the great 108 {yoga, spiritual, mathematical}

yesterday (wednesday june 20th), was the longest day of the year (in terms of sunlight), which is also known as the summer solstice. the solstice almost always happens on june 21st, but since today was a leap year, it came a day early.

in yoga tradition, we welcome in each season with 108 sun salutations. a sun salutation, or surya namaskar, is a sequence of movements performed in a flow linking breath and movement. sun A is a simple one and sun B adds a few extra postures. different styles of yoga have different variations on the sun salutations.

in ashtanga yoga, which is what my practice is rooted in, surya namaskar A looks something like:

  • begin standing, mountain pose (tadasana)
  • inhale, raise arms up (urdhva hastasana)
  • exhale, forward fold (uttanasana)
  • inhale, raise chest
  • exhale, jump back and lower through a pushup (chaturanga)
  • inhale, upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana)
  • exhale, downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana)
  • 5 breaths in adho mukha svanasana; on empty hop forward
  • inhale, raise chest
  • exhale, uttanasana
  • inhale, urdhva hastasana
  • exhale, tadasana

and surya namaskar B is sun A but with these differences:

  • replace urdhva hastasana with chair pose (utkatasana) at the beginning and end
  • before taking 5 breaths in down dog:
    1. step right foot forward at the end of the exhale
    2. inhale, rise to warrior 1 (virabhadrasana 1)
    3. exhale, chaturanga
    4. inhale, urdhva mukha
    5. exhale, adho mukha
    6. do the left
    7. then hold down dog for 5 breaths

easy peasy, no? here is a further breakdown of sun A.

why 108? 108 is an interesting number. it is divisible by a lot of other numbers and has other fun mathy qualities.

  • 108/12 = 9 (9 dozen)
  • 108/9 = 12
  • 108/6 = 18 (18 is a lucky number in judaism)
  • etc… all of the divisors of 108 are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 18, 27, 36, 54, 108
  • 108 is also an achilles number, which means it is powerful (for every prime divisor or factor p of np2 is also a divisor – ex: 3 is prime and both 3 and 32=9 is also a divisor) but not a perfect power (a positive integer that can be expressed as an integer power of another positive integer)
  • it’s also the hyperfactorial of 3, meaning 108 = 11 x 22 x 33

in hinduism and other religions, 108 has more special meanings.

  • 1, 0, and 8 represent “one thing”, “nothing” and “everything” (infinity).
  • hindu deities have 108 names.
  • because of the significance of 108, malas have 108 beads (malas are the hindu equivalent of a catholic rosary… sort of – and the rosary, i believe, also has 108 beads).
  • the distance from the earth to the sun, divided by diameter of the sun ~= 108.
  • the distance from the moon to the earth, divided by the diameter of the moon ~= 108.
  • stonehenge is ~108 feet in diameter.
  • there are 108 yoga sutras.

more on 108 (the number) here.

i am hoping to do 108 sun salutations this week. i wanted to do them all in one day (yesterday) but instead my practice yesterday was a class i took with bobby at pure yoga on 86th street. i will be back there again tonight for an inversions workshop. i wish i had been counting my sun salutes this week – i could have figured out how many more i needed to do to get to 108. i will try to find a way to fit them all in before june is over (can you believe it’s june 21st already?).

how did you celebrate the solstice?