Tomorrow marks the Summer Solstice! The longest day of the year, and the first official day of summer!
What is the Summer Solstice?
Across so many cultures, religions, and other groups, the Summer Solstice is a significant day. From an article titled, “The Spiritual Meaning of the Summer Solstice” by Grove Harris published on the Huffington Post:
Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, the shortest night, and a tipping point: from here on out the days get shorter and the nights get longer. The solstice, sometimes called midsummer because by now farmers have long done their planting, is technically the first day of summer. It both ushers in the warmest season, and reminds that the season is short, slipping away day by day. For those who revere nature, summer solstice may be celebrated by a bonfire, and staying up to greet the dawn….
Celebration may be among a broader spectrum of people, such as the 35,000 who gathered at Stonehenge last year. BBC’s coverage of that event included an interview “with those who appreciate the solstice the most: ‘We believe it is very important for people to move with the cycles of nature, and actually feel them. If you get up early in the morning and you watch that special sunrise, you’ve been a part of it. The rest of the year is shaped by that. And we think it’s a really healthy thing to do, and a very spiritual thing to do.’” …
People attune themselves to the rhythms of the natural world and invite the seasons of waxing and waning, of birth, growth, death and renewal to reverberate more consciously in their lives…
Honoring the solstice can remind us just how precious each day and season is, because the truth of its passing away is also acknowledged. Gifts need to be appreciated, not taken for granted. Some will use their ritual to raise energy for healing, for re-aligning and redressing environmental wrongs, or for strengthening the sense of being part of nature, not set apart and individual, but interconnected in a larger whole, including the past, present and future. Such is the power of participating in the turning of the wheel of the year.
June 21st is also International Yoga Day, which is a very exciting day for yogis around the world. A really popular way to celebrate these coinciding holidays is by practicing 108 Sun Salutations.
“Why 108?” you may ask. Valid question. I wondered, too, so here’s what I learned!
The number 108 is a spiritually significant and sacred number, both in the yogic philosophy and in the Hindu religion. As it relates to the Summer Solstice being celebrated with 108 Sun Salutations, it’s widely believed that it is meaningful in the sense that it is repetitive and ritualistic, like a Mala prayer.
Malas are a meditative tool, made up of 108 beads strung together, plus one guru bead. The person mediating would move the beads through his or her hands, one by one, and repeat their prayer or intention for each bead on the necklace, akin to a Catholic Rosary.
Practicing 108 Sun Salutations is similar. Each pass though the sequence of asanas allows the practitioner to repetitively offer thanks and lift prayers – all set to motion.
There are so many ideas about how the number 108 became so significant. Below are some other ways this number proves to be so full of meaning, as explained by Elephant Journal:
Renowned mathematicians of Vedic culture viewed 108 as a number of the wholeness of existence
This number also connects the Sun, Moon and Earth – the average distance of the sun and the moon to the Earth 108x their respective diameters – such phenomena have given rise to many examples of ritual significance
The diameter of the sun is roughly 108x the diameter of the Earth
According to yogic tradition there are 108 pithas, or sacred sites, around India
There are 108 Upanishads, a part of the Vedas, ancient Sanskrit texts that contain some of the central philosophical concepts and ideas of Hinduism, some of which are shared with religious traditions like Buddhism and Jainism. There are also said to be 108 marma points, or sacred places of the body
The chakras are the intersections of energy lines and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path of Self-realization
Some say there are 108 feelings, with 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future
There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has a masculine and a feminine, shiva and shakit, 54+2=108
9×12=108; 9 + 12 are considered to have spiritual significance in many traditions, it also works as (1+0+8) x 12 = 108
In astrology there are 12 houses and 9 planets, 12×9=108
In Pythagorean, the nine is the limit of all numbers. 0 to 9 is all you need to make up an infinite amount of numbers
(Credit also to sunburntandsalty.com for the collection of these points!)
What is a Sun Salutation?
While there are quite a few variations of Sun Salutations, or Surya Namaskar as it is named in the Sanskrit, the underlying foundation is what maintains consistency through them all. No matter what sequence of postures are being performed, they are all a form of prayer or meditation in movement. The sun salutation purpose is obvious: it salutes the sun. It is a way for the practitioner to give thanks for its energy, connect the energy inside the practitioner to the sun’s energy, and recognize that, at our core, we are all the same.
(You can read more about the tradition, mythology, styles, and benefits of surya namaskar in this Yoga Journal article here.)
What makes this ritual sacred?
To quote Cait Lawson from sunburntandsalty.com,
“One thing to remember – the practice of 108 sun salutations is not about doing each and every sun salutation perfectly. Because too much rigidity usually doesn’t best serve ourselves. The physical practice, the movement through the asana, is the facilitator to help you tune into your self, your rhythm, and this sacred practice on a deeper frequency. Any activity (yes even washing the dishes, folding the laundry, drinking your coffee)can become a sacred ritual as long as you hold space for it to be. So never let the idea of doing 108 sun salutations intimidate you, because it’s not really so much about the physical practice but more about the intention that you bring and that space that you hold for yourself and others.”