A few years ago my local yoga studio advertised a special class to commemorate New Year’s Day and a kick off a brand new year—108 Sun Salutations, which would take close to two hours. When I saw that number, I admit. I balked. I love a good Sun Salutation as much as the next yogi, but 108 in a row seemed excessive. Oppressive. And mind-numbingly boring. There was no way I was going to spend the first day of the year doing that.
You can probably guess what happened next. I went to the class and somewhere around salutation number 37, I lost myself in the endless flow of Chataurangas and Upward Dogs, Tadasanas and Downward Dogs. The rhythm became a comfort, the numbers a mantra. 62. 63. 64. Eventually, without even realizing it, I entered a moving meditation—my first one ever. 105. 106. 107. And then, suddenly: 108. I opened my eyes, blinked. My arms hung limp at my side. I felt tired, sore, and oddly euphoric. What just happened?
Mystical, Magical, Mysterious
The number 108 has a long and storied history that crosses cultures and spans centuries. For example, there are 108 stitches on a regulation baseball; the average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters; when Ulysses was away, his wife Penelope was besieged by 108 suitors; and, on significant dates, it’s not uncommon for yoga studios to host practices consisting of 108 Sun Salutations.
But why 108? Some say the number was chosen thanks to the mala beads often used during meditation. A string of mala beads contains 108 beads, and running your fingers over these beads while reciting mantras can help you stay focused and keep count. While no one knows for sure how this number made it’s way to yoga, many studios embrace the mysterious legacy by performing 108 Sun Salutations to welcome each new season. During the Summer and Winter Solstices, and the Vernal and Autumn Equinoxes, you’ll find yogis everywhere headed to their mats for this long, intense practice, and embracing it as a symbol of peace, unity, and new beginnings.
The Benefits of 108
Although I dreaded the idea of completing 108 Sun Salutations in a row, once I got in the groove, I was surprised to find the practice pleasant and enjoyable. Rather than being bored, my mind was able to focus on matching my movements with my breath. The best part, though, was feeling the practice turn from challenge to offering, from a personal goal to a shared experience. As I moved in unison with the rest of my community, our bodies rising and falling in rhythm with our breaths, I felt a deep connection to each of them, and to the world we shared. And when we completed our final Sun Salutation, I stood motionless, tired but happy, looking forward to the season ahead, and in awe of the mysterious magic a single number could hold.