What I Learned from 108 Sun Salutations
There’s a buzz in our yoga community about instructors’ leading students through 108 sun salutations in honor of the Winter Solstice. I attend Jordan’s yoga class on the shortest day of 2018, anxious to complete my symbolic gesture to the Universe, my readiness for death and rebirth. I’ve never done 108 sun salutations, so I don’t know what it will feel like, or what will be changed once I am done. But I am giddy days before December 21st. My excitement at participating in the ritual mirrors my boys’ anticipation of Santa Claus – I want to wake up and check the cookie plate for crumbs. I want evidence. I want to say I’ve done it.
Jordan places 10 buttons in a vertical line in front of our mats, so we can move one over every 10 salutations, as a way to keep track. I look at my line of 10 mismatched buttons, from her mother’s old collection – a gold metal bead shaped like a half moon catches my attention. I picture all 10 buttons slowly moving to the other side of my mat, signifying my progress.
“This is not about completing 108 Sun Salutations,” begins Jordan. “This is about endurance, and being present where you are.”
Obviously, I have missed something. I am hyper focused on the end goal – the number 108 has been circling in my brain like the distance to the top of a mountain’s peak, a place I want to ascend and quantify. I visualize all 10 buttons on the opposite side of my mat. I even picture a group photo being taken after class, to upload to the yoga studio’s website with a caption that reads, We did it! Happy Solstice! Sweat dripping, muscles glistening, auras glowing.
I come back to myself and to the room. I breathe in Jordan’s words - presence, endurance, honor. When I close my eyes and press my palms together, we set our intention. I have trouble thinking of mine – as the number 108 still sits temptingly right behind my forehead.
Jordan continues leading and talking as we move through the salutations on our own. She seems to anticipate the thoughts arriving from inside my body, because she addresses them as soon as they emerge.
“If you’re bored, keep going. It will change. If you’re fatigued, keep going. In life we get fatigued. You will vacillate between strength and fatigue this entire class, with periods of high energy and needing to rest, just like in life.”
I have moved 4 buttons to the left side of my mat. So 6 remain unmoved on the right. I am back where I have been so many times. I hang down in rag doll, and inhale as I arch up into monkey. I lower myself back down into a forward fold, before inhaling again and reaching all the way up, arms outstretched, I bring my palms together above my head and lower my hands to prayer pose. Standing, I close my eyes briefly. My heart rate speeds up. Sweat trickles down my chest and inside my t-shirt. I raise my arms up again to meet my palms together above my head, then I waterfall down over my legs, back into forward fold. I arch up into monkey, and as I lower, I simultaneously jump both feet straight back, landing in plank pose. As I continue my exhale, I lower my body even more, by bending my elbows, tucking my forearms closely into my sides, and hovering inches above my mat. I hold, until the inhale is ready to arrive. Then, only when my chest begins to expand with breath, do I inhale fully, straighten my elbows and scoop my body forward into upward facing dog.
It is possible to slowly remove someone from your life, meticulously at first, until it becomes more natural. Death, divorce, separation – a person’s erasure starts with photos, the most tangible evidence of their existence, and the most likely to jar you as you walk by. I am frantic at first – I tear frames off of nails, leaving huge blank spaces and black dusty outlines from where they hung on eggshell walls. Like my Sun Salutations, I flow quickly in the beginning, trying to get a jump start on the buttons, at least get my body warm, until it becomes easier. Room by room, button by button, year by year, I move and remove. Walls in our home get new paint, furniture a new spot. The process feels repetitive, and most days I want to sell everything and start over – wouldn’t that be easier?
But the endurance of cleaning out closets and repurposing rooms provides a kind of strength, a cleansing, and possibly a rebirth. My identity begins to reveal itself in every room, in the pale pink walls, the over-stuffed bookshelves, and the all-white chandelier.
My upward dog gets stronger the more I flow, and I let go of what it should look like, and simply do what feels best for me.
At some point I lose track of where I am. Jordan’s voice trails off, and while soothing I can’t discern her words. I can’t recall if I am starting the fifth round, or ending it, so I count it again, just to be sure. I now have 6 beads moved over to the left of my mat, a little over half way there.
Jordan reminds us that it’s important to keep going, even if our alignment gets off sometimes - even when we are unsteady or unsure. Even if we lower into Child’s Pose and complete the salutations on our hands and knees, we are still moving, and it still counts.
“We only have a few minutes left and we will meet together in downward facing dog.”
“Death… Birth.” Jordan’s voice is loud now, and strong. “2018 has come and gone. You have worked so hard.”
At her words, I fill with grief. My muscles ache and my chest burns. Hot tears sting at my eyes. My mouth drops open in downward facing dog and I almost let out an audible cry.
The Comfort of the familiar, even if painful, often derails our intention to move on.
I never did set my intention, but I know from this sting what I need to let go. The comfort of the familiar, even if painful, often derails our intention to move on. Two buttons remain on the right side of my mat – our time is up, and I have only completed 78 Sun Salutations. This is enough – I am enough. I didn’t burn down my house or extinguish every shred of evidence from my marriage. Some photos remain stacked in the basement, maybe for my boys. My frantic, bulldozing nature to get through something, in order to erase the pain, has subsided. I am more comfortable in the process, in each individual salutation, and in the endurance of moving one button at a time.