SO you want to make an omelette, not the standard American diner omelette, excusez-moi, but the classic French one—just because it’s got the words classic and French. But Jacques Pépin, the man Julia Child hailed as “the best chef in America,” would set the record straight in his DVD Essential Pépin, knifing the air with his hand: “It’s not better, it’s just different.”
Looks like I could say the same for ardha chandrasana too, especially after a class, less than a month ago, that got me seeing this balancing pose in a whole new way.
“Your hips are not stacked on top of each other,” came the voice cue at this class, when hardly two weeks before, I had heard a different teacher say just the opposite: “Your hips are stacked.”
For as long as my body has known the shape of my half moon, which is to say a good eight years, rather more like seven, discounting the lazy days and the back injury time-outs, the alignment I’ve got wired in my head is: stack the hips. That is, butt and back flat on a wall, like poor Tom in one of his wall crashes, except this is a reverse parivrtta front-on collision, with Jerry cheering and jeering at a distance.
All this plays out wonderfully in the mind, but in practice, the imagery does not take into account two things: the position of the bottom hand and the size of one’s booty.
On a left-facing half moon, your bottom hand is roughly one o’clock of the standing foot; and on the other side, eleven o’clock. But when you’re up close with the wall, that hand has got nowhere to go but noon or midnight.
Now, the booty. If you have one that’s two-thirds the size of J. Lo’s, like mine, made more pronounced by a stubborn swayback from pinched lower lumbar discs, you’d never find that freeing, back-is-flushed-flat-on-the-wall feeling, just two butt cheeks smooshed against the wall.
And if you tried, with all your might, to press the upper back against the wall, all in the name of textbook rather than healthful alignment, folks like me would end up accentuating, even aggravating, the lordotic curve, however diligently we lengthen the tailbone towards the raised heel.
This is why I don’t care much for our wall, except to spurn it with my foot, which is the only way I’d use it as a prop—pushing, first, my right sole against it, toes west-facing, as if to make an imprint, then the left: two imagined footprints, both toeless and near archless.
That’s what always comes to mind when I’m at half moon: a strong, engaged raised leg; then a standing foot pointing forward; then hips stacked. Until, of course, “half moon, unstacked” shows up.
It’s everything that “half moon, stacked” is, except that the top hip is “slightly forward” of the lower—the very phrase I had heard in that Aha! class, and one you’d find in the Yoga Journal as well:
Rotate your upper torso to the left , but keep the left hip moving slightly forward
This subtle movement may make the pose feel less open, a tad timid too since one can’t quite let the heart shine—to use that phrase, a favorite with some teachers.
But for every action, there’s an opposing one, a see-saw debit-credit compensatory movement: for an ounce of shine “half moon, unstacked” takes away, it returns an equal sum of something else—kindness to the QL, that stretch of back muscles that extends from the lower rib to the top of the pelvis, and also attaches to the sides of the lumbar vertebrae.
As they shorten, tighten, and pick up all the slack from weak erector spinae (the inner muscles that run sheath-like along the sides of the entire spine), the QLs can give hell to the lower back.
In other words, we don’t want to shorten our quadratus lumborum anymore, a situation more likely to happen in a “stacked” situation. Turning the left hip up to stack over the right invites the right QL to shorten, bunching it up even more if your right butt pokes out and your lower right torso squeezes down on the thigh—that sticky situation one can encounter in extended side-angle and crescent lunge as well.
You can easily grab a block to raise the lower hand and restore the space between the lower torso and thighs, and then say: “Look, stacking the hips is all good again, why should I go with this ‘slightly forward’ thing?”
Here’s why: Not only do you stabilize the QL on the side of the standing leg, you get to stretch the QL on the side of the raised leg, especially if you do two things: first, go for “a little more forward” in the hips instead of “slightly forward”; next, dip the raised leg lower so it’s not fully parallel to the floor, but still engage it strongly. The sensation in the stretched QL, you may find, is particularly bittersweet yet delicious.
Come to think of it, those intermittent self-invented stretches that break up my long sit-on-the-bum afternoons are essentially a funky take on “half moon, unstacked.”
I sidle up to my bed or couch, dip my torso forward and down, supporting my body weight with my right hand, or forearm if I’m at the dining table. Then I raise my left leg up no more than two feet, letting it hang out in a limp, chill-out way, with my face floor-facing and the left hand on the hip. Soon, the feeling comes: the left QL smiles, then sighs, all satiated, satisfied.
Heaven knows if this is proper, correct alignment, but it sure feels damn good.
So if you asked me now, “Is unstacked better than stacked, or are they just different?” Well, let’s just say we aren’t comparing French omelettes to American ones.