108 sun salutations – the essence of yoga

108 sun salutations – the essence of yoga

This weekend I participated for the first time in Merchant City Yoga‘s annual charity event, 108 sun salutations to raise money for Yogability, a beautiful charity that brings yoga practice to children and adults with special needs.

108 sun salutations is a fairly common practice for special occasions – charity events, international yoga day.. but I’ve never done it before. To say I was looking forward to it wouldn’t be completely accurate – certainly, I was excited about participating in a beautiful community event – but I did have some apprehensions about how physically arduous and even monotonous it might be.

In the end the 108 sun salutations turned out to be a remarkable experience that I can’t wait to repeat next year, if not before.

We do sun salutations in almost every yoga class (especially in ashtanga) but what about a practice made up exclusively of them?
The sun salutation is a warming sequence that takes the spine through full flexion and extension, raising the heart rate through the descent and ascent from the floor to standing. What we sometimes forget is that it is a gesture of reverence, turning our faces upwards in greeting, and folding ourselves all the way to the ground in deference. As Claire Ragozzino puts it, Your body becomes a prayer to the source that feeds all life on earth.

On Saturday, performing one sun salutation after another, I experienced this like never before and was transported quite to another place.

Before we began, Judi prepared us to approach the exercise with care – offering options to use stepping rather than jumping, ‘there’s no ashtanga police here today’ – we should execute the salutations in the way that would get us through safely.
As we began, I was reminded of when I used to do long-distance running. Pacing yourself, conserving your precious energy to build in vigour gradually- gradually.
I began by stepping back and stepping forward, but soon my body (and my ego, I am ashamed to admit) was asking for more and soon I was jumping forward and back from the forward folds.
Yet the magnitude of the task ahead kept me respectful of my body, and after a short while I found I was performing the sequence in a whole new way – though I was doing a strong physical movement, yet I retained a lightness.
A huge transformation occured as we moved into the third quarter of the practice, as I stopped moving my body from the outside, but rather letting the body be lifted and contracted by the breath.
Inhale arms up, exhale fold, inhale look forward, exhale jump back.
Soon it felt like I wasn’t moving my body at all, it was doing this all by itself.

What a remarkable sensation – I thought, how magic is this – if I can take this same lightness and bring it into my every day practice!

What happens to the mind when the body starts to move by itself? There’s a danger of disassociation, where the body knows what it’s doing and so the mind begins to wander off into to-do lists and neuroses.
But if you can catch it and bring the attention back to the breath and to the body, then the attention becomes sharp and clear like a diamond. Because it’s the same movement over and over again, you don’t have to think about what you’re doing, and you step out of your own way. The body moves and you just let your attention rest on it. Soon I could feel new sensations all over – the flow of the breath, the tingling feeling all over as the blood rushed up and down my limbs. And all this because of the simplicity of the movements, the subtle magic within the practice started to shine out.

This whole process wasn’t just something interior.
Most of the classes I attend are mysore-style practice, meaning that everyone is doing their own thing at different paces. So now it was wonderful to be in a room of thirty people all moving at the same time, this same repetitive meditative movement, in unison and all in it together.
John Scott says that when we practise together, our energy is multiplied to the Nth degree. Bodies moving as one, minds perhaps as one as well.

As we all moved through the practice, I became more and more moved. Experiencing the lightness of the body and the focus of the mind, and the connection with everyone else in the room, it all felt like a distilled version of exactly what the yoga practice is intended to create – the movement of the body as a prayer, but also as a generator of energy, which brings the mind to stillness, as we step out of the way and let the breath take over.
Not only that, but moving and breathing as one, we all became blurred together, a reminder of how we’re all one, deep down. Putting our combined efforts together to raise money for a wonderful charity – using our yogic superpowers to help those in need.

Mostly I’m writing this blog as a reminder to myself of the magic that I experienced in this practice, to tune in and see if I can bring that same meditative magic every time I step on the mat. I hope you will also have the chance to participate in such a beautiful event, especially if it can benefit a wonderful charitable organisation such as Yogability.