Wellbeing

Moon phases: why living by the lunar cycle is the next big thing in wellness

The moon is shining brightly on the wellness industry in 2020. But is there any truth to the hype?

Olivia Hempstead, “priestess of natural magik” and founder of Luna Alchemy, should be burning sticks of sage and cinnamon in a west London yoga studio in anticipation of her bi-weekly moon circle right now. But coronavirus has rendered the gathering impossible, so instead she is talking to me through the jittery lens of a Zoom video call. She is disappointed, but what can she do? “We’ve been given this time to be still and grow inwardly,” she says in a voice that is low and soft.

Usually at her moon circles, women (men are welcome, but rarely attend) sit cross-legged on the floor like happy children. Candles flicker. Essential oils evoke a still, temple-like atmosphere (“A sacred space,” says Hempstead). There is an altar filled with rose water and crystals lie here and there. A question is asked, “What are you trying to call into your life?” One woman might want to improve her relationship with her mother. Another will want to foster self-acceptance. They write these intentions on dissolvable paper, which they place into a bowl of water for it to vanish between their fingertips. They believe they have a cosmic force behind them: tonight, there is a new moon. 

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You might think you know the moon. You’ve seen it up there in the sky all your life, haven’t you? But have you ever used it? Harnessed it? Ingested it? Meditated on it? I am going to presume the answer is no. Beyond the ability to make me stop and smile, I certainly never considered it had powers. There is, however, a growing industry selling this idea to the masses.

When Glow Bar, a wellness spa specialising in infrared saunas, opened last year, its signature drink was Moon Milk, a warming, zingy liquid made with “high vibe” adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha and lion’s mane (a medicinal mushroom) to relieve stress. The moon is used to sell a £30 “aura” spray, Moon Mist, made by the reflexologist Paolo Lai, which has been “charged” with moonlight and promises to energetically cleanse a room or, indeed, a person. Net-a-Porter now stocks a range of decorative moonstone pendants, ranging from a £140 crescent moon charm by Isabel Marant to a £4,340 necklace by Andrea Fohrman, its diamond-encrusted waxing moon crafted to symbolise “personal growth and reflection”.

Moon Milk
Powered by the moon: moon milk is the latest wellness food and drink trend

On Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness website-turned-empire, you can peruse a guide to how to use the moon to “validate (your) insights”. A full moon, it says, is also “an excellent time to charge your crystals”, which you should do by laying them outside to bathe in its “cosmic juice”. On Co-Star, the wildly popular astrology app (three million downloads and counting), you can read an in-depth profile of your moon sign, which is said to rule your emotional life.

The next few months will also see the publication of the books Moon Power by Merilyn Keskula, Lunar Living by Kirsty Gallagher, The Moon Fix by Theresa Cheung and Mama Moon’s Book Of Magic by Semra Haksever. But the reason behind this rising trend is actually less mystic than it first appears: many of us are simply looking for guidance. “More than ever, modern life is hindering those moments of reflection, which is where the moon becomes a tool we can use,” says Hempstead.  

The premise of ‘moonology’, as it’s sometimes termed, is simple: the moon goes through eight phases, journeying from new to waxing to crescent and so on, over a period of around 29 days. “The best way to think of it is like a mirror,” says Dr Simon Foster, a solar physicist at Imperial College London. “The moon doesn’t emit its own light, so we see its reflection in the light of the sun depending on where it is in its rotation around the Earth.” 

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The premise of ‘moonology’, as it’s sometimes termed, is simple: the moon goes through eight phases, journeying from new to waxing to crescent and so on, over a period of around 29 days. “The best way to think of it is like a mirror,” says Dr Simon Foster, a solar physicist at Imperial College London. “The moon doesn’t emit its own light, so we see its reflection in the light of the sun depending on where it is in its rotation around the Earth.”

Enthusiasts believe this cycle affects our mood and energy levels. “When the moon is full, it’s like someone has switched on a light in a dark forest, suddenly you can see paths, trees, everything,” says Merilyn Keskula, author of Moon Power and founder of Mylky Moon Lab, where she offers mentoring in how to benefit from the moon’s cycle. Keskula recommends syncing with its rhythm – taking time to sit still and reflect when the moon is dark and your energy is low, and putting the insights that come out of this quiet time into action when the moon is full two weeks later and you feel replenished (energetically speaking).

When I spoke to Hempstead, the moon was waning. My eyes were heavy in the reflection of my Macbook camera; I was tired, which, according to moonology, was to be expected. Hempstead cautions clients to use the dark period to concentrate on setting intentions and turning their energy inward, but there I was trying to get things done. I couldn’t help feeling there was a cosmic force working against me. 

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Moon Power

Scientifically, there is no evidence to back any of this up. “The moon has an impact on things like the Earth’s tides and some animals’ habits, but there is absolutely no scientific truth to the belief that it impacts humans,” says astronomer Dr Ingo Waldmann of University College London.

While unfounded, the idea isn’t new or particularly novel either. As far back as records go, humans have used the lunar calendar to record time and predict behaviour. “Anecdotally, the police will say they expect higher incidences of drunkenness around a full moon,” says Foster. “But there is no proven reason why.” Indeed, the word ‘lunatic’ is derived from the Latin ‘luna’, and originally referred to a kind of insanity inflicted by the moon. “It has always harboured fascination,” Foster adds. “It appears in fairytales across cultures and even among the science community it’s revered. It’s one of the reasons we wanted to land on it: the element of discovery and mystery.”

And that idea of mystery was captured in a video Keskula uploaded to her Instagram account @mylkymoonlab back on 13 January. “The weekend was huge, right?” she says into the camera, smiling, like the answer is obvious. Which, to her followers, it kind of is. In the background there are racks of DVDs and a wooden beam, which Keskula leans against casually. “We had a full moon lunar eclipse in cancer and as cancer is governed by the moon, it was all happening.” To deconstruct: in astrology, cancer is the moon’s ‘mother’ sign, and during a lunar eclipse, which happens at least twice a year, the Earth moves between the sun and the moon, obstructing sunlight and casting a shadow onto the surface of the moon, which consequently turns it red. It’s events like this that the ‘moonology’ community gets excited about because extra moon activity means there’s extra moon power for them to channel into their lives. “I felt this very much in the throat chakra,” one comment says. “Friday to Sunday was intense for me,” reads another. Anticipating precisely how they will feel at any given time during a cycle is equally part of the allure. 

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Keskula offers monthly online courses that include access to a Slack group, weekly community meetings via Zoom and one-on-one mentoring on how to get the most out of moon events and the cycle generally. She describes it as “aligning to your unique energy blueprint”. When Carissa Tanton, a 30-year-old freelance illustrator, signed up, she was going through a period of listlessness. “There was this frustration with myself, but also with the lack of allowances for the days when I didn’t feel like I had a lot of energy or didn’t want to socialise,” she says.

On Keskula’s advice, Tanton began using tarot, pulling a card at each new phase of the moon for guidance. She reorganised her schedule around the moon’s cycle. “I try to not have anything in my diary during the dark moon phases, which is the two or three days before the new moon and a time when I feel most introverted. Then on the new moon, I work with setting intentions: a few things that I would like to focus on over the coming cycle.” She says the impact has been profound. “I have this sense that I’m part of nature now, which I think I’d lost.”

Membership to Mylky Moon Lab is £18 per month; private mentoring with Keskula starts at £125 per session. Today, wellness is a $4.2trillion global industry. It’s growing at a rate (6.4% annually) that’s nearly twice as fast as that of the global economy, according to the Global Wellness Institute. It now represents 5.3% of the world’s economic output. Yet there is a whole world of sceptics and doctors who say it prays on insecurities like poor self-image, perfectionism and fruitless obsessions, that it’s potentially dangerous. So-called superfoods such as spirulina and wheatgrass have been shot down as having fairly average health benefits. Crystals have no proven superpowers. We are being sold the idea that wellbeing is a luxury item to be purchased, critics say. 

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But much of what the industry professes is no longer considered wacky, either. Mindfulness is now incorporated into most CBT programmes administered by the NHS. Reiki is offered to cancer patients. Last year, GPs began giving out ‘nature prescriptions’ to people experiencing anxiety. The belief that modern life hinders social connection and removes us from nature is now commonplace, and looking for holistic ways to alleviate it is considered less strange.

Victoria Franks, a 33-year-old event planner, began looking into the lunar cycle while weaning herself off the antidepressants she’d been taking for 13 years. “I started to notice that I could really lean into my emotions and witness them during certain times of the month,” she says. “And at times like now, when life feels overwhelming, I am reminded of the light which is always there. I look at the moon, which changes and evolves cyclically as much as we do, and I feel reconnected to my healing journey.”

At Hempstead’s circles, where Franks is a regular, the focus is reckoning with what you want: a different partner, a new job, the ability to heal something. “Just to admit these things out loud, even to yourself, is scary, but it’s also the moment you realise that we’re all the same. There is always that look of recognition on other people’s faces,” says Hempstead. The next step is putting these changes into motion at specific moments in the cycle, then gathering again two weeks later, when the moon is once again waning, to share the things they made happen. “It’s the same women, the same stories,” Hempstead says knowingly, like she has watched the same movie over and over and knows the end by heart. “The only difference is they’ve learnt to trust their inner rhythm.”

The moon: 5 things you didn’t know 

Lion and the moon
The moon: 5 things you didn't know

1 THE MOON WAS ONCE JUST A ROCK

It’s widely believed that the moon was created when a rock the size of Mars smashed into Earth after the solar system began forming about 4.5 billion years ago.

2 THE MOON HAS AN IMPACT ON THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

Some animals, such as spiny mice, reduce or increase their body temperature in response to moonlight levels. Lions, which ordinarily kill at night, are also known to kill the day after a full moon.

3 THE MOON HAS ITS OWN TIME ZONE

Termed Lunar Standard Time, it works like this: every year on the moon is equal to 12 lunar days. Each lunar day is then divided into 30 lunar cycles (one cycle is roughly the same as 23 hours and 37 minutes on Earth).

4 THE MOON COOLS DOWN AT NIGHT

During the day, the temperature on the moon is a scorching 100 degrees Celsius. At night, however, things plummet to -173 degrees Celsius. Thermals necessary.

5 THE MOON CAUSES CORAL TO MATE

One December night every year, corals off the coast of Australia synchronise a substantial release of eggs and sperm. The link found by scientists? It always happens on or near a full moon.

Images: Getty Images

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