In Hinduism, the sun god, Surya, is worshipped as a symbol of health and immortal life. The Rig Veda declares that “Surya is the Soul, both of the moving and unmoving beings”.
For thousands of years Hindus have revered the sun as both the physical and spiritual heart of our world and the creator of all life itself. One of the means of honouring the sun is through the flowing asana sequence Surya Namaskar(Sun Salutation).
The Sanskrit word Namaskar stems from namas, which means “to bow to” or “to adore.” Each Sun Salutation begins and ends with prayer mudra (anjali), hands in prayer position over the heart. Surya Namaskar is a prayer to Lord Surya, the god of health. Traditionally, it is performed at dawn, facing the rising sun. The twelve positions that are incorporated came to have their own mantra, each celebrating an aspect of the sun’s divinity.
There are twelve names for the sun in Sanskrit. The Sun Salutation consists of 12 positions done in succession. When one round ends, another one begins in a perfect circle. Surya Namaskar is a complete warm-up for the entire body. Sun Salutations alleviate tension, improve circulation, stimulate the nervous system and raise the body heat. If practiced slowly, it has a calming effect. If practiced briskly, it is invigorating. There are many variations on Surya Namaskar.
The Sun Salutation allows us to use the body as an instrument of higher awareness, so that we can receive wisdom and knowledge. The ancient yogis taught that each of us replicates the world at large, embodying “rivers, seas, mountains, fields…stars and planets…the sun and moon” (Shiva Samhita, II.1-3). The outer sun, they asserted, is in reality a token of our own “inner sun,” which corresponds to our subtle, or spiritual, heart. Here is the seat of consciousness and higher wisdom (jnana) and, in some traditions, the domicile of the embodied self (jivatman).
In Yoga, the sun is represented by the pranic channel in the astral body called the Pingla nadi, carrying the vital, life-giving force. Surya namaskara generates ‘prana’, the life-force. It activates the psychic body, preparing for its spiritual awakening. Surya or sun also symbolises spiritual consciousness.
Surya namaskar also reminds us that the sun is the ultimate source of life energy on our planet. Life is inconceivable without sun light. It is best preformed on an empty stomach and is traditionally practiced facing the sun at the time of sunrise or sunset.
The act of practising 108 Sun Salutations draws together some very potent yogic practices.
Not being attached to the fruits of your labour, rather than identifying with your achievement or performance you relinquish any attachment to the outcome. Your actions are devotional offerings to your highest values, intentions and principles. This can be a spiritual or philosophical tenet; it could be the God of your choosing; a person; collective; cause or any living being. It is the motivation behind the act that makes it transformational. It is the savouring and relishing of the act itself rather than it being a means to an end. We remain as presently engaged in each moment as possible, letting every moment come and go inhaling and exhaling.
Traditionally selfless service is volunteering your time and energy to benefit other beings. Our actions are void of selfish motivation, we work for the benefit of others with the expectation of nothing in return. It is the altruistic quality of our intention and the benevolent sentiment when taking part in a 108 charity event that bears a resemblance with Seva.
Tapas/Effort, Discipline, Zeal, Heat
Completing 108 sun salutations is a Tapasic practice in that it requires a burning desire and strong willpower. The 'Will' in this context however concerns Self-will (capital S). As we strive toward our ‘goal’ (completing 108 rounds of Surya Namaskar) we are motivated by an elevated cause - beyond our individual concerns for our small self. It is the synergy of hard work and an exalted intention that makes a practice spiritually charged and Tapasic, that transforms an action and leads us closer to the ultimate goal of Yoga - unified equilibrium with the world.
Significance of 108
1. A Japa mala (or Mala) refers to prayer beads customarily used in both Buddhism and Hinduism. Recitations of prayers, mantras and chants are counted bead by bead on Malas. Buddhist malas traditionally have 108 beads, said to signify the 108 human passions that Avalokiteshvara assumed when ‘telling the beads’.
2. In mathematics: 1 to 1st power= 1; 2 to 2nd power= 4 (2x2); 3 to 3rd power= 27 (3x3x3). 1x4x27= 108
3. 108 is a Harshad number, which is an integer divisible by the sum of its digits (Harshad is a Sanskrit word that means "great joy"). Yes, it’s 12 for the mental maths enthusiasts among you.
4. There are said to be a total of 108 Energy Lines converging to and from Anahata, the heart chakra.
5. There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, Shiva and Shakti.
54 times 2 is 108.
6. According to yogic tradition, there are 108 Pithas, or Sacred Sites, throughout India. And there are also 108 Upanishads and 108 Marma Points, or sacred places of the body.
7. The average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters.