Happy summer solstice! In some yoga circles, it is traditional to celebrate the changes of seasons—the summer and winter solstice and the vernal and autumnal equinox—by doing 108 Sun Salutations. This practice is most often done in large groups and often as an offering, such as an offering of peace or unity (see The Global Mala Project, which facilitates collective yoga events typically including 108 Sun Salutations).i
What Are Sun Salutations?
Surya Namaskar (Sanskrit for Sun Salutation) is a series of yoga poses done in a continuous, flowing sequence, intended to improve the strength and flexibility of muscles. Sun Salutations are an excellent way for hikers to warm up and stretch their body. You can benefit with just a few rounds before any workout or hike. See below for the classic twelve steps of Surya Namaskar and a variation of the series that you can do without a mat. When on the Camino, I would start each day with a few rounds of half salutations, and I truly believe that they helped prevent injuries.
For a complete cardio workout, challenge yourself to do 108 of them upon the change of seasons.
Number 108 carries spiritual significance throughout a wide swathe of cultures:
* 108 is the number of the Upanishads, sacred treatises comprising Vedic texts with some of the central philosophical concepts of Hinduism.
* 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, analogous to a rosary).
* 108 is two times fifty-four, which is the number of sounds in Sanskrit (an ancient language of India).
* 108 is six times eighteen, which is a Jewish good luck number.
* 108 is twelve times nine, which is the number of vinyasas (movements linked to breath) in a Sun Salutation. ii
I learned about this tradition of 108 Sun Salutations in 2014. A yoga studio in Berkeley offered a session of the practice on the day of summer solstice, but it was going to last three hours. I didn’t have that much time, so I searched YouTube for 108 Sun Salutations and found a variety of videos to follow. The best was this “Ultimate Yogi with Travis Eliot.” It consists of 36 rounds, which you can repeat thrice for the full 108 Salutations. It’s a fast-paced practice that takes only 47 minutes to complete.
After completing the 108 Sun Salutations, followed by celebratory fireworks, I was curious about this Ultimate Yogi program. I ordered the box set of DVDs from Amazon and took the Ultimate Yogi challenge of 108 days of yoga. It whipped me into shape! I ended up doing it again in 2015 and shared a few tips in this post: 10 Ways to Hack your Yoga Practice.
Sun Salutations: Step-by-Step Instructions
Come to a relaxed standing position, with your arms at your sides and your feet together. Breathe deeply through the nose and match each breath with a movement, per the 12 steps below.
- When ready, bring your palms together at your chest, thumbs resting against the sternum (Mountain Pose). Exhale.
- Inhale and stretch your arms above your head, shoulders back and pelvis forward (slight backward bend in your spine) (Forward Salute Pose).
- Exhale and bend your knees slightly, folding forward with your back straight, lowering your hands to touch the mat on either side of your feet (Forward Fold Pose).
- Inhale and move your right foot back, knee touching the floor (Lunge).
- In pause between breaths, move your left foot back, both knees on the floor (or into Plank Pose).
- Exhale and lower your chest and nose to the mat (Chaturanga Dandasana or Four-Limbed Staff Pose).
- Inhale and lower pelvis while pushing the chest up, arms straight and shoulders back (Cobra Pose).
- Exhale and raise your tailbone, straightening your arms and legs, pushing your chest toward your thighs and your heels toward the ground (Downward-Facing Dog).
- Inhale and bring your right foot forward again, left knee to the ground (Lunge).
- Exhale and bring your feet together, hands on the floor on either side of your feet (Forward Fold Position).
- Inhale and with a straight back, slowly bring your hands up above your head, shoulders back, pelvis forward (Forward Salute Pose).
- Exhale and return to the starting position (Mountain Pose).iii
Half Salutations: Step-by-Step Instructions
- Begin in Mountain Pose.
- Inhale and raise your arms stretched above your head
- Exhale and bend your knees slightly, folding forward with your back straight, lowering your hands to touch the ground on either side of your feet (Forward Fold Position).
- Inhale halfway up, chest forward. Look forward.
- Exhale and lower your head back to forward fold.
- Inhale with a straight back, slowly bringing your arms up above your head.
- Exhale and return to the starting position (Mountain Pose).
Below is a good video of the steps of Half Sun Salutation with yogi Seane Corn. See, you don’t need a mat. You can even do it barefoot, on a precarious cliff, high above the mountains. You get the idea, you can do these anytime, anywhere. No excuses!
This year the summer solstice falls on a Monday in the Pacific time zone. I admit I sometimes get the blues on Mondays as it means I have to go back to work. To celebrate the solstice, I’ll be leading a hike after work, followed by 108 Sun Salutations. This has become a new tradition in my yoga journey! On the last winter solstice, I led the 108 Sun Salutations at Oakland’s Lake Merritt Bandstand. Despite the rain, five brave yogis joined me and stayed for a gratitude meditation at the end. Mark your calendars for 108 Sun Salutations during the autumnal equinox on Thursday, September 22, and winter solstice on Wednesday, December 21, 2016.
Namaste and buen Camino!
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