Every year, arrays of yoga fans gather in parks to flow in harmony, illuminating social media with stories tagged #108sunsalutations.
Falling on June 21, the same date as the summer solstice, it’s clear why yoga collectives celebrate the day with the longest period of sunlight by venerating the sun in this vinyasa. But why 108 Sun Salutations?
In Yogic tradition, 108 is considered sacred. Many have speculated about the power of this number and the motivations for practicing 108 Surya Namaskar cycles.
Read on to delve deeper into the secrets of Surya Namaskar:
- Why 108 is a sacred number
- The significance of Surya Namaskar
- Why 108 sun salutations?
- 108 Surya Namaskar results
- Benefits of 108 Surya Namaskar
- 108 sun salutations: Practical tips and precautions
Why 108 is a sacred number
According to Hindu belief, the divine is within everyone and everything and the ancient scriptures reveal how we are all connected to each other and the universe. The number 108 is thought to represent the universe, the cosmos, creation, and our existence.
Here are just some of the unlocked secrets:
- there are 108 Upanishads, the sacred texts of ancient India.
- there are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet, each of which can be feminine or masculine, totaling 108 qualities.
- 108 is a Harshad (or Niven) number because it is divisible by the sum of its digits. The word Harshad comes from the Sanskrit roots harṣa (joy) and da (give), meaning joy-giver.
- According to Yogic thought, there are 108 nadi (energy lines) converging to form the heart chakra.
- According to Ayurveda, there are 108 marma points (vital points of life forces) in our body.
- Malas have 108 beads to help chant mantras 108 times, which is thought to help one realize the spiritual self.
- The diameter of the Sun is 108 times larger than the Earth’s diameter.
- The distance from the Sun to Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun.
- The distance from the Earth to Moon is 108 times the diameter of the moon.
- In Astrology, there are 12 houses and 9 planets; 9 multiplied by 12 equals 108.
- The Sarson Circle at Stonehenge is approximately 108 feet in diameter.
The significance of Surya Namaskar
We use the term Sun Salutations for this spiritual vinyasa sequence, although a more literal translation would be “bowing to the sun”.
In Sanskrit, the word Surya means sun. It is also one of the names for the sun deity, or Sun God, in Hinduism.
Namaskar is comprised of the Sanskrit roots namas, which means “to bow” (or pay respect) and kar meaning “to do”, giving the word a focus on the action of bowing, or venerating.Surya Namaskar is considered a complete Sadhana (spiritual practice) because it encompasses asana (postures), pranayama (breathwork), meditation and mantras to worship the divinity of the sun.
The sun has been worshipped daily for thousands of years and, according to Yogic thought, it symbolizes spiritual consciousness.
Why 108 sun salutations?
In Yogic tradition, rituals are often repeated 108 times to commemorate a special occasion; doing so is thought to make the practice more effective and sacred.
Yoga practitioners perform 108 sun salutations to celebrate the International Day of Yoga which coincides with the June Solstice. The word solstice comes from the Latin roots sol, meaning “sun”, and sistere which translates as “coming to a standstill”.
With the North Pole at its closest to the sun, the Northern Hemisphere enjoys the day with the most hours of sunlight and start of summer while the Southern Hemisphere experiences its shortest day as it enters winter. The 108 Sun Salutations ritual is also celebrated on the December solstice.
As the sun is about 108 times wider than earth, and 108 times its diameter in distance from our planet, performing 108 sun salutations at Solstice is a spiritually fitting way to celebrate the sun as the source of all life – in its powerful abundance or sacred scarcity.
What’s the best way to count 108 Surya Namaskar?
The Hatha Sun Salutation has 12 steps and it takes approximately 1 minute to complete a pair (alternating between right and left leg to step back into Equestrian pose). Sun Salutation A has 10 steps and, when holding Downward Dog for 3-5 deep breaths, takes about 40 seconds to complete.
A common technique is to break the feat down into rounds: 9 rounds of 12 sun salutations (best for the Hatha style), or 12 rounds of 9 sun salutations.
Benefits of 108 Surya Namaskar
Performing 108 sun salutations enhances and heightens the usual effects of the sequence as practiced in class or at home.
This sacred number transforms the staple vinyasa into a much more spiritual experience and offers many other benefits for both mind and body.
108 Surya Namaskar benefits include:
- strengthens back muscles.
- helps to balance metabolism.
- stimulates and balances the respiratory, circulatory, reproductive, endocrine and digestive systems.
- encourages deep, rhythmic breathing for an extended period, increasing the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain.
- stretches, tones and massages all the muscles and internal organs.
- synchronizing the breath with movement for an extended period can induce mental clarity, a sense of presence and even a meditative state.
- helps to expand spiritual awareness, especially when coordinating the postures with the sun salutation mantras.
- awakens and enhances the solar (masculine) energy of the body flowing through the pingala nadi.
- helps balance the energy channels at physical and psychic levels.
Most of these benefits can also be experienced to varying degrees when performing fewer rounds of sun salutations.
108 Surya Namaskar results
Performing 108 sun salutations is a physically – and mentally- demanding feat not to be taken lightly.
Here are some of the results you may experience during and after practicing:
- muscle and joints feel more flexible with each round.
- a sense of invigoration.
- the breath flows better, becoming deeper and more efficient.
- sensations of increased blood flow.
- the rhythmic nature of the salutations can be hypnotic.
- entering a meditative state.
- a heightened awareness of your body, mind and even spirit.
- a sense of liberation from stagnant energy or emotional blocks.
- a sense of elation.
- muscle fatigue
- breathlessness, especially if following the fast pace of a group or teacher-led practice.
- discomfort in the knees or other joints, lower back, neck and shoulders —especially if your alignment is not right, or not right for you.
- forgotten or hidden emotions surfacing.
- mental resistance, frustration, boredom or wanting to give up—we said it was mentally challenging!
If you’re planning to take on the challenge, being aware of the range of possible 108 Surya Namaskar results can help you feel prepared. You can also get ready by talking to people who have already done it, and by following our practical tips.
108 sun salutations: Practical tips and precautions
- wherever you practice, and whatever the climate, make sure you have some water to hand. Take little sips between rounds to keep hydrated without filling the stomach.
- if practicing outdoors, it’s advisable to wear sunscreen.
- bring a gym towel to soak up excess perspiration. Remember to wipe your mat to prevent slipping.
- try using a non-slip mat for extra grip and comfort.
- if practising in a group, take turns counting the number of sun salutations in each round. Otherwise, you might find a notebook useful for keeping tally in between rounds (it’s also a good moment to rest).
- if you get physically or mentally tired, take a moment to rest in Tabletop or Child’s pose.
- remember Ahimsa (non-violence); if discomfort turns to pain, stop practising. Your practice is no less sacred or spiritual for not reaching 108!
- be as present as you can in the sequence by paying close attention to synchronizing your breath, the sensations in your body and any thoughts or emotions that arise.
- if you choose the Hatha Sun Salutation, opt for 9 rounds of 12 so you can step back and forward 6 times with each leg.
- if you prefer Ashtanga, it’s best to stick with Sun Salutation A as the B sequence has 20 steps – demanding more time and physical effort!
- even for the strongest arms, doing 108 (or 20!) Chaturanga vinyasas is a mean feat. Try alternating or switching to Plank pose or Dolphin plank into Knees Chest Chin Pose for a break, as in Sun Salutation C.
It’s best to avoid the practice of 108 sun salutations in the following situations:
- feeling generally unwell.
- high blood pressure.
- heart problems.
- history of stroke.
- slipped discs or vertebral hernia.
- back conditions.
- days leading up to menstruation and the first 1-3 days of the cycle.
Now you know the secrets of Surya Namaskar, are you ready to feel the power of 108?