Moon Days

by Melanie Cooper

For years I have religiously observed moon days, which means I don’t practice asana on full or new moon. The yogic explanation is that the full moon corresponds to the top of the inhalation when the upward energy of prana is at it’s greatest. So around the full moon we can feel high, energised, emotional and ungrounded. The new moon corresponds to the bottom of the exhalation when the force of apana is greatest so we feel calm and grounded and low energy. At either extreme it’s not a good idea to practice and we are more likely to injure our self.
full_moon-wideThe explanations I’ve often heard, and in the past given myself, are that are we are composed of around 60% water we are affected by the moon in the same way as the ocean. I’ve also often heard it said that admissions to mental hospitals, arrests and accidents are higher around the full moon.
But is there a scientific basis for this and is it true?

So the first idea is that we are made of mostly water and the gravitational pull of the moon causes the whole ocean to move so therefore it must affect us. Well, the idea that the moon causes the tides is only partly true, tides are mostly caused by the rotation of the earth, but more to the point, the moon doesn’t affect water in lakes or rivers or the water in our bathtub…. or the water in our body. The water in the human body is intercellular, that means it is contained in cells doesn’t exist in the body as pure water and is too small a volume to be affected by the moon. So the idea of the gravitational pull of the moon affecting us via the water in our body, on closer inspection starts to look a little thin.

The second idea is that the gravitational pull of the moon is greater when it’s full, and that this affects our body and mind. Well the moon and the earth both have elliptical orbits and the difference between the closest and furthest point between the earth and the moon is 225,622 miles, which isn’t significant in terms of gravitational pull. Also, there is no relationship between the moons distance from earth and whether the moon is new or full. And anyway as the late astronomer George Abell of the University of California, Los Angeles, noted, a mosquito sitting on our arm exerts a more powerful gravitational pull on us than the moon does. So that idea doesn’t hold much water either.
So what about the statistical evidence of higher admissions to mental hospitals, more people being arrested and having accidents at full moon – some police forces put on extra police to deal with it – so that must be true? Well according to every statistical study and meta analysis ever done there is in fact no correlation between anything, including crimes, suicides, psychiatric problems and crisis centre calls, and the moon, not even women’s menstrual cycle.
So on closer inspection all my beliefs and ideas about moon days turn out to have no foundation in fact. I can’t pretend that I didn’t find this disappointing. But on reflection, it doesn’t stop me. I think being in tune with the rhythm of the moon is very beautiful and especially living in a big city it keeps me in touch with nature. I love the symbolism of new beginnings and completed cycles. I love the ritual of it. I just love to look up and see the moon and observing moon days keeps me aware and connected on that level….and… it’s also very nice to have a lie in twice a month!

Melanie-CooperMelanie Cooper has been teaching yoga for 16 years, and training yoga teachers for eight years. She divides her time between London and Goa, practicing and teaching yoga and sometimes dancing on the beach. She currently runs the morning ashtanga self practice at The Life Centre in Islington and runs an annual teacher training at Brahmani Yoga in Goa and at Zolder Studio in North London, She has practiced at Ashtanga Yoga London for many years, and has also studied with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Melanie lives in North London.

Melanie also has her own magazine style page here:

Other articles posted here by Melanie Cooper:
  • When Yoga makes you angry! May 9, 2014 by Melanie Cooper A new student recently said she had been told that if a yoga teacher knows what they are doing and teaches the class properly then the students should leave feeling energised and good. Did I agree? Well, I thought, I guess that does often happen – but not all the time. Students can ...
  • Yin Yoga for Lotus Hips July 6, 2014 By Melanie Cooper Padmasana or Lotus can be one of the most challenging and frustrating poses for a yoga practitioner. The ankles, knees and hip joints all have to be mobile and the muscles in the legs and the hip girdle have to be flexible. It is all too common for the knee to be injured ...
  • Where should I feel this? November 26, 2015 A common question asked by yoga students is ‘where should I feel this’. This is often harder to answer than it might seem. Firstly bodies are complicated things! The old model of individual muscles moving or restricting a single joint is now largely thought to be too simplistic. The body has come to be seen as ...
  • Beginners Luck June 6, 2014 By Melanie Cooper Teaching is a special skill and teaching beginners well is probably the hardest of all. Here are some of my suggestions for teaching beginners in a way that is positive and nurturing and compassionate. Be Compassionate Remember what it was like when you were a beginner. After years of practice it’s easy to forget how ...
  • Getting Better? September 27, 2014 Yoga Minded: 29 March 2014: Getting Better? In yoga classes we are often learning how to go deeper into poses, learning ways to open the body and how to improve our practice. At the same time we are being told that ‘it’s not about the asana’ and ‘it doesn’t matter how far into a pose you go ...
  • Why do adjustments? September 27, 2014 Yoga Minded: 07 April 2014: Why do adjustments? Giving adjustments is the main thing I love about teaching. It’s amazing how so much communication can take place in relative silence. I see adjustments as a way to help and support people during their yoga practice. I see adjustments as a dialogue, with my hands and intention ...
  • Handstand Basics November 13, 2014 Yoga Minded: 13 November 2014: Handstand Basics There is definitely a knack to doing handstands, but if you build up the strength and the technique with these exercises you will be having a new perspective on the world in no time. Even Stu has a staring roll in this video that we shot in Goa. Melanie Cooper ...
  • What is That Popping Sound? NEW RESEARCH!!! November 22, 2015 One of the common questions asked by yoga students is ‘what’s that popping sound from my joints?’ quickly followed by ‘is it safe?’ and ‘does it mean I’m going to get arthritis or injure myself?’ The answer depends – If it’s a grating or crunching sound and/or it’s accompanied by pain – then it is either a ...
  • Led Ashtanga Practice (audio file recorded in Goa) September 27, 2014 Yoga Minded: 23 May 2014: Led Ashtanga Practice (audio file recorded in Goa) One of the things I love teaching the most is a full led ashtanga primary series. The full series has an amazing elegance and intelligence and logic. It builds you up and then gently brings you back down. It stretches you and strengthens ...
  • Top Ten Essential Books for New Yoga Teachers September 27, 2014 Yoga Minded: 16 May 2014: Top Ten Essential Books for New Yoga Teachers. Here are my suggestions for the top ten books recommended for newbie Yoga teachers. I’d be very interested to hear other people’s suggestions and ideas… ‘Heart of Yoga’ Desikachar – very beautiful classic intro to yoga. ‘Teaching people not poses’ Jay Fields – ...
  • Backbends in Focus October 20, 2014 Yoga Minded: 20 October 2014: Backbends in Focus. Backbends require the front of the body to be in several key areas. In this video I show you the areas that students often experience restriction and provide some exercises to help facilitate a more comfortable and rewarding backbend journey. Melanie Cooper has been teaching yoga for 16 years, ...
  • Is This Spiritual? April 15, 2014 By Melanie Cooper “Spiritual” is a concept or term often bandied around in yoga circles. It can be confusing to anyone – but especially a new student. We go along to a yoga class in our local gym thinking it’d be good to stretch our muscles after our workout. Then suddenly we learn it’s supposed to ...
  • How to Make Adjustments SAFE September 27, 2014 Yoga Minded: 14 June 2014: How to Make Adjustments SAFE Adjustments can be an extremely effective part of the way a yoga teacher communicates with their students. Adjustments can be soft, energetic, enabling and supportive. They should feel GOOD. If an adjustment feels painful or horrible – then something is going very wrong. Here are my ...
  • Yin Yoga for Back bending with Ease and Grace July 6, 2014 By Melanie Cooper Back bending with ease and grace requires that the Hip flexors (front of the hips), shoulders, and the whole of the front of the body are flexible and strong. Yin yoga is a way of opening the body with passive stretches held for a prolonged period of time. If practiced correctly it is a ...
  • Melanie Cooper Interview April 12, 2014 While in Goa this winter I had the chance to interview Melanie Cooper. Melanie is an Ashtanga and Yin Teacher and has recently had a book published called Teaching Yoga Adjusting Asana. She has been teaching for sixteen years and training other teachers for the last eight years. Presently she runs a mysore program at ...

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6 Responses

  1. Ronen says:

    Melanie nailed it. I never saw the science in it either, but i love the ritual.

  2. paul says:

    This is a great summary of the science Mel.well done!
    Interestingly, gardeners since Roman times have believed that seeds sown during a waxing moon germinate more quickly+ I often observe this to be the case. Intact my last batch were a real testament to this claim once again.
    Also, my teacher in mysore suggested that moon days off started because teachers had to do puja and fasting around these days+ needed a morning off teaching – as they wouldn’t be in a position to give it their best. His logic suggested that this didn’t excuse students, and we were still expected to turn up regardless of whether or not there was a greater risk we might wind up having accidents or getting arrested on the way there !!
    Personally, I like to save up these two bonus days off in a month+ use them when I’m aching and/ or travelling..
    Enjoy the lie ins…x

  3. davyjones2015 says:

    I agree – here is an article I wrote in 2008 on this topic:

    Yoga and the moon

    I love Ashtanga yoga ! I have practised for nearly ten years and taught for a few. I think it is a great system that suits some people down to the ground.

    But it does seem to have acquired a disproportionate amount of baggage – rules and regulations, dos and don’ts, and quite simply, myths.

    I have always been perplexed by the Ashtanga tradition of not practising on “moon days” – these being defined as the full and new moons. The reason given, usually delivered in hushed tones, is that the position of the moon on those days makes injury more likely. Okay, you think, grateful for a few legitimate “days off”.

    But then you get to thinking – how come other yoga traditions don’t follow this rule? When was the last time you heard an Iyengar, Sivananda or Scaravelli teacher explain that class is off next week because of a moon day? There are moon salutations all right, but I haven’t come across the theory of not practising on moon days anywhere except in Ashtanga-world, which is after all only a small part of the broader yoga community. That immediately makes me suspicious.
    So why would the position of the moon affect our energy levels and likelihood of injury? The theory goes that as our bodies are made up of 70% water, then we are likely to be affected by the gravitational pull of the moon, just as occurs with the tides. It seems plausible at first.

    There are many other long-held beliefs concerning the moon and madness, aggression, fertility and menstruation cycles, and even natural disasters. While the occasional study suggests some form of link, the overwhelming result from hundreds of such medical and academic studies is that there is no correlation whatsoever between them and lunar cycles (Ivan Kelly, James Rotton and Roger Culver 1996 in particular examined over 100 studies on lunar effects and concluded that the studies have failed to show a reliable and significant correlation, ie one not likely due to chance, between the full moon, or any other phase of the moon).

    It is however widely accepted that the moon does indeed play a significant role in tidal patterns. However, this is not the same thing as saying that the moon has an important effect on humans. In fact, astronomer George Abell claims that a mosquito would exert more gravitational pull on your arm than the moon would (Abell 1979).

    But even if we accept the moon might affect our watery bodies, how could this possibly threaten injury when the full and new moons are exact opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the orbit of the moon? It might make some kind of sense that the full moon coincides with more energy and therefore more likelihood of injury, but the new moon would then be the least dangerous time to practice. It doesn’t add up.

    And another problem with “moon days” is that those “chosen” by Ashtanga teachers are often the wrong ones, linked to the night it occurs not the precise timing. For example, if the full moon occurs at 3am on a Tuesday morning, the official “moon day” is given as Monday (as the full moon occurs that night). But then people don’t practice on the Monday morning, which is almost 24 hours from the actual full moon, but do practice on the Tuesday morning just a few hours after the full moon, when the alleged pull of the moon is much stronger. Again, it doesn’t make sense. And if there is a danger of injury on moon days, why do most of the same Ashtanga teachers teach beginners or other non-Mysore classes even on “moon days” ?

    But there is an even more fundamental flaw in the “moon day” theory. The gravitational pull of the moon is strongest when the moon is physically closest to the earth, which is determined by the orbit of the moon around the earth. This lunar orbit is completely different from and has no correlation whatsoever with the full and new moon (which are determined by a totally different orbiting relationship – between the moon, the sun and the earth).

    If we decide to ignore the scientific evidence that the gravitational pull of the moon is negligible, and persist with the notion that yoga practice is dangerous when the moon is closest to us, then we should observe the lunar orbit calendar (the perigee and apogee – when the moon is closest and furthest from us) not the cycle of full and new moons (known as the synodic lunar cycle)! They are totally different days each month – there is a website that compares them – so the “full moon” day may be weeks away from the perigee when the moon is closest to earth and its gravitational pull greatest.
    All in all, there is simply no evidence whatsoever to support the “moon day” theory in Ashtanga, which is probably why other yoga systems don’t follow it either. Somehow though, along with so many other dos and don’ts, it has become part of the Ashtanga folklore.

    I suspect somewhere along the line, Ashtanga teachers simply wanted a day off from time to time – and who can blame them? – especially if they were leading regular early morning Mysore sessions. The moon cycles seemed as good a basis as any to calculate when that should be. All power to their vinyasas for having a regular day off, but please don’t tell me there is any scientific basis for it!

  4. Hey Mel – great article! I love the reasons why you observe moon days. I also enjoyed reading your article Daveyjones2015. It inspired me to write a blog about moon days, the fact that Guruji took them off teaching because of the extra pujas he had to do on those days. I’ve linked to your article in it. Hope you are well xxx

  5. Veronika says:

    Hi Melanie.. you need to check out this book… Its an interesting study on women and our cycles and the importance of listening to our bodies according to where you are in your monthly/life cycle…Every yoga teacher everywhere should know about this stuff.. recently released and written by Uma Dinsmore-Tuli a leader in womans yoga and wellbeing.
    I’m telling you about it because I’m a teacher and had not considered these things until recently and I can hardly believe it now that I’m half way through the book!

  6. Jamie says:

    Check out Eddie Stern’s essay on this: really interesting and give a very logical explanation for the observance of moon days:

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