108 Sun Salutations on Christmas Morning

This morning — Christmas morning — I got up at 630 and took my yoga mat out to the hill at the edge of my hotel, overlooking a north-facing bay at Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia. As the sun grew warmer and the world around me started to wake up, I did 108 sun salutations.

I’d had the idea of 108 sun salutations in my head for a while. Last winter, Tracy inspired me by doing this on the edge of her sailboat. And just before I left Toronto, one of my yoga teachers invited us to come and do 108 sun salutations in candlelit silence for the solstice. I left for Australia before the solstice, but I carried the idea with me, to mark a moment.

While I was in Melbourne, I impulsively bought a lightweight yoga mat at lululemon. (As I said on IG, Melbourne is like Toronto and Vancouver smushed together, but sort of in a dream. There was a lulu 400 m from my hotel). I knew it was kind of an idiotic thing to do — for this part of my trip, I’m on my BIKE, carrying everything with me. The minimalist rule certainly doesn’t include a 3mm mat.

But once I get an idea in my head, it kind of lodges there. Even as I pulled other extraneous stuff out of my panniers and left them in a plastic bag at my hotel, the yoga mat stayed. For this exact moment.

See that pokey thing there? That’s my yoga mat. Also? That’s a heatwave.

The reasoning behind the 108 sun salutations is one of those slightly fuzzy “sacred” history things, one of those culturally questionable aspects of yoga that doesn’t bear too close scrutiny. To wit:

• There are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to and from Anahata, the heart chakra.

• There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.

It’s also true that Buddhist prayers tend to be repeated 108 times — I did see that in Bhutan and Myanmar.

(In a related tangent, I read earlier on this trip in the excellent book 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret that essentially, what we think of as modern sun-sign astrology was invented in the 1930s to mark Princess Margaret’s birth, and then was copied by other newspapers. More “sacredness” with no real footing. But I digress).

All of that said, 108 repeats of suryanamaskar appealed to me. It’s a feat, and I like a good feat. It involves counting, which appeals to the completist in me. And it feels ritualistic enough to give me a long, meditative practice to mark the things that are important about this year, and the things I want to dwell in about myself.

So I took me and my painfully toted mat out to the hill, and practiced for about 75 minutes, while the smell of bacon crept out from the kitchen, a woman and a child came out to get Santa gifts from a car, another woman came out holding the hand of a child in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Pure blue sky, tranquil bay.

I did sets of ten, counting out loud and listening to a gently guided meditation from my own meditation teacher on my headset. After each set, I paused and had a drink of water, surveyed my body, wrote a little notch on a pad. After 55, I did a bit of child’s pose and contemplated my body. And my will.

It wasn’t a comfortable practice — the ground was a bit uneven, and I got a grass stain on my new mat. Flies came out with the sun and twitched at me, and a ladybug crawled on me and my mat. I had to move the mat as the sun got hotter. And most of all, it was HARD to stay focused. I alternated between step and hop out of downward, dog, noted that only about 5% of my upward dogs were in true flow. My hamstrings still ached at the end after all my riding. I really faltered through the 9th set, feeling it went on forever.

But from the inside out, I felt whole. The last part of the meditation was gratitude. I was fully present in the final 8 postures, and I got to be fully present to my gratitude for all of my people, for my body, for my work, for the life that lets me stand on top of this hill on the edge of the Indian Ocean on Christmas morning.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is sending holiday light to everyone from the Southern Hemisphere.