This weekend, June 21st to be specific, we are approaching the Summer Solstice and the longest day of the year. Many breeze by this day and see it as a great time to gather with family and friends as a way of marking the “beginning” of summer, though you may have been sweating the heat for at least a month now. For some kids, it means a later bedtime and more time outside playing on those balmy summer evenings spent riding bikes or catching fireflies. In some cultures around the world, this is actually a holy day. In Western Yoga culture, it can be a fun time to challenge yourself physically while engaging in an outdoor yoga practice where all participants are performing Surya Namaskar A (or their bodies’ own modified version) simultaneously—108 times. For some yogis here in the States and around the world, this practice holds much significance. Let’s look at that and how you can share this with your family this weekend, making it your own practice.
I remember the first time I experienced this practice. It was early in my “yoga career.” I was teaching a class alongside another teacher offering a class to prepare for the 108 Sun Salutation Challenge. Since I could not participate in her class, I began to make this preparation part of my home practice. The day of the challenge, I heard her “spiritual” explanation of the practice, but for me, it was purely about proving it to myself physically. You see, I had little faith in my own personal strength and ability, and after that day, I began to believe in myself a little more. With each subsequent season, this teacher offered the practice. It became less about the physical “boo-ya” I was able to say after completion and more about the spiritual experience of the practice. The practice was done in silence other than the sound of people’s breath, movements on their mat, and the moving of glass beads from one pile to another to count each round. It became a meditation in motion as I heard my breath, felt every muscle fiber responding, and watched thoughts pass by (and some linger). Every so often, I would rest in Child’s Pose before completing a Sun Salutation, in order to spend time with something on my mind, heart, or sensation in my body. Other times, I would stand in Tadasana, with my hands in prayer to mindfully reconnect with my intention for the practice. This is how it was explained to us:
It is said there are 108 kinds of thoughts that bind us: 36 about the past, 36 about the present, and 36 about the future. With the first 36 Sun Salutations, we are letting go of our thoughts about the past and how it was “supposed” to go or what we “should’ve” done differently. These kinds of thoughts prevent us from living in the present. With the second 36, we were encouraged to let go of thoughts about our present situations—and just experience the present. And with the last 36, we focused on letting go of our ideas about the future and what it holds or does not hold. It became a beautiful clearing of sorts for my mind, my body, and my heart.
Sun Salutations “bestow upon us the good fortune of having only good thoughts, of hearing and speaking only good words, and of attaining a sound and strong body, so that we may have a long life and, one day, achieve oneness with God.” – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
Around the globe, the number 108 has great significances. Here’s a list of a few pretty cool ones:
- 108 is the number of beads on a mala (used for meditation) and on a Catholic rosary.
- The average distance between the Sun and the Moon to the Earth is 108 times their diameters. Who does that calculation? Oh, and the diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth.
- 108 is double the number 54, which is the number of letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. One set feminine (Shakti), one set masculine (Shiva).
- The first manned space flight lasted 108 minutes and was on April 12, 1961, by a Soviet cosmonaut.
- The angle formed by two adjacent lines in a pentagon is said to equal 108 degrees.
- It is believed there are 108 lies that humans tell.
- There are 108 points or energy lines that converge to form the heart chakra.
- And sooo many more—Google it and you’ll be blown away!
If you practice yoga in your community, check out your local studio Facebook pages or websites to see if there are any events taking place for the Summer Solstice. Many of these are open to families and practitioners of all ages and skill levels, and even if you only do three Salutations and use the rest of the time to meditate and breathe in fresh air, I encourage you to be a part of the practice. Take some time in your backyard to talk about this shift in season, this time of renewal—if you choose to make it that—with your children and see how many you can do together! Let the kids make some up of their own, take the formality out of it, and just enjoy practice together. Use the Kidding Around Yoga songs to guide the first few rounds and get your juices flowing. Whatever you do, I encourage you to explore the significance of this practice and this season for yourself, make the practice your own, and take some time to embrace the present on the longest day of the year. I know my 32-week pregnant self will be on my mat in the park this year.
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