108 - 108 breaths in a yoga class,108 beads on a mala necklace; the number 108 is sacred and significant in yoga for a number of reasons:
There are 108 Upanishads and 108 Tantras (special yoga texts)
The distance between the Sun and Earth is roughly 108 times the Sun’s diameter
In numerology, 108 equals 9, which symbolises love and eternity
There are 108 sacred points on the body in Ayurveda
108 sun salutations can be practiced for all big life events - marriages and births, new jobs and big decisions. It can also be used to acknowledge the changes in seasons such as the equinox and solstices and new beginnings such as the New Year.
Sun Salutations heat the body which can help to cleanse and detoxify. The repetitive nature of 108 Sun Salutations becomes a meditation. The body knows what is coming, leaving the mind to focus on breath or repeating a mantra. It requires the yogi to have strength and determination for both the physical challenge but also the mental task of staying focused and continuing even when you may want to stop - an everyday challenge both on and off the mat!
There are a number of Sun Salutations that can be practiced but simple is often best for a challenge such as this. Below is a basic flow that could be used:
Standing tall, inhale and raise your arms up and gaze towards your fingertips
Exhale and fold forward bending your knees as much as you need to
Step back to plank on the inhale - lower your knees for support if you need to
Bend your elbows and move to a low plank as you exhale - again drop your knees for support
Inhale and sweep the upper body up to a cobra with your arms hugged into your sides and shoulders away from your ears
Push back to down dog on the exhale
Inhale and step or jump your feet up behind your hands
Release your body in a bow on the exhale
Inhale and sweep the arms up to the ceiling, engaging your tummy muscles and bending the knees if you need to
As you exhale bring your hands together in prayer to your heart
How to practice:
Get the foundations right - a good, non slip mat is so important, plus any blocks, meditation cushions and blankets for a well deserved savasana!
Prepare your space - make sure you have space, somewhere quiet and uninterrupted if possible. Inside or outside, wherever you feel comfortable and always have a water bottle close by to rehydrate
Keep track - use mala beads to count your flows or even a pen and paper. You want to be concentrating on your breath and movement rather than keeping track of the number of sun salutations you have completed
Warm up and cool down - take some time before you start to ground and awaken your body and ensure you have enough time after to rest in savasana.
Focus on your breath - try to maintain your yogic breath throughout the practice. If you start to feel rushed or uncomfortable then drop into child's pose and re-center.
108 is the goal but yoga isn't about the end goal or posture, it is about the intention and what we learn along the way. If you complete 9, 18, 81 or the full 108 then recognise the achievement of starting your new year with an intention to continue with, and develop your yoga practice.