108 Sun Salutations
Practicing 108 Sun salutations is an ancient tradition in Hinduism and Buddhism dating back thousands of years. ‘Surya Namaskar’ is Sanskrit for sun salutations and it can be literally translated as- ‘To bow to’. When we practise sun salutations in your class, it is a way in which we know to warm up the body and prepare for our bodies for asanas, but it is historically much more. When we ‘bow ‘, we worship the sun and demonstrate gratitude. Nothing would or could exist without the sun. The sun gives us light, warmth, food… essentially the sun is in itself, LIFE.
108 is considered to be an incredibly sacred number in both Hindu and Buddhist tradition, and here’s a few reasons why.
- It is said that in astronomy, the distance between the sun and the earth is roughly 108 times the sun’s diameter – read this a couple times
- In numerology, 108 is equal to 9, and 9 symbolizes love, eternity and awakening
- There are 108 Upanishads (ancient sacred texts) in which this number is mentioned and 108 tantras
- There are 108 names for Lord Shiva
- There are 108 Marma points in the body. Marma points are points in the body in which two types of tissue meet, such as ligament, bone or muscles. Known as points of vital life force.
108 Buddhist Tradition
The first time I practiced 108 was in South Korea, Seoul. I lived there for a year after finishing my law degree. During this rather strange year of my life, I found Buddhism, temples, and yoga on a new level. There was a period where I spent almost every weekend immersed in temple stays. I couldn’t get enough of this profound peace. The moment I entered this temple, I was in another world, a world of kindness, compassion, truth , prana, peace, silence, solitude, colour…and the warmest of smiles that I’ve ever received.
For the entire weekend we would live just as the Buddhist monks did. We’d eat in silence, we would wake at 4 am to ring the gong, we’d meditate, do yoga, have tea ceremonies, and quite often we’d just talk. We’d talk about Buddha, philosophy, mythology and tales, history and Buddhism in practice. I had found my place, a place in my heart.
Anyway… So one weekend we were told that we’d be practicing 108 prostrations whilst hand making our very own mala beads. This was my first experience with this sacred 108. Very similar to the yoga practice, you bow, but in a different way, and when you bow to the floor with your forehead, you add one bead. Prostrations are not as physically demanding as sun salutations but a lot of concentration and focus is required. In buddhism it is believed that these series of bows, are a way to cleanse our karma, overcome laziness and barriers of the mind, to surpass feelings of suffering and to realise with each and every bow that we are in fact, at one with the floor, with the earth, the sun and all life that surrounds us. I had a very beautiful experience here in the temple, so much so, it was not the last time I embarked on my journey of 108 in Korea. The experience left me humbled and feeling free, lighter in some way.
108 in Yoga
The next time I encountered 108, happened to be in Yoga Teacher Training, almost 6 years later. This time it was different it was 108 ‘full on’ Sun salutations, and slooooow ones. Our lovely teacher sprung it upon us on the very last day or training, after we had finished exams, feeling almost completely zapped of physical, emotional and mental energy, I told myself this would be my last big YTT experience, and to give it my all. Fighting waves of nausea by repeating mantras and affirmations, I managed to complete, and man was I exhausted. There is no doubt that this practise is physically demanding, but once my mind got past this physical block, it drifted, it just… drifted. I felt kind of emotional, I felt a release. It’s hard to begin to even articulate this experience, but it was empowering, spiritual and somewhat detoxifying…
Once YTT was done, I vowed to self practice 108 Sun salutations alone, every month.
I recently lead my own workshop of 108 in the centre of Madrid, and this was a completely different experience, a wonderful one also. To my surprise 20 yogis turned up (voluntarily), 20 shiny women, united in their intention, their prana, their energy.
I began the workshop having them lay in Savasana for initial relaxation, whilst I read a beautiful reading from Thicth Naat Hanh, reminding us to be mindful about the sun, ‘The great heart that exists outside of the body.’ I tried to prepare them as best I could, I shared mantras that they could turn to when surrender tempts them, I encouraged them to find their own ‘inner drive’, to go beyond the barriers of the physical body, to dig deeper into their minds, to learn control, to let go…
I sat in lotus, leading them with my guitar and counting with those same malas from Korea. Counting, breathing and meditating, I found myself experiencing similar feelings to those in my own practice, it was beautiful. I later asked these ladies to share a few words describing their experience of 108.
“Energized, alive, inspired, feminine energy, powerful, restorative, empowering, refreshing”
What made it even more special is that we were hidden in a studio in the VERY centre of Madrid, the centre of Sol where chaos fills the streets, yet we… in silence, we left society for that brief moment, we left behind the stresses, the woes, the mundane, and connected our bodies to our consciousness… and THAT is why 108 is so very powerful.
I would LOVE to hear your experiences of 108.