III.28 चन्द्रे ताराव्यूहज्ञानम

candre tārā-vyūha-jñānam
“[From saṁyama] on the moon, knowledge of the organization of the stars.”

This past Saturday afternoon, I saw the moon rise. It was a waxing moon. How did I know this? Not because I remember the last full moon, not because I consulted a lunar calendar, but because I came across this passage in a novel by Barbara Kingsolver:

Don Enrique says a full moon pulls up the highest tides of month, at midday and midnight. And it pulls them down to their lowest ebb when it is rising or setting….This evening the moon was half, and Leandro said it’s dying away. You can tell because it’s shaped like the letter C, not curved forward like D. He says when the moon is D like Dios, it is growing to fill God’s sky. When dying away it is C, like Cristo on the cross. So no good tides again for many days. —The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver, p. 46-7

Saturday’s moon was shaped in the D-curve, a waxing moon. It was ripe and round, barely distinguishable from the lit sky–like an imprint on cloth. Was it the moon or an emissary of the moon sent before the moon’s main event–night!

Once the sun had set, with a festival of color, clouds rosy and blue-tailed, and night had come, the moon was higher and so bright, very strong. The few visible stars showed up like a retinue. The moon is night, and night is the moon, and it is at night we see the stars.

Why did I not know about the curves of the moon that reveal what phase it is in? I grew up in New York City, big city with bright lights, the city where Andy Warhol cleverly exclaimed, “the stars are all on the ground.” The massive ambience of the city’s electric lights block the perception of the night sky, and observation of the moon and her phases is occasional, accidental. The full moon, seen down a city scape, framed by buildings, would surprise me, exciting, magnificent. I had not known to expect it, nor what patterns it affected. And I often missed it. I did not have an intuitive, felt sense of its ongoing rhythms.

Had I lived near water, or if my life had been connected more to the sea, maybe I would have, and perhaps I would have been taught about the moon like the young boy Will in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel. The moon governs gravitational pull and affects the earth’s water and tides. As explained at earthsky.org, tides are higher at the full moon and the new moon. The sun’s gravity aligns with the moon’s at those times and they pull together. Direct experience of changing tides, the feel of different shifting pulls of water, bring a knowledge (jñānam) that is beyond the book knowledge, beyond the cerebral, that is more cellular, more through and through, more integrated, more yogic.

What is the more integrated experience of the moon for women and for female yoga practitioners? The terms menses and menstrual cycle are themselves associated with the English word moon. They share the same Latin root (mensis, “month”). I began the practice of Iyengar yoga at the age of 35. It was the first time, in my experience, that someone in a public setting even mentioned the menstrual cycle. Menstruation had been something to conceal in school and at work, not spoken about.  As those of you familiar with the Iyengar method will know, I was taught in class to not invert when bleeding, and–especially for the first few days of my period–to prioritize reclining poses like supta baddha koṇāsana, supta vīrāsana, and setu bandha, sitting poses like baddha koṇāsana, daṇḍasana, upaviṣṭa koṇāsana and forward bends with support for the head. All these allowed for release, rest, opening, flow. This altered my sense of myself. It drew me into my own physiology. It reset my sense of the hormonal fluctuations from a hidden flaw to an event of significance.

Did I like menstruating? No. Throughout my twenties, I had severe cramping and pain, and the office jobs I worked had 9-5 hours with no allowance for body ebbs and flows. In later years, after having children, I had less cramping. I had a regular yoga practice, a flexible schedule, and I could adapt better to the cycle. I would still be impatient with it. I didn’t like not doing handstands. I didn’t like being at the side of class if backbends were being taught.

All that said, I credit the yoga practice, specifically the yoga practice taught by Geeta Iyengar (whose Gem for Women is a proclamation of the benefits of yoga for women specifically) with bringing me into better rhythm with myself.

Today’s sūtra is best understood in company with the preceding one, III.27, which focuses on the sun, and the next, in which the point of focus is the pole star. As mentioned, commentators have interpreted III.27-29 to refer to actual outward contemplation of astronomical bodies, the macrocosm, and to inner observation, the microcosm. They have considered symbolic and metaphorical meanings, exploring aspects of human psychology and physiology and principles such as mobility/stability, transformation/steadiness, puruṣa/prakṛti, analysis/synthesis, masculine/feminine.

In III.28, Patañjali says, From contemplation of the moon comes tārā-vyūha-jñānam, knowledge of the arrangement (or organization) of the stars. At the simplest and most literal level, contemplating the moon will bring us to knowledge of the night sky, to star gazing, to recognition of the great constellations, the dimensions of space and the wonderment of scale.

Whether or not we can see the night sky from where we live, we are affected by the pull of the moon, and we are a part of the organization of the stars. Sūtras III.27-29 point us–like so much of chapter three–to a practice of presence in our world, presence to our own selves, presence to our circumstances, to the living things around us and the starry cosmic bodies.


“In the last sūtra, the sun, sūrya, refers to the core of one’s being. The moon, candra, refers to the mind and consciousness. The solar plexus is situated in the region of the trunk; the lunar plexus has its seat in the cerebrum.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.28

“As the moon waxes and wanes, so citta waxes and wanes according to variations in thought permutations and combinations. The seat of consciousness is the spiritual heart (seer or soul). Knowledge of consciousness arises through the inner light of the spiritual heart [III.35]. Dhruve is the pole star. It has a fixed place in the sky. If the moon stands for consciousness, the sun stands for the soul. In the same way, dhruve stands for intelligence (buddhi).” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras, p. 68

• What are the lessons of the moon, for you? How does the moon compare to the sun? Do you contemplate these qualities in āsana and prāṇāyāma practice?
• If you menstruate, has yoga practice supported your cycle? What are the practices that have been most helpful–related to yoga or not?
• The moon, as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet says, is “inconstant,” or changeable. How do you adapt to your own personal changeability, the fluctuations in your mind, your body?
• What is your experience of the longer nights of winter? What is your experience of the moon?


masculine noun, 7th case plural, “on”

moon (from cand, “to shine”)


feminine noun in compound

stars (from tṛ, “to pass beyond, cross over”)


masculine noun in compound

organization, ordering, arrangement (from vi-, “away or against,” + ūh, “remove”; “to array”)


neuter noun, 1st case plural

knowledge (from jña, “to know”)


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