by Laryssa Wirstiuk
I had heard of the 108 sun salutation challenge for the first time a few years ago, when a yoga studio in Manhattan offered it on New Year’s Day. I was intrigued but also intimidated. I passed on the event but decided it would be something I’d one day like to try.
Why 108 sun salutations? In Hinduism, 108 is a sacred number used in japa meditation. A japa mala is a beaded necklace, like a rosary, with 108 beads; a person counts the beads as he or she meditates, using one mantra and breath for every bead. The mala represents “the 108 human passions that Avalokiteshvara assumed when telling the beads.” (Read more about the number 108 here.) Consequently, the 108 sun salutations comprise a moving meditation that mimics the practice of using a mala.
Completing the 108 sun salutations on New Years Day refreshes the yogi and encourages him or her to contemplate and set new goals. Feeling motivated on New Year’s Day, I lay out my mat in my tiny studio apartment and started moving through the salutations. I decided to break the 108 salutations into four sets of 27 (resting in child’s pose between each set), but I’ve seen instructions that break the salutations into nine sets of 12. I’ve also seen a video that suggests doing handstands between each set – maybe one day!
I started my first set jumping back to chaturanga, but by the second set, I was stepping back to plank. By the third set, I was doing the knees-chest-chin variation. At the end of that set, I was very tired and didn’t want to push myself to finish. I figured that I could try again another time, when I’m stronger. The entire sequence, rest included, took me nearly an hour to complete.
Four days later, my hamstrings are still sore, which surprises me. I thought for sure that my shoulders would be the most sore, but I guess 81 forward bends really stretch the backs of the thighs. I know mine are usually very tight from sitting at a desk, writing, and riding a stationary bike for cardio exercise!
I highly recommend the sun salutation challenge, as it’s scalable to any skill level. A person can take all the time in the world moving through the salutations, without any pressure. Also, any variation of chaturanga can be used. The yogi can complete any number of salutations without feeling “bad” about not finishing the challenge. It’s all about what you can do now and inhabiting that to the best of your ability!