108 Sun Salutations: What, Why and Advice for Practice

BY STEPHANIE CANTRELL

To celebrate the welcoming of Spring, Yoga Joy Saigon hosted the first annual 108 Sun Salutations Challenge. Raising money to support local charity, Little Rose Shelter, thirty practitioners joined together on March 16th to salute the sun and honour this traditional yogic practice.

What and why

108 rounds of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) is traditionally practised in the yoga community to celebrate the change in seasons or other important events. The significance of the number 108 bends many ways.

  • The number connects the universe as the average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters.

  • The numbers one, zero, and eight respectively refer to God/higher Truth, emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and infinity or eternity.

  • There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet, each with a masculine (shiva) and feminine (shakti) form. 54 x 2 is 108.

  • According to yogic tradition, there are 108 sacred sites throughout India.

  • Malas or prayer beads traditionally have 108 beads.

We included a number of workshops surrounding the main event to help our participants prepare and to increase our sense of community.

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Preparation Workshops: Studio support

We offered two preparation workshops to attendees. The first was an introduction to the Sun Salutations. It covered the background to 108 and the challenge, and then went into the sequence itself, teaching correct alignment and offering suitable modifications. The second workshop was a run-through or rehearsal session, where attendees completed 54 sets the week before the main event.

Experience

We decided to hold the event outside facing the river. This was both logistical – we can’t fit that many mats into our studio – and symbolic – we wanted to be closer to nature and the sun as we practised. We had 30 participants on the riverside setting at 8am sharp. Luckily, the tiled area had a canvas roof, so we were able to escape the sun.

We set up a semi circle formation, with all mats facing the altar behind the lead instructor. We placed our Buddha on the altar and also invited all participants to bring something special to place there too. The energy created by the group during 108 Sun Salutations is very powerful so people placed crystals, singing bowls, their wedding bands and malas to be charged from our collective practice.

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After a short warm up, our first instructor, Liz, began leading the Sun Salutations. We have four teachers, so each was responsible for leading 27 rounds. Between each teacher’s set we had a two minute break so people could drink water or rest in Child’s Pose. I was up last, so made sure to pace myself during the other three sets, taking modifications such as knees down for Chaturanga when needed. This meant that by the time it was my turn to lead, I was able to execute each pose cleanly, and had enough energy to guide the group to their final 108.

After the final exhale of Salutation number 108, we all closed our eyes, holding our hands in Anjali Mudra (prayer pose). The silence was electrifying as all the energy of the collective effort buzzed around us.

We applauded one another, and then sank down to a short cooling down routine of Child’s Pose, Baddha Konasana, and Supine Twists, before resting in Savasana.

After everyone had recovered, we had a raffle supported by local businesses in our community and drank fruit juice, iced coffee (this is Vietnam after all), and ate fruit.

Thanks to Alison and Van, our studio owners at Yoga Joy Saigon, fellow teachers Liz, Louisa and Haylie for being such wonderful people to work alongside, and to all our participants for making this event such a success.

Advice

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Listen to your body

Modifications are fine. It’s better to take modifications rather than keep pushing your body through the full expression of the pose and risk injuring yourself through poor alignment. Knees down for Chaturanga is far better than damaging your elbows and shoulders due to tired execution of full Chaturanga.

Substitutions you can make include the following:

  • Knees down for Chaturanga

  • Tabletop (all fours) for Chaturanga

  • Cobra for Upward-facing dog

  • Cow for Upward-facing dog

  • Child’s pose for Downward-facing dog

  • Knees bent for forward folds

Stay Hydrated

Take water with you and keep drinking. Sip rather than gulp, to prevent nausea. We completed this challenge outside in Saigon where the temperature was close to 30C and the humidity about 50%. There was a lot of sweating, so make sure you replace this fluid regularly throughout the practice.

Focus

It’s normal for your mind to wander during this repetitive sequence. To keep focus, you could try directing your attention towards a different intention or body area for each 9 or 18 or 27 sets. Breathing could be your intention first. Then hand and wrist placement, then arms and shoulder alignment, core engagement, neck placement, legs, feet, toes. Let each set or collection of sets have a different focus to keep you interested and motivated.

Enjoy

Allow yourself to fully experience any emotions that surface during the challenge. Boredom, fatigue, frustration, exhilaration, euphoria, exhaustion. Let them fuel you.

Experience each breath and each set wholly. It is the only one that truly matters. Many participants came up to me afterwards and said they felt themselves enter an almost trancelike state as they inhaled and exhaled through each round of Salutations.


About the Autho

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Stephanie practices and teaches yoga in Saigon. She completed her YTT at 8 months pregnant, and soon after completed pre and postnatal training so she could share the joy of yoga with other mothers. She is the founder of the online community The Yoga Mother. When she’s not on the mat, she can be found swimming or food shopping in Saigon with her husband and two children.