The Winter solstice fell on December 21th this year, marking the shortest day of the year. It is the turning point of the seasons and astrological cycles. Winter has grown to its climax bringing frost, slowness, and darkness. But the Winter solstice defines the transition to Spring, a season of rebirth and light.
Yogi’s around the world celebrate this changing of seasons by performing a sequence of 108 sun salutations. I am often asked what the significance of the number is. The truth is that yogis, Hindus, spiritual leaders, etc have various views of the significance. Without listing every theory, I will list a few of the reasons that resonate with me:
- There are 108 Upanishads in the ancient Vedic texts of India
- Buddha has 108 names (e.g., Shakyamuni, Siddhartha Gautama, etc.)
- Radraska Malas (prayer beads) have 108 beads
So for these reasons, and many others I am sure, we enter a cycle of sun salutations to release the winter and welcome the spring. As a reminder, the sun salutation sequence is depicted below:
In past years I have performed the 108 sun salutations with yoga friends in Chicago, Il. This year, on a quick Christmas trip home to the Chicago suburbs, I elected to perform my 108 in the comfort of my childhood home. My mat faced east on the hardwood floor, with votive candles lit to remind me of the lightness to come. A blend of chanting, traditional Indian music, techno, and modern rock wafted from my iPad, and I started to breath in Tadasana.
The first 10 rounds were relatively simple. My hamstrings began to awaken, my shoulders loosened, and fire started to burn in my core. I actually thought I was going to complete my practice in about 45 minutes. Simple, right? WRONG. As I chipped away at the sequences, my mind and body went through waves of fatigue, anxiety, awareness, and reflection. My first inclination was to fight those alternating sensations and struggle to find stillness of mind and smoothness of body. In hindsight, those were the most challenges asanas of the practice. It wasn’t until I completely succumbed to the sensations that I began my spiritual rebirth on the mat. I allowed myself to feel every movement: the twitch of a muscle, the tightness of my hips, and the softness of vision.
By the end of my practice, which ended up taking almost 1.5 hours, I felt completely empty. To most of us, the word “empty” can have negative connotations, like being alone or not caring. What I mean by “empty” is akin to a Spring cleaning. We go through our closets, attics, and basements and clear out all the unused and old items that no longer hold value to our current place in life. Sometimes that means letting go of a cherished childhood toy so it can be donated and you can grow. Sometimes that means finally throwing out the “skinny jeans” from high school you strive to fit in once again, so you can release your self-deprecation. So when I finished my sun salutations, I felt as if I had cleared out my spiritual and emotional attic of harbored resentments, self-consciousness, and unncessary regrets. My soul is empty and ready to be filled once again – this time was joy, appreciation, excitement, and self-love.
Although the Winter soltice has passed, I encourage you all to embark on your own journey of rebirth. You just may find a “you” that you never knew was there.