I’ve been practicing yoga for close to a decade now, and it’s become a huge part of my life. But it wasn’t until Sunday -- New Year’s Day -- that I finally took part in one of yoga’s more rigorous rituals: practicing 108 sun salutations in a row.
The number 108 is regarded as special in yoga and in other traditions; many prayer-bead rituals involve 108 beads, for instance.
My local yoga studio offered the opportunity to join in this ritual as a means of marking the arrival of the new year. Similar commemorations typically take place on the equinoxes or other days marking transitions.
Our teacher had two ceramic trays set up near the front edge of her mat; the one on her left held 27 stones. Each time we completed a salutation, she moved a stone from the left tray to the right. When the left tray was empty, we paused in mountain pose to absorb the benefits of our meditative movements. Many of us also took that opportunity to catch our breath.
In theory, our breathing would have remained steady and even throughout the practice. I had a stuffy nose, though, and until I abandoned the nostril breathing I’ve been trained to use when moving through my practice and allowed myself to breathe through my mouth, my breathing was a bit jagged. By the second round of 27 salutations, though, I’d got a grip on my breath and was able to take full advantage of the meditation that moving rhythmically through a repetitive series of postures affords. By the third set, I was fully in the groove, no longer worried about whether I was up to doing 108 sets of downward and upward dog positions, forward bends, plank poses and the yoga push-ups known as”chaturanga dandasana.”
When we completed our fourth round of 27, bringing our total to 108, we sat our sweaty selves on our mats and chanted “om” together, just once. If you’ve never done that, it probably sounds flaky. If you have, you know how powerful a feeling it is to have your voice -- which doesn’t actually sound at all like your voice -- vibrating in concert with the voices of your fellow practitioners.
Our leader had told us that we’d likely feel extra energetic the rest of the day, even if we expected to feel exhausted. She was right.
That joy had dissipated, though, by the time I faced the realities of work Monday morning. As I typed at my desk all day long, I had a constant reminder of my 108 sun salutations: My shoulders are sorer than they’ve been since I learned to do my first handstand -- six years ago, at age 45.
That’s what yoga is really all about for me: The constant, surprising discovery that I can do things I never imagined I could or would. Here’s to many such surprises in 2012.