108 Sun Salutations. Oh My!

Keeping with the theme of doing my best to stay active with my training on the boat, another experiment this week was to do 108 Sun Salutations, also known by some yogis as vinyasa flows. Those with a regular yoga practice will know this as a vigorous sequence of poses that really gets the blood flowing. In a regular moksha class, which is the style of hot yoga I do, we might do 10-12 of these and that doesn’t even include going to standing in between. 

We have a visitor on board the boat right now who is doing her teacher training and has a strong yoga practice. She invited us to join her on the bow of the catamaran for some morning yoga. So after my water jogging session I did exactly that. 

Doing yoga with someone when you’re both regular practioners always starts with an interesting conversation about what you’re going to do. When Michelle and I landed on vinyasa flows (sun salutations) and she asked me how many, I was mulling the question over when she told me the recommended number is 108. 

If you’re wondering about the details of a yoga flow, this article in The Huffington Post giveyou an idea: 

Begin by STANDING at the front of your mat, feet touching, shoulders back, chin level with the ground, arms relaxed at sides. Mouth is closed; breathe through the nose.

Step 1. Inhale (through the nose) as you sweep the arms up overhead until palms touch. Look up.

Step 2. Exhale (through the nose) as you bow forward to touch the floor with hands.

Step 3. Inhale to lift only the head up to look up.

Step 4. Exhale to jump back (or step back if you’re not ready to jump) to the bottom of a push-up, feet hip distance apart, eyes gaze forward.

(That’s right, a push-up! Draw elbows close to ribs. Hips are level with shoulders – you’re flat like a board. If you can’t manage hovering there, then lower to the floor.)

Step 5. Inhale as you press hands down to straighten arms into Upward Facing Dog pose, curving chest and chin up. Feet are still hip width apart. Look up.

Step 6. Exhale as you lift your hips and roll over your toes to come into Downward Facing Dog Pose. Downward Dog is the shape of an upside-down “V”, with your hands flat on the floor, the balls of your feet on the floor and your hips high. Feet are still hip width apart. Look to the navel (or if you can’t see it, then the thighs). Remain in this pose as you take five in-out breaths (through the nose, of course). 

Step 7. Inhale as you jump (or walk) your feet to between your hands. When you land, the feet come together, your hands touch the floor, and you lift the head to look up. This is the same position as in Step 3.

Step 8. Exhale to drop your head down as far as it goes, getting as much of your palm on the floor as you can. This is the same position as in Step 2.

Step 9. Inhale and sweep your arms up as you raise your torso to stand with your arms over your head, palms touching if possible. Look up. This is the same position as in Step 1.

Finish: Exhale and bring your arms to rest by your sides, just like you started.

Your next inhale begins your very next Sun Salutation! No waiting in between. If you lose count, you have to start again. Kidding. Kind of. If you’re lucky enough to find a facilitated 108 Sun Salutations event, then someone else does the counting for you.

Now I’ve been around yoga a long time and maybe I’ve heard this before but if I have, I forgot. The number 108 has all sorts of spiritual/religious meaning: 

* 108 is the number of “Upanishads” comprising Indian philosophy’s “Vedic texts”.

* 108 is the number of names for Shiva (a really important Hindu god).

* 108 is the number of names for Buddha.

* 108 is the Chinese number representing “man”.

* 108 is the number of beads on a Catholic rosary.

* 108 is the number of beads on a Tibetan “mala” (prayer beads, analagous to a rosary).

* 108 is twice the number “54”, which is the number of sounds in Sanskrit (sacred Indian langauge).

* 108 is six times the number “18”, which is a Jewish good luck number.

* 108 is twelve times the number 9, which is the number of vinyasas (movements linked to breath) in a Sun Salutation.

It seemed like an awful lot of flows. But I like a challenge. And I could picture us, one on each trampoline at the bow of the boat, moving through the flows together, with the turquoise Bahamas water between us at anchor and the white sand beach. I mean when do I get a chance to do any yoga at all in such idyllic surroundings? 

So we started. We took turns counting groupings of ten and reminded ourselves to focus on the breath, when to inhale, when to exhale, finding our rhythm. 

Michelle and I starting our flows on the trampoline on the front of Guinevere V.

It’s easy to start off strong. I do a lot of yoga and have been for close to two decades. I managed unmodified vinyasas for the first 40. When I was counting I lost count a few times so we did either 9 or 11 I think. But that’s all part of the meditative quality of the practice. You need to focus on breath, on counting, on staying strong in the core so as not to strain the back. 

Chadaranga dandasana (plank) in the middle of a flow. Tracy on the right, Michelle on the left.
What’s a yoga practice without downward dog?

Doing 108 yoga flows is kind of like a journey with different moments to it. Things change. It’s a mental battle too to stay present. At 50 my mind really started to mess with me. OMG we are not even half way! I had to include the odd modification where instead of a strong chadaranga (plank) I needed to drop to my knees. It’s a rare day that I need to do that. But then again it’s a rare day that I will be doing 108 flows in a row. 

The next thing I knew we were at 80. Then 90 and 100. And we counted the last eight together and boom. Done. 

I once knew a senior yoga teacher who had been practicing for decades. She had a sort of running list of yoga things she wanted to be able to do before she was 80. I liked that idea because it made me realize that yoga is a life long practice. I don’t know if 108 Sun Salutations was on her list. But I do know that if it was on mine, I’d be able to cross it off now! 

Have you ever done the canonical 108 Sun Salutations in a row? How was it? 

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