“Here comes the sun, do do do doo, here comes the sun and I say, ‘It’s all right.”
It is that time of the year again, as our planet’s semi-axis is most inclined towards the star (sun) that it orbits. We experience this as the longest day of the year and revere it as the Summer Solstice. A time of celebration throughout history and many cultures around the world today.
It is, and always has been, a time to honor moving from the darkness of Winter into the light of Summer. The Earth springs back to life as the crops begin to grow under the heat and light of the sun. As the days get longer, we find ourselves being more active and spending more time outdoors.
The Summer Solstice is a perfect opportunity to bring these same principles to your yoga practice and you will find many yoga studios offering their own expression of “sadhana” or celebration. A common practice you will find is practicing a series of 108 Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutations, which is a “mandala” or circle of poses celebrating the sun.
What does 108 mean?
The number 108 is a sacred number and has many interpretations:
- 108 is twelve times the number 9, which is the number of vinyasas (movements linked to breath) in a Sun Salutation
- 108 is the number of “Upanishads” comprising Indian philosophy’s “Vedic texts”.
- 108 is the number of names for Shiva (a 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, analogous to a rosary).
- 108 is twice the number 54, which is the number of letters in the Sanskrit alphabet, one set of masculine (shiva) and one set of feminine (shakti).
- 108 is the number of Sutras in the Yoga Sutras
- 108 connects the sun, moon and earth as the average distance of the sun and moon to earth is 108 times their respective diameters
- 108 Marmas in the subtle body. (Marmas or marmasthanas are like energy intersections called chakras, except have fewer energy lines converging to form them)
- 108 forms of dance in the Indian traditions.
Why do we practice Sun Salutations?
We practice Sun Salutations to create “tapas” or inner heat that cleanses the body and the “mandala” or circular pattern of the poses can bring us into a state of movement meditation. This inner heat of the practice combined with the one pointed focus of meditation begin to peel away unnecessary layers. As we let go of these layers, we have the opportunity to be less in our head and more in our heart.
This particular series of poses also expresses the change of the seasons. For example, in Uttanasana (Forward Fold) a pose of turning inward (like we are doing during the darker months of the year) and Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute) where we are reaching up and “growing” towards the sun in the warmer months of the year.
In Sun Salutations, your breath is your guide linking one pose to the next and it will take you in and out of each pose. When we practice these poses with intent to focus on our breath, we are able to use our exhale to let go, releasing those things that no longer serve us; and then inhale new ways of being that will nurture us and further our healing and growth.
Honor your own experiences
I would like to invite you to find your own sacred space for your own ritual. Maybe that is lighting a candle, your favorite place outdoors, your local studio or maybe even just unrolling your mat in a crowded room. Come into your body, find your breath and move through your favorite variation of Sun Salutations. You might find yourself doing a half Sun Salutation, maybe three, maybe 108, or maybe just one for 108 days. This is your time, for you, to honor your own experiences, those transitions from your darkness into your light. It may have been a long, lonely winter, but I say, “It’s alright?” Don’t you?