108 Sun Salutations

photo-133Yesterday, on New Year’s Day, I participated in my very first official Sun Salutation yoga class. I learned that in the yoga community it is very common to come together at various times of the year, like the change of seasons or the solstices, to collectively do 108 sun salutations. The number 108 is said to have a spiritual connotations in both Hinduism and yoga. According to yogic traditions, there are 108 sacred places of the body. There are 108 Upanishads, the sacred Vedic texts.  Also, this number is connected to the idea of a wholeness of existence. Of course, since I am Jewish, I was immediately thinking if 108 was a multiple of 18, which is a sacred number that we often refer too and indeed it is. 6 times 18 is 108. Once I confirmed this, I began to think that this number also had a connection to the Jewish tradition.

When we began the practice I wasn’t sure what to expect. In 2012, I committed to a regular yoga practice and have been fairly successful at attending about once a week, but this was a 2 hour class with a big mission. As we began, I heard the teachers remind us to listen to our own bodies and follow our intuition about what was working  or not working for us in that moment. If we felt pain or unease we should change our movements or do whatever our body needed. I was grateful for that advice because sometime during the class my wrists began to ache. I wasn’t sure how many salutations I had done but knew I needed to listen to my own body and do what worked for me. I tried to do some other poses and had two clear ahas during the class.

The first aha was that in yoga you are invited to do what works for you specifically. If that means tweaking a movement or even not doing it at all that is okay. So rarely in our lives are we “allowed” to NOT follow directions. Honestly, I find it liberating and even beneficial to think about this idea when I leave the yoga studio.  When we bring this mindfulness into the rest of our lives we actually listen to our quiet voice advising us and guiding us by saying, “I’m tired. I need to be taken care of. Let’s try something new or I need a break.” It’s wonderful to actually notice yourself having these thoughts and acknowledge and act on them.

My second aha was comparing the 108 salutations yoga class to fasting on Yom Kippur. It’s a collective experience. It can be difficult and challenging and yet we stick with it and do it together, spiritually supporting each other. There is a collective ease that we experience as we arrive at the end of the experience. It’s powerful and though each of us experiences this individually we also engage the energy of the group to arrive at the final part of the experience. We breathe a collective sigh as we celebrate our physical accomplishment.

Though it was a challenging class for me and I likely didn’t do close to the 108 salutations myself, I loved starting the New Year in such a mindful and collective way. I intend to participate in another 108 class again in the future. Next time, I will be fully prepared for what to expect. I will also know how my presence in the class adds to the collective energy regardless of how many salutations I can personally do. Each of us is a valuable asset in a class bringing our own gifts to the mat and our world. As each one of us does this we improve the world and this is a yoga lesson we can all take into our own daily lives.