About a month ago, I heard my yoga teacher announce that since the weather is getting warmer, they were going to go back to one of their summer traditions: a large get together on the roof of Richmond’s art museum for a group-synchronized set of 108 sun salutations. Since then, I’ve overheard fellow yogis chatting about “108 sun salutations" and asking each other “why?" Good question — 108 seems very much to be an arbitrary number. However, I knew from my experience with yoga that there is a reason for everything and this certainly won’t be an exception. Thus, my search began.
Wikipedia confirmed my suspicions that the mystical 108 plays a significant role in Eastern denominations (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism), as well as the concepts of yoga and dharma. Here’s how: the numbers that comprise 108 each have their own significance: the number 1 represents one thing; the number 0 signifies nothingness; and 8 represents everything, or infinity (turn the 8 sideways and you have the infinity symbol). Therefore, 108 intrinsically brings meaning to the theory that the universe is all at once empty, monistic, and infinite.
Supreme lord Shiva is one of the main (if not the main) deities in Hinduism. She has 108 names and is commonly worshipped in the morning in the Hindu ritual of Shiva Puja. Shiva’s 108 names are recited, and worshippers can keep track of the names using a Japa Mala (consider it a Hindu version of the rosary), which conveniently has — you guessed it — 108 beads. Shiva Puja (often occurring at Hindu temples) not only includes the chanting of Shiva’s many names, it also involves food/beverage/flower offerings at shrines, tantra and meditation, and controlled breathing exercises.
In Buddhism, it is believed (in many sects) that the human being has the capacity to experience 108 emotions, not one more nor one less. Many Buddhist temples have 108 steps leading up to the temple. To achieve Nirvana, it is said that one must overcome 108 earthly temptations. Finally, in Japan, a bell is rung in Buddhist temples 108 times to signify the end of one calendar year and the literal ringing in of a new year.
In yoga practices, leaders will often instruct yogis to achieve 108 sun salutations as sort of a variation of a Shiva Puja. Another reason is to lead practitioners to learn more about the significance of 108. If you are an intermediate to advanced yogi, 108 sun salutations may not seem like a significant feat — taking about an hour and a half to achieve. But if you are a yogi newbie, it can take a little bit of training or motivation. Luckily, I found 108 reasons to participate in the 108 sun salutation ritual to get you chaturanga-ing posthaste!
By: Amber Jennings (G+)