As you may know, the number 108 is a sacred number in yoga as well as in other traditions.
One represents divinity or ‘oneness’, zero ‘the circle of life’ and eight is the symbol of infinity, which also signifies ‘as above, so below.’ There are also 108 Upanishads (Vedic texts), 108 names for Shiva and the Buddha, 108 beads on the Tibetan mala and, among other things, 108 stitches on a baseball!
Anyway, you would think that the 108th day of the year, which is April 18th (or 17th on Leap Year), would be a thing. Turns out, not so much.
So three years ago, I decided to create my own yoga holiday to cultivate community spirit and celebrate diversity. April 18th, 2010 is the day I began my challenge of 108 days of 108 sun salutations. It was an exploration of yoga as well as a way to bring together yogis of different traditions together in practice.
Surya namaskar is something many of us share; the sequences may not be identical, but all sun salutations are prostrations of reverence. A communal Yoga Mala practice (108 Sun Salutations) is both powerful and auspicious.
Every year since, I organize Yoga Mala(s) on April 18th in order to cultivate and celebrate the yoga community. In case you want to set up your own 108, here are some tips:
1. Intention: This practice is a prayer in movement or japa meditation. Create an intention, dedication, or prayer for healing. It’s helpful to write it down.
2. Offering: You can offer to do this practice in honor of someone who needs healing.
3. Schedule: When possible, do 108 Sun Salutations early in the morning.
4. Timing: Give yourself two hours.
5. Sets: Divide the Yoga Mala in nine sets of 12 sun salutations. It helps you count. You can do something a little different in each set—change the variation of sun salutations, the focus or the intention.
6. Opening: Your first set should be like a warm up or opening series. Move slowly.
7. Holding: Hold downward dog for five breaths every six sun salutations and two breaths for every other.
8. Counting: If you’re practicing with a friend, count out loud. You count even numbers and your friend counts odd or vice versa. In a group, each person counts a sun sal in turn. Alone, count in four, 12 and nine dozens.
9. Focus: It’s interesting to focus on different body part in each set. Example: Pay special attention to the placement and movements of your hands for 12 surya namaskar; then your shoulders, neck, head, heart/chest, spine, hips and thighs, knees and feet.
10. Breath: Let the breath guide you consciously from one pose to the other.
11. Stay simple: You may want to throw in a bunch of wacky poses into your flow, but this can shift you off track. Best to stick to a simple variation for most sun sal and maybe add a more dynamic one every six or 12.
12. Rests/Pauses: If you are feeling dizzy or ‘Vatic’, do a brief child’s pose with your forehead on the floor, between your cobra/upward dog and downward dog. You can also rest in child’s pose for five breaths instead of downdog.
13. Alignment & Breath: The movements are repetitive, so be sure you stay conscious of your alignement and breath in each pose. Create length in your spine at all times. Seek to liberate the space around the base of your neck—look forward, back of neck lengthening, in cobra/upward dog as opposed to looking up. Engage the legs whenever and soften the backs of your knees. When lowering in chatarunga, keep shoulders at the same height as elbows and neck long.
14. Factors of 108: You don’t have to do all 108 Surya Namaskar. Factors of 108 like 27, 36 and 54 are also auspicious numbers. Do what you can.
15. Visualize: One of the best variations of surya namaskakar I was ever taught is the ‘virtual sun salutation’ whereby you stand in tadasana while visualize your movements and sync your breath.
16. Have Fun & Explore: Practice barefoot in the grass, play music, try some sun sals on your finger tips or with hands backward. Make your yoga mala uplifting and joyful.
17. Finish: Savasana is really important especially after 108 sun salutations. It helps you rebalance the energy throughout the mind and body.
18. Give thanks: Take a moment to be grateful for your practice, for the health of your being and to those who made it possible for you to practice on this day.
Send me your Yoga Mala stories. I’d love to hear about your experiences.
Yasmin F. Gow has taught yoga for over a decade. She is mostly an ashtanga vinyasa teacher with training in therapeutic and Iyengar yoga. Yasmin is also an accredited ayurvedic practitioner, speaker and producer of five acclaimed yoga dvds. In 2010, she completed 108 days of 108 sun salutations and then became the first woman to break the Guinness World Records™ Record for the longest yoga marathon lasting 32 hours. This initiative raised more than $15,000 for charity. Montreal is Yasmin’s home base, where she leads a successful teacher-training program and mentors other yoga teachers and entrepreneurs to reach great heights. Check our her website or find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise