The tradition of practicing 108 Sun Salutations in a row is something that may seem like an extreme new fad designed by yoga studios to get you into a class, but it’s actually an ancient tradition with a deeply spiritual meaning.
This practice is linked to the Hindu belief that 108 is a sacred number: there 108 Upanishads (Hindu spiritual texts), 108 names for Hindu deities, 108 sacred points on the body (marma points), and 108 sacred sites in India (pithas), AND...the distance between the sun and the earth is 108 times the sun’s diameter.
This last one might seem a bit unrelated until you realize that the 108 Sun Salutations practice is typically practiced on the two equinoxes and two solstices, celebrating the change of the seasons.
Your studio may only offer this challenging, cleansing tradition on the spring equinox. This is the most common time that it’s practiced in Western culture as a way of welcoming the spring, breaking out of the darkness of winter, and as an opportunity to let go of anything weighing you down as you move into the lighter, fresher, season—but this is a practice you can do on your own any time or any of the other seasonal changes.
108 is also the number of beads on a mala, which is a garland of Hindu prayer beads. The person holding the mala touches each bead while repeating a mantra for a grounding, centering, and spiritually deepening meditative experience. You can also perform a yoga mala—a meditative, repetitive yoga practice—and this is the concept behind 108 salutations.
Useful Tips to Help You Get Through 108 Sun Salutations
This practice can take anywhere from 50 minutes to several hours, depending on your pace and how often you take breaks. If you’re interested in trying it out, here are a few tips to get you through your first 108 Sun Salutations practice!
1. Work Up to It
If you’re not used to extended practices, repetitive motion, or are relatively new to yoga, I recommend trying different sets of Sun Salutations of varying lengths before trying 108.
For example, start by doing 20 in a row, maybe before or after your regular yoga class, and then work up to 40 or 60. Doing this several times before your first 108 makes sure you’re physically prepared and can get the most out of it on the day, but doesn’t take away from the accomplishment once you do the full 108 for the first time!
Also, make sure you take time to familiarize yourself with the format of a Sun Salutation (also known as Surya Namaskara A) before you go into it—then you can know if you need to make any adjustments or if there’s anything in particular you want to work on during the actual event.
*Note: depending on the studio, 'Sun Salutation' may be defined as either Surya Namaskara A or Surya Namaskara B, so check with the instructor beforehand to see what will be practiced on the day!
Just like with a hot yoga class or any kind of important exercise event, the most important thing is to hydrate the day before. Drinking water on the day itself doesn’t do a whole lot, but making sure you’ve consumed enough water the day before ensures that your muscles and circulation will be at peak performance, that you’ll feel energetic, and that you won’t get too dehydrated or thirsty during the practice.
Expect to sweat, so bring a water bottle to sip on, but you don’t want to drink too much as that water can fill up your belly, slowing you down and making you feel not as good during your Sun Salutes.
3. Feel Free to Take Breaks
Take a breather every so often to make sure you’re staying safe. Sun Salutations require a lot of up and down movements and many practices of this ritual take place early in the morning, so it’s easy to get lightheaded. Make sure you’re listening to your body and taking a rest in Child’s pose when you need to.
This pose is also a great place to focus on the humility and gratitude of this practice, and to reconnect with your intention. And speaking of which...
4. Hold Onto Your Mantra
As I mentioned earlier, you can use this practice as a full-body mala if you’d like. That means that with every Sun Salutation that you complete, you’re moving with an intention, whether that’s a word, a phrase, or just a feeling.
For example, with each inhaling movement you may focus on breathing in thanks and joy, and with every exhale you may focus on breathing away jealousy and hate. That’s just one example—the options are endless, and choosing something that’s right for you to focus on can be an incredibly healing experience. Use your breath to focus on your mantra, and try to let it be the only thing that fills your head as you move.
It’s easy to get distracted in a repetitive practice like this, so it’s a great challenge to stay focused and meditative the whole time. Since it’s the same asana over and over, you’re not thinking about the next pose or grappling with a new transition, so you get this wonderful opportunity to focus just on your breathing, your mantra, and your body.
5. Take Some Time Afterward
Physically and emotionally, you may want to wind down after this practice. Depending on the studio and on your instructor, you may or may not go into some wind-down stretches. I would recommend doing whatever feels best for you, including supine twists, some deep hip stretches like Pigeon, and Happy Baby before moving into Savasana.
Otherwise, the transition from the full-body movement to the meditation may be too abrupt, or your body may be too warm to get into a relaxed place. I recommend ending with a seated or supine meditative pose, even if just for a few moments, to reflect on what the experience has brought you, instead of heading straight out into the outside world again.
It’s also possible you may have been working through some emotional processing during your 108 sun salutations, so it’s important to check in and see how you’re doing emotionally, so you don’t walk outside and realize you’ve triggered an emotional release.
Hopefully these five tips help you feel more prepared for what can seem like a daunting practice, but is one that can be incredibly rewarding and exciting. Have you done a 108 Sun Salutations practice, and if so, how did it go for you? Do you have any tips for a first-timer? Let us know in the comments!
Image credit: Drinie Aguilar