Why 108?

Every year, for the winter solstice, I participate in teaching and practicing the traditional 108 sun salutations. And, every year I get asked, “Why 108?” The significance of this number seems to be as plentiful as the salutations that we practice. There are a few “go to” answers:

  • 108 is the number of beads on a mala.
  • The distance of Earth from the Sun is roughly 108 times the diameter of the Sun.
  • The number 108 is considered sacred by the Dharmic Religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism.
  • There are 108 pithas, or sacred sites, throughout India.
  • The 9 planets traveling through the 12 constellation signs constitute the whole of existence. 9 x 12 = 108

If you look it up, google it, the lists are abundant. It is a sacred number, in math, astrology, and religion.

The power of simply the number has very little to do with why I do the 108. The Solstice celebration is beyond counting to 108, 108 up dogs, 108 push ups. It is 108 times to reconnect.

Winter is a hard time for me. I am affected by the darkness a bit more than other people. As summer fades into fall, and the season draws near the winter solstice, my energy wanes, my emotions flair. In short, I struggle. I could sit in front of a special light, created to simulate the glow of the sun. I could take anti-depressants. But, luckily, my condition has always been managed by a dedicated yoga practice. Celebrating the solstice, I celebrate the return of daylight. It is 108 “thank yous” to the reliable rotation of our planet.

It is 108 chances to let go. In a regular practice, the sun salutations are used as a moment to warm up the body and draw the mind into the present moment. When we do 108 sun salutations, we go beyond that. The body warms up, the mind melds into the sensations, and then lingers there. Mentally it is a constant, continual, reminder to be here. Each breath, each flow, seems to beckon me in farther, deeper, more fully, through the sensations, into oneness, and nowness that is a little beyond understanding. And as I drive into the present, I leave behind the past; I find comfort with letting the future wait.

I’ve never been the kind of person to set a New Year’s resolution. But the solstice celebration is the closest I get to this ritual. Instead of dedicating myself to change something in the new year, I practice letting go of the weight of the past year. It washes me clean, one salutation at a time.

I could talk, write, for hours about why I love the 108. I love the way my body feels in the flow. It becomes hypnotic. I become supple, and strength. I loose my ego, and find my breath. I drop the past, and find the present. It is a chance to rededicate myself to the light within, and the work of living my yoga. My body begins to feel like a mala bead, slipping through the fingers of some greater being. I am insignificant, and One, at the same time. I am in love with the 108 practice.

Why 108? Honestly, it could be 110,  or 99, and I think I might feel the same way. But we need a number, so why not a sacred one? We need a moment to reconnect, so why not this one?

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