Why do we practice 108 Sun Salutations?

From the ordinary to the auspicious, the number 108 has many important and symbolic meanings in diverse disciplines, ranging from mathematics to religion, spiritual practices to martial arts and, of course, yoga.

Cobra pose Ekhart Yoga 108 Sun Salutation Challenge

 To call out just a few examples:

  • A Japa mala (or Mala) refers to prayer beads customarily used in both Buddhism and Hinduism. Recitations of prayers, mantras and chants are counted bead by bead on Malas. Buddhist malas traditionally have 108 beads, said to signify the 108 human passions that Avalokiteshvara assumed when ‘telling the beads’.
  • In mathematics: 1 to 1st power = 1; 2 to 2nd power = 4 (2x2); 3 to 3rd power = 27 (3x3x3). 1x4x27 = 108
  • 108 is a Harshad number, which is an integer divisible by the sum of its digits (Harshad is a Sanskrit word that means "great joy"). Yes, it’s 12 for the mental maths enthusiasts among you.
  • There are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to and from Anahata, the heart chakra.
  • There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.

Two lessons I learned doing 108 Sun Salutations 

I however, was oblivious to any of this symbology when I saw a 108 Sun Salutation charity event being advertised at my local yoga studio.

My truth – at that time I was super keen to challenge my asana practice and saw it as a bonus that my efforts would contribute to other individuals (‘killing two birds with one stone’ … not very ahimsic!).
My experience – I was scared! It was a winter’s morning, an early winter. I felt physically and mentally constricted, I was full of apprehension and fearful of getting past the finish line. 

Two major lessons were learned:

Lesson 1 – if my motivation is self-serving, inevitably, egoistic fears and identification will transpire.  

When I arrived I learned more about the charity that was hosting the event: Odanadi, an initiative to raise awareness and money to combat human trafficking, child exploitation and sexual violence. I learned that people all over the world would be practising 108 at the same time and, as I listened on, my Ego progressively recoiled. It was no longer about I, Me and Mine. 

Rather than it feeling like me and my body were moving and breathing through 108 Sun Salutations, together, we were one body, four limbs, two lunges and one big beating heart. As we flowed through one round after another, the momentum built and carried us, in harmony we rode our collective breath. The breath and intention expanded beyond our own sticky mats and four walls, it felt as if we were reaching and touching the lives of many, those practising together alongside us yet at a distance, those affected by human trafficking and all beings everywhere that suffer and who wish the end of suffering for all beings.

Rather than it feeling like me and my body were moving and breathing through 108 Sun Salutations, together, we were one body, four limbs, two lunges and one big beating heart. 

Lesson 2 – What you think about grows.

The act of practising 108 Sun Salutations draws together some very potent yogic practices.

  • Bhakti - devotion
  • Seva - Selfless service
  • Tapas - effort, heat, discipline, zeal.

Bhakti

The act of offering your hard work and efforts can feel liberating. No longer are you attached to the fruits of your labour, rather than identifying with your achievement or performance you put one foot in front of the other, try your hardest, invest fully and then relinquish any attachment to the outcome. Your actions are devotional offerings to your highest values, intentions and principles. This can be a spiritual or philosophical tenet; it could be the God of your choosing; a person; collective; cause or any living being. It is the motivation behind the act that makes it transformational. It is the savouring and relishing of the act itself rather than it being a means to an end. We remain as presently engaged in each moment as possible, letting every moment come and go inhaling and exhaling.

Watch Raghunath's talk on Bhakti (for members)

Seva

Seva is selfless service. Traditionally and typically this takes the form of volunteering your time and energy to benefit other beings for example volunteering at a soup kitchen. Our actions are void of selfish motivation, in other words we work solely for the benefit of others expecting nothing in return. It is the altruistic quality of our intention and the benevolent sentiment when taking part in a 108 charity event that bears a resemblance with Seva.

Tapas

Completing 108 sun salutations is unequivocally a Tapasic practice in that it requires a burning desire and strong willpower. The 'Will' in this context however concerns Self-will (capital S).  As we strive toward our ‘goal’ (completing 108 rounds of Surya Namaskar) we are motivated by an elevated cause - beyond our individual concerns for our small self. It is the synergy of hard work and an exalted intention that makes a practice spiritually charged and Tapasic, that transforms an action and leads us closer to the ultimate goal of Yoga - unified equilibrium with the world.

Read more about Tapas

So, why practise 108 Sun Salutations?

As we turn up the heat - our burning desire to serve others; to make an impactful difference; to act in defiance of human, animal and environmental exploitation; to take a stand against injustice - pierces through our concerns for our small self. It is an effortful act of surrender towards a higher purpose.

In fact you can do 108 Sun Salutations anytime and any day, it doesn’t have to be for a special charity fundraiser in a special yoga shala, it can be in your bedroom. There are times when we feel spiritually sluggish and disconnected, this is equally a legitimate and potent opportunity to uplift and reinvigorate your yoga practice. It is principally the sentiment and intention behind the action that infuses the practice with auspiciousness. Transforming the mundane to the extra-ordinary.

 - Manda

108 Sun Salutations Challenge with EkhartYoga

EkhartYoga members can also follow our online training programme where we help you build up your strength and stamina for completing 108 Sun Salutations in one session. To find out more please visit the 108  Sun Salutations Challenge page.

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