protoplanet about the size of Mars became one, as a result of a giant collision, from which a small part of this new mass became the Moon. No longer is the Moon considered to be a foreign body which had developed in some other part of the universe and was then captured in the Earth’s gravity. The Moon is understood to have helped stabilise Earth’s orbit and reduced polar motion thus enabling our planet’s relatively stable climate.
Religion and The Moon
So the Moon seems like it may have been pretty essential to life on Earth and yet, much of religious folklore downplays her role. The Moon is described as the smaller luminary (compared to the sun) and as inferior. The duality present in life, is between givers and receivers rather than co-dependent equals, according to monotheistic religions. It is considered part of the imperfection that makes possible the manifestation of our universe. In the Talmud for example, when he created the universe, God diminished the moon. A belief for which the Jewish people atone. But whether or not you follow the ways of the Sun, and value being strong and brave, or value the ways of the Moon, and act as compassionate and ashamed, the view common between Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths is that the nature of this universe is unequal.
Re-discovering The Moon
In ancient Eastern and Pagan philosophy the nature of physical manifestation is also deemed a product of duality. This duality is mostly understood as the difference between subtle and crude energetic forces. The Moon, as matter, holds a specific frequency which affects all life on Earth. It is highly influential on thoughts and impressions and on our subconscious mind. When the Moon is understood in this way, we may become more sensitive to its subtle influence. We can view mood, sleep and food intake, and own existence with greater acceptance and therefore less polarity.
The reference to the Moon as ‘lunar’, carries with it the idea that the Moon brings out lunacy, or madness. Her influence is illogical. The study of Yoga may begin as practical and sensical but the deeper you delve into the ancient practices and traditions, the more you will face accounts of what you might consider illogical. The account of the Chakras (energy junctions) and Nadis (energy channels) is one example. These invisible energetic centres and pathways are affected by, and ascertain, one’s emotional and spiritual development. The lunar (passive and mental) and solar (active and physical) energies in the human body criss-cross throughout the body via the Nadis.
Through breathing techniques and awareness of the breath in each nostril it is possible to bring balance between the energy channel leading to the right nostril (called the Pingala Nadi), and the energy channel leading to left nostril (Ida Nadi). Scientific tests has proven that equalising the breath in the nostrils (alternate nostril breathing) electrifies the opposite side of the brain. This corresponds with the understanding of the left side of the brain as responsible for the right side of the body and having a more logical function. And meanwhile the right brain controls the left side of the body and has a more emotional function. Today, neuroscientists and physicists begin to sound like mystics as they look further and further into space or closer and closer at particles and bio-electromagnetic forces.