Fat, frozen snowflakes falling on my tongue, the crisp, cold smell in the night air, snowmen and sleds, these were many of my childhood cues to know: winter is here! While these signs of the season undoubtedly still excite me, I have come to appreciate the joy of celebrating each season with its commencement of solstice and equinox. This past autumn I was introduced to the idea of 108 Sun Salutations to welcome in the season. I loved the physical challenge and mind-quieting nature of this moving meditation. So last night, less than a week since my husband and I started moving into our new home (we’re still in the process), I began a new tradition of hosting a 108 Sun Salutation Winter Solstice Soiree.
My hope is that we’ll honor each season’s passing/inception with this yoga tradition of honoring the sacred count of 108, but last night I gained a whole new appreciation for how and why.
How do you count 108?
My first experience with this count was a solo project at home: breath, move and count. I lost track of how many I had done several times and rather than potentially cut myself short, I always played it safe by doing another 1-2. I saluted the sun for nearly 3 hours, moving slowly, growing sore, and fumbling to find modifications that didn’t hurt.
Before we began last night, some friends who had gathered to join me were discussing and reading about why we do 108 specifically. My personal favorite reason for this is that the distance from the sun to earth is 108 times the sun’s diameter. Nancy, the math-savvy (an engineer) of the group, had several counting ideas. “There are 26 letters in the english alphabet,” she pointed out, “so you can count by going through the alphabet 4 times, then just add four.” She also suggested thinking of something you’re grateful for with each salute. I decided to combine her two ideas for my practice.
WOW! What a vastly improved experience!
A Little History on the Appeal
I have japa mala (that rosary-like strand of beads hindus and yogis often don) hanging over my rearview mirror in my car. A friend gifted them to me after visiting India just following his yoga teacher training a couple of summers ago. I love the smell of the sandalwood beads, the idea of having a piece of the other side of the world (physically and culturally) in my mode of transportation, but mostly they hang in front of me as a reminder to feel gratitude. When I’m anxious about rush hour traffic or whatever event I’m headed to, or I find a grey cloud of negative thoughts looming overhead, I grab the japa mala and think of something I’m grateful for with each bead my index finger and thumb roll over. Sometimes I get through the whole strand, often just a portion, but regardless,
the exercise sets my intention and thoughts in a positive and calm place.
Last night I took that 108 gratitude count into my sun salutation. It took a bit longer than just rubbing the beads (maybe 20 minutes with the beads, just over an hour for the salutations), but I found myself smiling, even laughing in my heart at times as I thought of different points that brighten my life. The first time I ever tried this meditation was exhausting: physically and mentally. It was really tough to stay focused and get all the way through. This time, it flowed smoothly and sweetly.
How I Structured My Gratitude Flow
My first two rounds I simply allowed concepts or ideas beginning with each letter of the alphabet to come: Appreciation, Balance, Compassion, etc.
With each breath, I thought of ways I’m grateful for how that word has taken meaning in my life. Thoughts like: “I’m grateful for the ability to feel appreciation. To be appreciated and hear and learn that others appreciate me. I’m grateful people can express appreciation to each other, and for the joy that fills our hearts when we allow the sense of appreciation to permeate through us…..”
My third round became body-focused, from feeling gratitude my dad was able to get a new hip and his surgery went well (for H), to mustaches (for M) and how I love to laugh and enjoy all the whimsical and funny ways they can be shaped.
For the fourth and final round I decided to name people who have impacted my life for good. Old college friends I haven’t spoken to in years, teachers, family members, dear friends, the wonderful people flowing in the room with me, all were in my heart and hopefully getting little spirit hugs from me as I pondered how they have helped shape my life with their light.
Sometimes even thinking of the next idea in time was a little tricky, but something always came. I felt such a sense of peace, joy, and calm as I honored this universe, the guiding life force of season all around, and ideas, experiences, and people who edify the world around them.
If ever you feel so inclined for a truly cleansing and uplifting meditation, I invite you, with gratitude, to salute the sun.
Perhaps you will join me in Spring!