Sierra Hollister, E-RYT500, is a beloved yoga teacher throughout the Appalachian Mountains, and widely considered to be a “teacher’s teacher.” Hollister is featured on the Yoga International platform, has appeared in Yoga Journal, is a lead teacher in Asheville, NC for both 200 and 300 hour YTT certifications and teaches at Warren Wilson College. She is a mother, runner, yogini and an engaged activist for social and environmental justice. Moon Path Yoga is Hollister’s first book.
Q: What was your motivation behind writing Moon Path Yoga?
A: The study and practice of yoga has brought me everything! My yoga practice has allowed me to realize wellness, vitality and happiness each day and also provided me with life-changing moments of insight and connection. Having experienced the power and beauty of the practice, as well as the way that the practice can hold, sustain and nourish one through hard times, is something that I want to share with others. To some extent, I feel obliged to share the practice and create access to the teachings, as it was through someone else’s sharing that I was able to experience the path of yoga.
This ancient wisdom tradition is vibrantly alive today because it is perpetually relevant—offering guidance and inspiration for every aspect of being a human. From my current perspective, it seems there is no limit to where your yoga practice can take you. And, for me, learning and incorporating the Vedic teachings on the importance of the moon, sun and earth relationships gifted the felt sensation of harmony and balance. Humbly, and with deep gratitude, Moon Path Yoga is simply sharing what I have learned and experienced so far. My wish is to open the door to a beautiful, balanced and nourishing way for others.
Q: How does yoga practice change with each phase of the moon?
A: Recognizing the impact of the moon’s phases on our personal energy as well as the overall energy on earth is something that all cultures, since the start of time, have done in some way. A beautifully simple way to illustrate the flow: understand that the new moon is a new cycle—here is initiation—what is our intention/what would we like to begin? As the moon waxes (grows in light), the conditions are right for taking action on this intention, for adding and growing. The full moon is the peak of the cycle—this is a time of clear sight and understanding if we will harvest our effort or release. From this point, the moon begins to wane (diminish in light)—during this section, we can be in appreciation for what we have reaped or work through the energy of release. Choosing what to compost, so to speak. The dark moon (void of all light) is the final surrender, the completion of the cycle.
Ideally, our yoga practice is more than what happens on a yoga mat, it is how we are moving through the days, through our life. As far as our actual practice on our mat—from new moon to full, beginning and adding, growing in energy. From full moon to dark, easing, refining and releasing. For bodies that are bleeding or pregnant, there are some contraindications around practice. I am a firm believer that if you are listening to your body, listening to the energy of the day, that you will understand intuitively what you need to feel good—whether this is understanding how to move on your mat, how to eat or if you need rest. I also believe that each and every one of us has our own unique relationship with the moon, a force that we have been in relationship with before we were born—it is simply a matter of learning to listen, tuning into your own wisdom.
Q: What is a mantra and how does it benefit yoga practice?
A: Mantra is sacred sound, encoded with vibratory frequencies that find resonance in the universe and invoke specific patterns and motions—both within us and in the cosmos. When we chant a mantra, not only are we affirming truth in some form, our tongue strikes various meridian points in the mouth; in this way, mantra also elicits corresponding effects on the various organ and glandular systems related to the meridian points. When we chant mantra, with reverence and gratitude, we create the potential for a potency of practice that will continue to vibrationally sing in our bodies and minds long after our practice is finished.
Q: Please explain the sequence to relieve premenstrual syndrome (PMS). What are the steps and how can it help relieve PMS?
A: I share a sequence to relieve PMS in Moon Path Yoga. PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome, a state that is somewhat medically vague and can refer to upward of a hundred different symptoms—all of which are unpleasant (headaches, bloating, cramping and so on). The sequence offered in the book works on the liver as well as the endocrine system and hormonal balance. In addition to being a practice that can alleviate PMS, this is a beautiful and moderately challenging practice that can be done anytime you want to simply slow down and experience gratitude. The sequence has 10 steps.
1. Come sitting on your heels, with knees bent and spine straight. Allow yourself a few breaths and a chance to occupy both the posture and the moment. When ready, rest your hands on the floor and extend your left leg straight back. Relax your torso forward, over your right thigh, resting your head on the ground. If this feels awkward or uncomfortable, bring a cushion or a bolster alongside to support both your torso and rest your forehead on. The arms are relaxed back, along the body, resting on the floor with the palms up. Relax here, with an organic and natural breath through the nose, for three minutes. Rise back up, switch the legs and repeat on the other side for an additional three minutes.
2. Return to sitting on your heels. Use your hands to gently massage all along your throat, from the collarbone to the jaw, for two minutes. Move to massaging your ears with the palms of your hands and then your earlobes, for two to three minutes.
3. Still seated on heels, place your hands into a Venus mudra (loosely interlacing the fingers of each hand) at the small of your back. While gently holding the mudra, inhale as you slowly twist your torso to the left and exhale as you slowly twist your torso to the right for three minutes. End with an inhale, spine center and briefly suspend the breath as you imagine energy rising up the spine.
4. Move from sitting on your heels to lying down on your back. Bring your hands to your shoulders—fingers curling in front of the shoulders and thumbs on the back of the shoulders, elbows to the ground. Move your legs to move to a comfortably wide-spread. Take a moment to tune in to the muscles of your body, anchoring your legs and heels to the floor. Slowly lift the upper body, bit by bit, as incrementally as possible, until your torso is upright; then slowly fold forward from the waist until your nose is on the ground (or close to the ground). Hold this version of a forward fold with long, deep breathing for three minutes.
5. Allow the torso to rise back up from the previous position and return to lying on your back, in the same posture. This time, you’ll repeat the lifting and folding, but the destination is nose to left knee, holding for one minute. Conclude this with three deep breaths and then return to your back and repeat, with the destination of nose to right knee.
6. Come up from your back and get ready for something very different, fun and effective! Begin with your body in a table shape, hands under the shoulders, knees under the hips. From here, lower the elbows down to where the hands were and lift hands and forearms so that your elbows are supporting your upper body. You can shape your hands into loose fists. Lift the head, as well as the lower legs, and begin to “walk” on your elbows and knees. Try and keep your feet pulled in towards your thighs. You do not have to travel far (back and forth on your mat) but do your best to continue this walking motion for three minutes.
7. Return to laying on your back and allow yourself to relax completely. Spend two to three minutes here, integrating the practice so far.
8. Rise and move into a full lotus position (legs folded, with each foot on the opposite thigh). If this is a new posture for you—move very slowly in and out of the posture as there is significant torque on the knees. If full lotus is not accessible or doesn’t feel right, try half lotus (one foot on one thigh). If that is also uncomfortable, take sukhasana (folded, crossed legs). Once you’ve determined which variation works for you, place your hands on the ground on either side of your hips. Push into your hands and lift your body off the ground and swing forward. Bring your hands by the hips again, repeating the process. Continue propelling your body forward with the strength of your arms for three minutes.
9. The next posture is a dynamic version of back platform pose. Begin seated, with legs long in front of you. Place your hands on the ground behind your hips, just under the shoulders. Engage legs and abdominal muscles and lift your body up so that you are balanced on your hands and heels. Begin “walking” in this pose—it’s okay if your hips dip down a bit but try and keep the pelvis lifted and in a fairly straight line. This takes significant effort—and again, you do not have to go far. Take little “steps” with hands and heels and do your best for one to two minutes. 10. Relax down on to your back. Take shavasana, a posture of lying on the back with legs relaxed away from each other, arms loose by the sides and palms skyward. Let go, deeply and completely. Consciously relax your entire body. Allow yourself 10 to 15 minutes here to absorb and integrate all of your effort.
Q: What are your guidelines for prenatal yoga practice?
A: First and foremost, listen to your body—regardless of the timelines that I offer here, the person who is pregnant is the best and most informed around what feels beneficial as well as what doesn’t feel beneficial.
During the first trimester, practice does not really need to change unless we wish. I encourage refraining from any pranayama (breathing) practice that includes breath suspension (holding the breath) of any kind or duration. In general, we are embarking upon a journey where we look to our practice for relaxation and restoration. Now is a good time to begin to become more contemplative and reflective, to step away from pushing or physical striving.
Once the second trimester has begun, any postures that have us on our stomachs (bow pose, locust variations, cobra, upward facing dog, etc.) are excluded. It is also wise to refrain from any strong postures that stretch or twist the abdomen, including camel pose or seated twists. Strong abdominal strengthening and stimulating postures are contradicted at this time, as is agni pran (Breath of Fire). As well, this is when the practice of bandhas (locks that are pulled internally), inversions (headstand, handstand, shoulder pose, plow pose, any upside down postures) are halted. Lifting the legs while supine on the back is also discouraged but leg lifts while lying on the side are okay.
I encourage leaning into your intuition and paying attention to how things make you feel—there are plenty of postures that are deemed “okay” but might not feel okay. We want our practice to nourish us at this time—it shouldn’t be a source of stress or tension.
Q: In the book, you mention a number of different types of meditation. How do they differ and when should they be utilized?
A: There are numerous meditations included throughout Moon Path Yoga and with just three important exceptions, all of them can be practiced at any time, whenever there is a wish to be more contemplative. The three exceptions are sat kriya, sodarshan chakra kriya and meditation for a calm heart. All three of these meditations are discouraged during pregnancy due to the physical effort in both sat kriya and sodarshan chakra kriya and the breath retention of meditation for a calm heart.
Some of the meditations offered include mantra, some of them work primarily with visualization and some are breath-based. There is a beautiful one for couples to practice together. Generally, I would encourage meditating in the morning, even before the sun rises. It’s my experience that early morning seems to be the most conducive time to meditate, the world seems quieter and the distractions of the day have not yet begun. With that said, sometimes it’s nice (or necessary) to carve out time later in the day for meditation. The most essential bit is not when or where per se but finding the window of opportunity that works for you. Ideally, there is a time each day that you can set aside for meditation. Consistency of practice really helps the benefits of meditation to accrue.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Innate in my heart is the wish that you find a yoga practice that inspires you, that calls you again and again to your mat and unleashes such a sense of well-being that you can’t help learning more about the beautiful and immense body of teachings and wisdom that we call yoga. I wrote Moon Path Yoga with the hope that more people would consider the power of the moon and the opportunity to more deeply align ourselves, in harmony with the natural world through our practice. In this way, we can awaken into the wisest, kindest, most compassionate version of ourselves … and really, isn’t that what our lives are all about?