Mention a 108 Sun salutations to most Hatha yoga practitioners and they break out into a sweat before they begin, the truth is it is not that hard. I had a quick Google before I wrote this to see what others are saying, and quite frankly I came across a lot of tosh. Mostly I came across clichés contradiction, and misinformation.
So why would we do 108 Sun salutations, the number 108 does crop up a lot, such as 108 marma points, 108 vedas and the mala beads. There are many more just take a look on the web, most quote reasons but do they really understand why a 108. The answer is I don’t think they do know why. Having said that it is still a milestone for most practitioners, and is something well worth doing.
Most of us can complete 108 sun salutations, but to do it with ease and efficiency takes more preparation and practice. Take a look around the average class and watch the sun salutations going on, I’m not criticising here just being realistic. You will see hunched shoulders, collapsing backs and shoulder blades contracting in press up. As you know we usually only do eight salutations, try keeping that up for a 108 and the body soon gets tired. The breath goes, the posture goes and it becomes heavy and hard to complete.
For me it is not a matter of getting through the 108 salutations, it’s not how I teach yoga either. If we are going to practice yoga, not just asana, but truly practice yoga then we have to apply integrity as well. If we are just slugging our way through our practice without a level of awareness, getting it over with because it’s not comfortable this morning then what can we expect. So start to practice with awareness and things will change. This starts with Samasthiti, if we are not properly aligned here how can we expect our down dog to be aligned. If when we practice up dog for just eight times, with the shoulders dropping, the chest collapsing in on itself and the back collapsing, is it any wonder it becomes hard work if we try 108 of these.
Practicing our standing postures with new levels of awareness and integrity will work wonders for strength and stamina. Let me draw your attention to the warrior sequence, this is an opportunity to build strength and stamina, but it is sadly usually overlooked. Try aligning yourself correctly in warrior and you have to work much harder, but it does work.
Another question which seems to arise is how to count the 108 sun salutations, I’m sorry if I sound arrogant, but it is only 108. For me keeping focused (drishti) is a major part of the practice of 108 salutations. If you need to you can use beads or matches, but I find this highly distracting. Keeping the flow of breath, bandha and dristhi will take you through in no time with ease and style.
You can use any style of sun salutation, I use a style similar to that used in Sivananda yoga, where I step back between right and left legs, but continuously and without stopping. I also prefer to keep my knees off the ground in pose of eight curves, I find it more efficient. Keeping your knees off the ground will quickly build strength as well. If you have a problem with upper body strength then forearm plank will soon build it, if you struggle with this then drop the knees until you can develop the necessary strength.
A dedicated regular asana practice with awareness to posture, alignment, breath and drishti is all the preparation you will need.