The number 108 has sacred importance in Hinduism and yoga. You may know that mala (prayer) beads traditionally have 108 beads and that people sometimes do 108 Sun Salutations on the Spring Equinox. But why 108? There are several theories. The first set details the significance of 108 in yogic traditions. The second set describes some strange coincidences. And the third list is my own idea of where 108’s importance comes from.
- In the Vedic tradition, mathematicians found 108 to be the number of wholeness.
- In the yogic tradition, there are 108 sacred sites (pithas) in India.
- There are 108 Upanishads, a collection of religious and philosophical texts about yoga, self-regulation, and meditation written between 800 BCE and 500 BCE.
- According to Tamil philosophy, there are 108 marma points. Marma points are places of concentrated energy where anatomical structures are also present (muscles, joints, bone, etc).
- Buddhists count 108 names for Buddha, 108 defilements, and 108 feelings (36 for past, 36 for present, and 36 for future).
- Hindus have 108 names for Shiva.
- There are 54 characters in the Sanskrit alphabet, and each character has a masculine and feminine representation (Shiva and Shakti). 54×2=108.
- There are 12 constellations and 9 arc segments (namshas). 9×12=108.
- The source of classic Indian dance (the Natya Shastra) has 108 karanas (movements of the hands and feet).
Outside of yoga, there are other strange 108 coincidences:
- There are 108 UNO cards (thanks for this information, kids).
- Penelope had 108 suitors in Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey.
- The average distance between the sun and moon to the earth are 108 times their respective diameters.
- Astrologists claim 108 personality types (12 signs of the Zodiac, multiplied by 9 planets… I guess they still count Pluto).
- The first manned space flight lasted 108 minutes by Yuri Gagarin.
- Human organs begin to fail at 108 degrees Fahrenheit.
After teaching children’s yoga for the past 6 years, I have my own theories as to the significance of 108:
- There will be 108 pompoms “lost” by the end of the month. Every single month.
- 108 little bare feet walk across my mat each week.
- I will be asked to do Lion’s Pose 108 times each class. Of course, I will.
- Purell Gel will only kill 108 germs. The rest will get you.
- My bag of tricks weighs at least 108 pounds.
- Be sure to bring 108 tissues for runny noses.
- The kids’ yoga music must loop through my brain 108 times before insanity sets in permanently.
- There are 108 ways for little boys to say “fart” without saying the word “fart”.
- I want to teach kids’ yoga until I’m 108 years old.