Falling asleep has always been a very emotional pain point for me. I can't remember the last time I got into bed before 1 a.m., much less actually stayed asleep for an entire night. I'm a diagnosed insomniac, and I feel so much anxiety surrounding my sleep cycle that sometimes I'm actually afraid to get in bed at night—anxious that I'll spend the next few hours kicking off my comforter and staring at the ceiling. There have been times I've turned over, noticed my alarm will go off in 20 minutes, and I felt like sobbing because I know I haven't closed my eyes once.
Sleep isn't my only cycle that's a bit off-kilter. My appetite comes in waves (I'm not hungry for lunch until 3 or 4 p.m., which means I have dinner around 9 or 10 p.m.), and my period comes... whenever my uterus deems appropriate. I've gone months without having a period before, a pause that wasn't caused by pregnancy or any condition my gynecologist could diagnose. It all stems from my restless nights. "Your irregular periods could be linked to stress or lack of sleep, as could your delayed sense of hunger throughout the day," my gynecologist told me. "Our bodies are very cyclical, and anything that compromises your circadian rhythm could disturb cycles beyond sleep as well."
Over the years, I've tried all of the usual sleep remedies that my doctors have recommended—melatonin, yoga, changes to my diet, and even a prescription, but to no avail. So when I received an email about attending a "full moon ceremony" to align bodily cycles and help set intentions in the new year, I didn't hesitate to RSVP.
What Is a Full Moon Ceremony?
Full moon ceremonies date back centuries to a number of indigenous cultures, and are meant to harness the moon's energy to help set intentions, release negative energy, and empower.
Shamans—individuals who can read energy and spirituality—believe there is a strong connection between the moon and female energy, meaning lunar activity has a direct effect on the way women feel and perceive their reality.
Skeptical? Same, but I was still interested in the concept. "The moon is in its fullest, strongest state during the full moon phase," says Fernanda Montiel, an ancestral healer and the shaman leading my full moon experience at Baha Mar. "We have the full moon ceremony to try and harness this power to expel the negative energy and set a path of intention, rather than to let that energy disrupt your emotional and physical state."
A full moon ceremony is typically led by a shaman (like Montiel), who will recite a chant to connect participants to the moon and their ancestors. The chant differs based on the country and culture where the ceremony is being performed, but typically involves facing each cardinal direction, giving thanks, and releasing negative energy based on the direction you're facing (in Montiel's Mexican-influenced ceremony, you give thanks to your female ancestors in the East, to your male ancestors in the West, and release negative energy to the North).
The Connection Between the Moon and the Female Body
To be clear, there's no proven spiritual connection between the moon and the female body, as there's no quantifiable evidence that clearly connects the two. But with that said, many have said the moon has had a strong association with female energy for centuries, and shamans believe this association still carries weight today. "The moon controls water, and our bodies are mostly water. Consider the moon's effect on the tides," Montiel told me. "Since ancient times, the moon has been believed to be associated with female energy, the yin. Women menstruate in a cycle that reflects the moon's cycle. It is the belief of shamans that the full moon has a strong effect on the woman, awakening her emotions, both the positive and the negative."
This idea that the moon is closely tied to women and our cycles is thousands of years old, but the concept is still perpetuated today. During 2017's massive solar eclipse (where the moon fully covers the sun), Twitter erupted with stories of women getting their periods early or unexpectedly—myself included. A new birth control I was on at the time made me miss my period for three months in a row, but then it popped up out of nowhere during the eclipse (I waved it off as a coincidence).
The full moon is also associated with surges of early and unexpected births, as well as "disrupted sleep, emotions, and reasoning," Montiel says. "There's also a correlation between the full moon and increased crime," which studies have backed up.
What It's Like to Attend a Full Moon Ceremony
The supposed connection between the moon and the female body sounds great and all, but I definitely went into this experience thinking that, at most, it'd be interesting—but definitely not effective.
My full moon ceremony took place at Baha Mar in Nassau—a gorgeous backdrop for what turned out to actually be a pretty perspective-altering experience—as part of a four day long wellness retreat. Since it was the first full moon of the year, Montiel wanted to maximize its "strengthened power," so we actually had two ceremonies (one to expel negative energy and a second to set intentions).
Priming yourself for a full moon ceremony is said to be the most important step in order to reap the benefits. "You must be in a relaxed state, connected with your body and your emotions," says Montiel. "If you have been feeling stressed, come to the ceremony with that feeling so you can expel it. If you have been feeling happy, come to the ceremony with that feeling so you can cement it. The most important thing is to know how you are feeling, to know where you are aching, in your body and in your heart."
Our group's itinerary was centered around priming yourself for the ceremonies, which means strengthening your body, relaxing your mind, and connecting with yourself. To prepare for the ceremonies, I worked closely with Tara Gordon, the founder of 212 Pilates in New York City, who helped me identify areas of my body where I was carrying stress, muscle groups I wanted to strengthen, and areas that were strained due to improper technique. To my surprise, Gordon actually pointed out the outside of my big toe as an area where I was carrying stress; in reflexology, the outer big toe is associated with the pineal gland, which controls the sleep cycle and melatonin secretion.
Outside of my morning sessions with Gordon, I drank gemstone-infused water in the resort's spa, had a massage that targeted the areas that Gordon identified as carrying stress or trauma, and meditated on a private island to focus on the intention I wanted to set for the upcoming ceremonies, all as part of Baha Mar's wellness retreat itinerary centered around the full moon ceremony experience.
The First Ceremony: Expelling Negative Energy
Each shaman may have a different variation based on the country and culture, but a typical full moon ceremony is performed outside, usually in a peaceful, serene setting. For us, it was the private island across from Baha Mar, Long Cay. This first ceremony is performed in the daylight, and is meant to clear you of any negative emotion in order to prepare for the second ceremony.
Montiel began the ceremony by drawing a compass rose in the sand, marking the North, South, East, and West with objects from the Earth (in our case, rocks were used). Shamans believe the East (where the moon rises) is associated with female energy, while the West is associated with male energy. Montiel kicked off the ceremony by blowing into a very Lord of The Flies-esque conch shell (which, admittedly, made me question the entire process more than I already was), then had us turn to the East and give thanks to our female ancestors (including those who are still alive). We did the same for our male ancestors, this time facing the West, before "cementing" our positive emotions while facing the south. During this step, our shaman pointed out that a heart-shaped cloud had appeared in the Eastern direction of the sky, which was an absolutely insane coincidence, as I saw it. "The East is the female, the mother," she said. "This is the warm heart of the mother."
Next came the actual expulsion of negative energy, which was done while facing the North. "Turn to the North, the cold, strong North, and release the negative emotion you have identified by breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth," Montiel instructed us. For me, the emotion I decided to release was anxiety, since this is the emotion I associate with my struggle to fall asleep. I "released" this emotion to the North with by repeating the nose-to-mouth breath pattern 10 times. It almost felt like the North was communicating back to me, as ferocious winds started to blow in from that direction. I don't normally believe in this sort of thing (as in, communicating with the Earth), but at this point I was covered in goosebumps.
Once you've performed each step facing each cardinal direction, the ceremony is concluded by drinking ocean water from a shell, a symbol of purification and nourishment after releasing what Montiel calls "a dark part of the soul."
The Second Ceremony: Setting Intentions
Once you are "cleansed" of the emotion you brought into the first ceremony, "your soul is ready to set an intention," Montiel says. This second ceremony is performed at night, directly under the full moon. During this ceremony, you directly face the moon, repeat the same breathing pattern from the first ceremony, and set an intention in your mind. For me, it was to bring more balance to my life—be it my sleep cycle, my social life, my job, and everything in-between.
Of note, the moon was actually hidden behind a strip of clouds when our shaman began the ceremony, so Montiel told us she would need to "call" the moon. She chanted in the direction of the moon in Spanish and, within 20 seconds, the moon started to appear from behind the clouds—first as a sliver of light, then in-full above the clouds. Scroll through the Instagram carousel below to see for yourself, because this honestly blew me away.
As a skeptic, I genuinely couldn't believe my eyes when the moon emerged from behind the clouds, as if it was directly answering our shaman's call. But still in disbelief, I set my intention, breathing in and out in the direction of the moon. During the breathing process, Montiel gave me a spiritual blessing using a feather, and asked me if I was born during a full moon. I told her I wasn't sure, and she said, "Check for me when you go home. I bet that you are, I can see how this full moon is cementing your intention. It's very strong with you."
According to this moon phase calculator, she was right.
While the effects of full moon ceremonies and the legitimacy of shamans isn't proven, I consider myself a skeptic converted (astrology isn't proven either, but it's still an expressive outlet for so many). The night after the ceremonies, I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. And when I woke up, a literal rainbow appeared over my hotel balcony. I almost cried, it felt like such a beautiful symbol of a new beginning.
A full month later, I can say that I'm falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer than I ever have. I feel a sense of peace and security that I can't say I've ever felt before, in my job, my sleep cycle, and my interpersonal relationships. Call it the placebo effect, but I'm feeling more grateful and more present in my everyday life, more consciously aware of my intention to be balanced.
Unfortunately you can't purchase a spot on Baha Mar's full moon wellness retreats just yet, but the Nassau property does plan to extend this offering in the near future. In the meantime, check out Baha Mar's current wellness offerings here.