June 21, the summer solstice, is just around the corner. It is always a very special marker of midsummer and the longest day should always be celebrated with something. Last year it was an outdoor vinyasa yoga practice by the river. This year, a year like no other for me and most probably the vast majority of people, it will be 108 Sun Salutations.
Sun Salutations or Surya Namaskar are a constant feature of my yoga practices and a flowing sequence of yoga poses which create a balanced flow in themselves. In my classes, I always include a selection at the beginning of each practice to warm the body and between certain postures, as a way to realign the body and especially the spine. They are also a fantastic way to consciously link movement with breathing, which is the foundation of vinyasa style yoga and a wonderful all-round cardiovascular workout.
Why do 108 Sun Salutations?
The number 108 is regarded as sacred in different ways. For yogis, the number 108 appears in many ancient texts. Mala bead necklaces have 108 beads, which are counted during meditation. In astronomy, the distance between the Sun and Earth is roughly 108 times the Sun’s diameter – so it’s a very fitting association for a midsummer practice.
How to do 108 Sun Salutations
Regardless of whether you practice 108 sun salutations for the summer solstice or any other special day, it’s physically challenging to do. Anyone that attends ashtanga yoga classes will know that a practice opens with 10 Surya Namaskar done in two sets of 5, to heat and energise the body by activating Prana.
If you want to have a go, I recommend you build up to it slowly, practicing with sets of 12 and increasing at intervals. Take regular breaks in child’s pose if you need to, focus on steady breathing and when you feel ready, begin again. I would recommend breaking down the full 108 into 9 sets of 12 and finishing each set with pranayama and a short meditation to mentally refocus. There is no need to hurry.
4 types of Surya Namaskar
Vary them a bit. I like to include 4 different types of Surya Namaskar in my classes and add in a couple of my own variations from time to time too. You can switch between Types A and B, Classical (with Anjaneyasana) and also Dancing Warrior as a sequence. It keeps it interesting, and also avoids strain or injury because you will be using different muscle groups.
If you do have existing injuries or physical limitations, be mindful of them and always practice ‘Ahimsa’ – respect and kindness for your body. Rather than doing Urdva mukha savasana (up dog) each round, switch with Cobra (Bhujangasana) and modify Chaturanga with Ashtangasana (knees on the mat).
Chance to practice Pratyahara
Try practicing with your eyes shut to focus on your breathing and each movement. This is a way to practice ‘Pratyahara’ or ‘withdrawal of the senses’, allowing you to be more mindful and shut out all distractions. In this way sun salutations can become a powerful moving meditation as well as a strengthening physical exercise.
Remember that one of the amazing things about yoga is that it teaches you more about yourself. You are most likely much physically and mentally stronger than you think and will probably surprise yourself with how many you can complete. It might not be the full 108 first time around, but however many rounds you can do, it will leave you feeling strong, confident, empowered and yet very calm and peaceful.
Group summer solstice practice
Why not give 108 sun salutations a try for yourself? I will be hosting a special yoga practice for the summer solstice on Sunday 21 June 2020 to complete the 108 sun salutations in a friendly group.
Let me know if you would like to join in.