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From sun salutations to mala beads to Upanishads and Tantras, the number 108 has presented itself as a significant number in Yoga. 108 and Yoga are so intricately connected that it’s viewed as a symbol of spiritual connection. The purpose of this article is to explore the different aspects of how the number 108 contributes to Yoga, as well as why 108 came to have a special meaning.
Why is 108 Prevalent in Yoga?
It’s impossible to sever Yoga and 108. The number comes in strong in yogic traditions like the yoga mala, Pranayama, Surya Namaskar, and the sacred texts often referred to in yoga mantras.
Yoga generally is designed to help you control your mind, body, and soul. One of the ways to do that is to gain control of your breathing, a feat that helps you get in tune with your energy. To achieve this, the use of mala beads is employed.
A yoga mala is a string of 108 beads used to recite mantras, control breathing, and, in turn, enhance meditation. Chanting 108 times and doing breathing exercises, or pranayama, helps you align with the rhythm of the universe and connects you to the source of divine energy.
For these two reasons, mala beads and the practice of Yoga have become inseparable.
Pranayama in yogic tradition is the practice of regulating the breath. It’s believed that for you to achieve true enlightenment, you need to achieve and maintain such calmness that you only breathe 108 times in a day.
108 Sun Salutations
Known as Surya Namaskar, the Sun Salutation consists of a series of poses performed in constant movement and is mainly associated with Vinyasa-style Yoga. This physically challenging practice was traditionally applied during the change of seasons i.e., the two solstices and two equinoxes.
There are two benefits to practicing 108 sun salutations.
Firstly, it gets the energy moving. Active salutations create heat throughout the body, which moves stuck energy, and slower salutations let go of emotions and energy you no longer need.
Secondly, it helps you surrender. The intensity of the practice may make you want to back out, but pushing on helps you surrender to the process, acknowledging the rising emotions, and thereby releasing them. This ultimately leads to feeling lighter by the time you complete the cycle.
108 in Sacred Texts
In ancient sacred Buddhist texts, the number 108 is prevalent. A simple example would be that there are 108 Upanishads and 108 tantras. Upanishads are Sanskrit texts that make up part of the Vedas (oldest Hinduism scripture). These deal with issues concerning meditation, ontological knowledge, and philosophy. On the other hand, Tantras are texts and magical actions that are believed to bring about spiritual awakening via identification with tantric deities.
There are many other examples of 108 in sacred texts. Tibetan Buddhism teaches 108 delusions, and eastern religions hold 108 spiritual teachings. Additionally, the Jains believe that there are 108 virtues and for the Hindus, there are108 names given to Hindu deities.
Significance of 108
We have established that the number 108 is held in high regard in yogic tradition and practices. However, you are likely wondering why this is so. The answer would be that 108 appears in various cosmological and religious features, which is taken as proof that it connects us with the universe and with spirituality.
- The Numbers 1, 0, and 8 – The meanings of these numbers separately are: 1 represents God, 0 represents completeness, and 8 represents infinity. Therefore, it’s no surprise that put together, 108 represents spiritual completeness.
- Purusha – Prakrti – Purusha (1) represents the conscious while Prakrti (8) represents the unconscious. These two are usually separated by samadhi (0), which means non-existence. In this sense, 108 represents the yogic process of separating the unconscious from the conscious.
- Sanskrit Alphabet – In this ancient alphabet, there are 54 letters, each with two forms: a feminine (Shiva) and masculine (Shakti). When all the feminine and masculine features are combined, they total 108 letters.
- Heart Chakra – Chakras, or converging energy lines, serve to tap energy from the universe. Generally, there are 108 energy lines that, when they intersect, form the heart chakra. This chakra, located at the very center of the heart, is the key to love and transformation, and when tapped into, it produces joy and compassion.
- Sun, Moon, and the Earth – Astrologists have estimated that the sun’s diameter is 108 times that of the earth and that the distance between the sun and the earth is 108 times the former’s diameter. Additionally, the distance between the moon and the earth is 108 times the diameter of the former. Astrology, therefore, considers 108 as the number of the universe and creation.
- Harshad – 108 is considered a Harshad number, (Harshad in Sanskrit is a name meaning great joy) because it is divisible by the sum of its digits.
- River Ganga – This sacred river in Asia has a longitude of 12 degrees and a latitude of 9 degrees, and a multiplication of the two gives a product of 108.
- 108 Pithas – In Yogic traditions, there are 108 sacred sites, also known as pithas, across India.
- 108 Marma Points – Indians also believe that a human body has 108 sacred points ( essential points of life forces), which are also called marma points. For this reason, during the chanting of mantras, every chant is meant to bring you closer to God.
- According to Buddhism, there are 108 earthly desires, 108 delusions of the mind, and 108 lies.
- Veldic Mathematics – Ancient Vedic sages figured out most of the significance of 108 and drew the conclusion that 108 is representative of the completion of God’s creation. For example, there are nine planets traveling through the 12 zodiac signs, and the product of these figures is 108. Additionally, there are 27 constellations spread in each of the four directions, thus making up a total of 108. In this way, 108 is found everywhere in the universe.
Evidently, 108 is very important in Yoga, and for good reasons. After all, relaxation and spiritual completeness is a combination that would unquestionably elevate you to the point of calmness and self-awareness.
It is also important to note that Yoga is not the only practice that acknowledges the significance of 108. There are other religions and fields of study that agree that 108 connects us to the universe and to God.