This Saturday, June 21st, marks the first day of summer – the summer solstice. In yoga, there is a tradition to do 108 Sun Salutations to mark the change of season or a significant date.
Now… why 108 you ask? Great question. I don’t think there is one right answer for this. If you know, let me know! One of my favorite explanations comes from a yoga teacher in Virginia. She explained it in a way that most of us Westerners can relate to:
When people ask me about the number’s significance, I find myself pausing, wondering where to start explaining. There’s no one specific answer, and some of the explanations, while significant, can seem a bit esoteric to someone looking for something concrete. The meaning of the mystical number 108 is open to much interpretation – indeed, it seems that more and more significance gets attributed to 108 as time passes. Fans of the TV show LOST will recall that the theme of 108 ran through virtually everything of significance: 108 was the sum of “The Numbers” – 4 + 8 + 15 + 16 + 23 + 42 = 108. To prevent a potential global catastrophe, the person manning the station had to enter a series of numbers into the computer every 108 minutes. 108 x 5 = 540. 540 was the number of days until “your replacement” would arrive at the Hatch. On and on ad infinitum did the creators of LOST scatter 108 easter eggs into the show’s theme, but why?
In part, because the show was all about mystery, and part of the mystery and significance surrounding 108 is that it can be found in SO MANY things both ordinary and extraordinary: There are 108 stitches on a regulation baseball, for instance. 108 cards in an Uno deck. Stonehenge is 108 feet in diameter. On New Years in Japan, the churches ring a bell 108 times to rid the 108 evils in the body. You can have a ball figuring out all of potential links to 108 found everywhere, but maybe it’s not so crazy and coincidental after all: there are just too many facts to support its significance.
The number 108 also carries spiritual significance in many cultures: (Source)
- 108 is the number of “Upanishads” comprising Indian philosophy’s “Vedic texts.”
- 108 is the number of names for Shiva (a really important Hindu god).
- 108 is the number of names for Buddha.
- 108 is the Chinese number representing “man”.
- 108 is the number of beads on a Catholic rosary.
- 108 is the number of beads on a Tibetan “mala” (prayer beads, analogous to a rosary).
- 108 is twice the number “54″, which is the number of sounds in Sanskrit (sacred Indian language) and Brian Urlacher (I added the last one). 108 is six times the number “18″, which is a Jewish good luck number.
- 108 is twelve times the number 9, which is the number of vinyasas (movements linked to breath) in a Sun Salutation
- 108 is the number of Sutras in the Yoga Sutras. 1 stands for Higher Truth, 0 stands for Emptiness and 8 stands for Infinity
What exactly is a Sun Salutation? It’s a series of 9 postures and every posture is performed on an inhale or exhale:
Stand in mountain pose, feet together:
1. Inhale – arms up 2. Exhale – forward fold 3. Inhale – lengthen your spine to a flat back 4. Exhale – step/hop back to chaturanga (similar to a tricep push-up) 5. Inhale – up dog or cobra 6. Exhale – down dog 7. Inhale – step or hop forward, lengthen your spine 8. Exhale- forward fold 9. Inhale – Rise arms overhead • Exhale as you bring your arms down to your sides
Traditionally, you would hold down dog for 5 breaths. For time’s sake, you only stay in down dog for one exhale when performing 108 of them. You can break this up however you want to. The most common way I’ve heard of it being done is 9 rounds of 12 sun salutations.
I plan on rising with the sun Saturday morning to perform 108 Sun Salutations. If anyone wants to join me, I am going to be at the neighborhood lake in Cambridge (on 48th between Main & Robinson) at 6am! I would love to have some company!
If you’re looking for a reason to join me, here are 108 of them: 😉