In some yoga circles, it is traditional to perform 108 "Sun Salutations" upon the change of seasons, that is, on the first day of summer (the Summer Solstice), the first day of winter (the Winter Solstice), the first day of spring and the first day of autumn (the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes). This is most often done in large groups, and often as an "offering", such as an offering of peace or unity (see, for example, The Global Mala Project, which facilitates collective yoga-based events that are based on 108 rounds of, in most cases, Sun Salutations).
If you don't practice yoga (yet!), or if you don't watch ABC's Lost (which has titillated yogically-inclined viewers by sprinkling references to the number 108 throughout the series), then you might be wondering: "why 108? "
In fact, the number 108 carries spiritual significance throughout a wide swathe of cultures:
* 108 is the number of "Upanishads" comprising Indian philosophy's "Vedic texts".
* 108 is the number of names for Shiva (a really important Hindu god).
* 108 is the number of names for Buddha.
* 108 is the Chinese number representing "man".
* 108 is the number of beads on a Catholic rosary.
* 108 is the number of beads on a Tibetan "mala" (prayer beads, analagous to a rosary).
* 108 is twice the number "54", which is the number of sounds in Sanskrit (sacred Indian langauge).
* 108 is six times the number "18", which is a Jewish good luck number.
* 108 is twelve times the number 9, which is the number of vinyasas (movements linked to breath) in a Sun Salutation.
In the past, I have facilitated two "108 Sun Salutations" events, one as part of the Global Mala Project, and one to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Each one was a huge success, with all the participants managing to finish all 108 Sun Salutations. This might not be surprising to you, IF you don't know that a Sun Salutation is basically a 9-part squat-thrust in which you start and finish standing and do a backbend in between. To put it simply, even ONE Sun Salutation is a physically demanding workout in and of itself.
To put it in perspective, my daily yoga practice begins with ten Sun Salutations, and by the tenth, I am usually sweating profusely, my heart rate is usually right there in the cardio zone and my arms are starting to feel like fusilli.
As the weather gets colder, and outdoor activities may be curtailed, learning to perform Sun Salutations and gradually working your way up to 108 (just in time for the Winter Solstice!) is a great way to get in shape. The psychological benefits of Sun Salutations are beyond the scope of this topic, but suffice it to say that I have yet to find a more calming way to occupy myself. Even simply MENTALLY walking through the steps of a Sun Salutation has almost an opiate effect on me.
So, without further ado, here is how to perform a Sun Salutation:
Begin by STANDING at the front of your mat, feet touching, shoulders back, chin level with the ground, arms relaxed at sides. Mouth is closed; breathe through the nose.
Step 1. Inhale (through the nose) as you sweep the arms up overhead until palms touch. Look up.
Step 2. Exhale (through the nose) as you bow forward to touch the floor with hands.
Step 3. Inhale to lift only the head up to look up.
Step 4. Exhale to jump back (or step back if you're not ready to jump) to the bottom of a push-up, feet hip distance apart, eyes gaze forward.
(That's right, a push-up! Draw elbows close to ribs. Hips are level with shoulders - you're flat like a board. If you can't manage hovering there, then lower to the floor.)
Step 5. Inhale as you press hands down to straighten arms into Upward Facing Dog pose, curving chest and chin up. Feet are still hip width apart. Look up.
Step 6. Exhale as you lift your hips and roll over your toes to come into Downward Facing Dog Pose. Downward Dog is the shape of an upside-down "V", with your hands flat on the floor, the balls of your feet on the floor and your hips high. Feet are still hip width apart. Look to the navel (or if you can't see it, then the thighs). Remain in this pose as you take five in-out breaths (through the nose, of course).
Step 7. Inhale as you jump (or walk) your feet to between your hands. When you land, the feet come together, your hands touch the floor, and you lift the head to look up. This is the same position as in Step 3.
Step 8. Exhale to drop your head down as far as it goes, getting as much of your palm on the floor as you can. This is the same position as in Step 2.
Step 9. Inhale and sweep your arms up as you raise your torso to stand with your arms over your head, palms touching if possible. Look up. This is the same position as in Step 1.
Finish: Exhale and bring your arms to rest by your sides, just like you started.
Your next inhale begins your very next Sun Salutation! No waiting in between. If you lose count, you have to start again. Kidding. Kind of. If you're lucky enough to find a facilitated 108 Sun Salutations event, then someone else does the counting for you.
For your reference, here is a quick video of me performing one Sun Salutation (scroll through it to see the various steps):