Whilst we’re soaking up the Caribbean sun here on the island, it’s kinda strange for this weathered Brit to get her head around the fact that it’s winter back home!
Without the scarves, gloves, thermal vests (never let it be said I’m not a stylish girl!) and the associated layers of clothes, it’s really hard to remember that the year has moved on.
An interesting end to 2011 was on 22nd December when we celebrated the arrival of Winter in the traditional yogic way; with 108 Sun Salutations at daybreak.
Sun salutations (Surya Namaskara in Sanskrit) are an integral part of most yoga practices. Sri K Pattabhi Jois (one of the most important teachers in the Ashtanga yoga lineage) said;
“No asana practice is complete without sun worship. Without its focusing of mental energies, yoga practice amounts to little more than gymnastics &, as such, loses meaning & proves fruitless. Indeed, the Surya Namaskar should never be taken for mere physical exercise – for something incidental, that is, that simply precedes the asanas of yoga”
– Sri K Pattabhi Jois.
‘Surya’ is one of many names of sun and ‘namaskara’ means to bow before or to prostrate oneself. The Sun has been worshipped in many ancient cultures for its life-giving properties. Without it, life as we know it could not be sustained. These cultures also recognised that the sun bestows its power and light on all life; free from discrimination or judgement.
When practiced correctly, you’ll find that they contain elements of four of the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga, as detailed by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. They contain asana (the physical moving of the body), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (control of senses), dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation).
So we chose to celebrate the Winter Solstice and the coming of new light by completing a traditional Yoga Mala – 108 Sun Salutations. As we reflect on the significance of the sun, we are reminded that the sun is the illuminator of our world, that it is our primary source of heat and the giver of life.
But why 108?
The number 108 carries spiritual significance in many different cultures:
* 108 is the number of “Upanishads” comprising Indian philosophy’s “Vedic texts”.
* 108 is the number of names for Shiva (a really important Hindu god).
* 108 is the number of names for Buddha.
* 108 is the Chinese number representing “man”.
* 108 is the number of beads on a Catholic rosary.
* 108 is the number of beads on a Tibetan “mala” (prayer beads, analagous to a rosary).
* 108 is twice the number “54″, which is the number of sounds in Sanskrit (sacred Indian langauge).
* 108 is six times the number “18″, which is a Jewish good luck number.
* 108 is twelve times the number 9, which is the number of vinyasas (movements linked to breath) in a Sun Salutation.
It’s something I’ve done with students on a number of different occasions; both to welcome in the changing seasons but also as sponsored events to raise money for charitable causes. Yes it’s hard work; yes it’s challenging on your mind and body. But at those moments in time when your mind is telling you that you can’t possibly manage any more, it’s an opportunity to remember that the tiredness, frustration, discomfort will pass. It’s only temporary, just like the cold, wet, winter days. Those moments that might make us feel less than full of sunshine are just temporary; they will always move on.
However cold the weather may be where you are, why not take a moment to welcome winter and be thankful for the gloom. Without it we’d never realise just how beautiful the sunshine is!