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February 25, 2016

What Happened when I said Yes to 108 Sun Salutations.

sun salutation

On January 1, I walked into the yoga studio, willingly and blindly skipping into a class that promised 108 sun salutations.

“Come Renew and Refresh Your Spirit in This Ancient Practice!”

The signs made me promises.

In retrospect, I was pretty dumb.

I was clearly naive.

The biggest piece of me treated this simply as a regular everyday yoga class, just with a convenient, perhaps cute, theme. It wasn’t until I approached the check-in desk and the woman on duty smiled and said, “I am really looking forward to doing this, too. It is going to be intense,” that I had my first moment of trepidation.

Intense? Yoga, intense?

I have been practicing for almost two years. Yoga is always wonderful, but I would never say “intense.”

Gulp.

Perhaps I should have actually thought about this.

When I think back on it, 108 sun salutations is quite a lot. The schedule estimated it would be over two hours of yoga. Two hours! Usually, I do my hour and 10 minutes and savasana, my comfortable way out.

I started to do some math in my head. By my best guess, I performed a max of 20 sun salutations in my normal yoga class.

Was I ready to do over five times that amount?

But my card was swiped, my mat unfurled, I was on a quest to be more spiritual in 2016 and I had to get beyond the comfort zone. I promised myself (and all of you). I was committed.

Immediately, I noticed the incense was overpowering. The instructor started to hand out papers with a whole lot of numbers while I struggled to calm my nervous heart rate.

At this point, I was handed beans in a plastic baggie. Everyone around me nodded wisely and began counting their beans.

I looked at the bean counters and decided to lay down and shut my eyes. Not only would this make me appear extremely meditative, but perhaps when I opened them everyone would be gone. Maybe this moment that was clearly becoming a mistake would magically vanish.

Alas, bean counters and mood lighting were still there when I opened my eyes again.

The instructor calmly began to explain the goal of the class and the reasons why we were committing to this particular number. Honestly, I didn’t quite catch the point of 108 sun salutations aside from the fact that 108 is a revered, nearly religious number.

I did catch her general drift, though—this was spiritual, we were to be silent, she recommended we use the paper to dedicate our A and B series salutations, and the beans were to help us count how many we had completed (and how many we had left to go).

After each salutation, we were to slide a bean across the top of our mat, slowly and with intention.

I was overwhelmed and much of the information went in then out, but I did hone in on the part where she said it was acceptable to leave after 56 salutations if we felt that we had pushed our practice far enough. In my mind, I instantly renamed the class “108 sun salutations” to “you only have to do 56 sun salutations, Allison.”

She guided us through our first two sun salutation series, the A and the B, to show us the difference. We were to alternate between the two.

And then, silently and slowly, we were off.

I kept my paper nearby and kept moving my beans.

My paper was filled with my chicken scratch. Completely novice to organized spiritual yoga practice, I simply jotted around the numbers on the paper all the things I was grateful for, things in my life I wanted to dedicate at least one sun salutation to. I didn’t have a plan for my intentions. My intention was to try to stay intended.

My notes were all over, free form and included sun salutations to:

My children, world peace, God, spirit, connection, adventure, travel, ocean, waves, life, health, John, my friends, place, help, hope, grateful, thanks, appreciation, being and not striving, grasping the moment, family…

These are just some of the things I wanted to give all of my love and care to that day.

To be honest, in the beginning it all felt a little silly.

What a privileged opportunity we had created for ourselves. We were all meeting in a tiny room, with incense and soft music, to pay money to perform yoga next to each other in silence, thinking somehow we could change the world by doing this.

(As though our peaceable vibes were as good as serving at the soup kitchen or our money wasn’t better spent on donating to clean water in Haiti.)

I felt spoiled.

But then we started moving and I worked to put all that aside. Around the 30th sun salutation, my heart softened towards myself and my fellow yoga practitioners. I began to sweat. I felt as though my beans would never be moved—the pile felt formidable.

I had to convince myself to take one salutation at a time.

Slowly and resolutely my little bean pile moved.

With elation, I was looking at the epic number 56. I was almost there! I was almost to an allowable quitting point! I started to wage an internal battle—should I, could I, dare I, go on?

We were over an hour into the practice and my body was aching, my spirit over-emotional, and my mind was wandering.

Another hour of yoga? There was so much I could do with that time. I am a busy mom of two kids, working part time, with hobbies and friends and obligations. How in the world could I get away with more time at a yoga studio?

Bean number 56 slide across my mat.

Many others in the studio lay on their back, meditating and preparing to leave their practice for the day.

I took a deep breath, on a spiritual precipice. I swung my arms out wide, gathering energy, leaned my head back, reached my arms to the sky, exhaled and began number 57.

Used with permission via Cecille Photography

I did it.

I made it through all 108 sun salutations.

It was a messy, beautiful, tough spiritual journey for me. It required my body to listen to my mind and my mind to listen to my spirit. My body was integrated into the practice that day in all ways—soul and sweat.

Somewhere around salutation number 70, I thought my body was going to fail me. My arms were shaking and I wanted nothing more than to quit. My mind was numb and blank in a non-living way. I was going through the motions automatically, without joy or belief.

Suddenly, though, I hit it! Without thought or even trying, I hit that meditative yoga experience I had always heard about but never experienced.

It was the feeling where you are out of your body, no longer in control yet somehow completely above it all. There was no struggle, no mind-racing, no heart-pounding. It was me, my mat and a greater spirit, God.

My entire being was out in the world, not in my head where it usually is, and I wanted to cry with my love of it all.

For here is what I realized—we were making a difference.

No, our efforts in that sweaty box that day weren’t going to bring peace to the Middle East. But we weren’t spoiled, either.

Beautiful things happened in that room. I was bringing peace to myself, and that matters. I was bringing peace to myself, and reconciling with God.

I walked out of that yoga room calm, cool headed and more clear about the influence I wanted to leave on the world than ever.

The next day, while I couldn’t lift my arms due to unknowable soreness, I thought about those in the world who struggle and hurt. I thanked God more than ever for the gifts he has given me. I was the mom I wanted to be.

My heart didn’t feel conflicted anymore.

It took 108 sun salutations to bring me never-before-experienced peace.

108 sun salutations.

Four triceps push-ups in each A/B series combination for a total of 432 push-ups.

Unending hamstring stretches in uncountable downward dogs.

Burning abs lifting my torso up over and over again.

All for peace.

Now, when I return every week to my yoga mat, I breathe in and it smells like home. Those two+ hours I spent manipulating my body through 108 salutations brought me closer to myself and my own space.

It pushed my practice and brought me irrevocable calm that I find myself returning to. God is with me and he is accessible. Stepping back to my mat reminds me of all of that.

May you someday have that journey, friends.

May you treat life with enough naivete to believe you can do anything, and be led into an experience such as this.

May you not know everything and may you experience challenges you power through.

May you know peace.

Namaste.

 

Relephant:

Inner Solar Power: the Art of the Sun Salutation.

Author: Allison Barrett Carter 

Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Matthew Ragan/Flickr, Used with Permission from Cecille Photography.

Allison Barrett Carter

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