This is a guest post from someone (ok, my sister!) on her experiences of practising 108 sun salutations during a yoga class.
108 sun salutations with sung mantras – yoga for the brain and body!
It’s well known that Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) is one of the best ways to warm up at the beginning of a yoga practice. With its wide range of movements, the asana is an all-round exercise on the physical level. On another level, the sequence also works wonderfully at turning our attention inwards to our breath and quietening our busy minds (pranayama and mindfulness).
In my yoga class, my teacher usually starts with a series of 24 salutations to warm up, focus our minds and quieten the group. The repetitive nature of this simple sequence allows you to let go physically and mentally. Afterwards you are ready to immerse both your body and mind in the rest of the yoga practice.
However, perhaps not everyone has experienced the addition of chanted mantras to sun salutations, which really takes the practice to a deeper level. When you then increase the number of salutations to 108 this simple series becomes a complete yoga practice in itself.
The Sanskrit word mantra (man– “to think” or “mind” and the suffix –tra “tools or instruments” or “to go beyond”) can be simply translated as an “instrument of thought”, or “to go beyond thoughts”. Practically speaking, a mantra is a means of improving concentration and quietening the inner self.
Sung mantras are often used in yoga practice and are known to relax breathing and induce a feeling of calm and well-being. They also provide a vibratory auto-massage of the internal organs. For my practice we commonly use the series of 12 Sanskrit Surya Namaskar chants, adding a second set of 12 naming specific Hindu deities. (The basic 12 chants are at the end of this post.)
One chant is sung at a time by the teacher, with the class repeating, and then the physical salutation sequence follows. The series is quite fast, with little time between each salutation and the next mantra, and the resulting effect is totally absorbing. On a physical level, as the series progresses your body becomes more fluid and needs no reminding of the familiar movements. On a mental level, the singing is very absorbing and calming and I find myself closing my eyes and losing all thoughts other than the words of the mantra.
Why on earth do 108 of them?
108 is considered an auspicious number in many religions, Hinduism included, with the commonest reason being that Hindu deities have 108 names. Every so often my teacher incorporates this auspicious number into our yoga practice, by ‘treating’ us to a series of 108 salutations with the sung mantras. I have read that some practitioners use this to celebrate solstices, but my teacher has also been known to use it on his birthday!
108 salutations are quite a challenge – the whole series takes over an hour (so is well recommended for all yoga teachers to put in their bag of tricks for improvised last minutes lessons!). It really raises the temperature in a class so is perfect for cold winter evenings. Surprisingly, it’s harder psychologically than physically, but once you get over the initial mental difficulty and stop thinking of the numbers, you’ll find you lose yourself in the words and the movements. It’s not unusual to feel quite euphoric about the accomplishment afterwards!
If you don’t have the opportunity to try the 108 sung salutations in your usual yoga classes, you might find a local ‘yogathon’ where people are often sponsored to undertake this challenge. This can be a great idea for a fundraiser event, as well as being a fun way to teach the sung salutations to all levels of yoga practitioners.
The Sanskrit mantras
The basic 12 Sanskrit mantras associated with the Sun Salutation are listed below. Chant before each repetition of the Surya Namaskar physical sequence. You can listen to one example of the 12 being sung here in the call and response format. NB exact translations may vary between different yoga lineages.
Repetition 1: Om hram mitraaya namaha
(salutations to the friend of all)
Repetition 2: Om hreem ravaye namaha
(salutations to the Shining one)
Repetition 3: Om hroom suryaya namaha
(salutations to the one who induces activity)
Repetition 4: Om hraim bhanave namaha
(salutations to the one who illumines)
Repetition 5: Om hraum khagaaya namaha
(salutations to the One who moves swiftly)
Repetition 6: Om hraha pushne namaha
(salutations to the Giver of strength)
Repetition 7: Om hram hiranyagarbhaya namaha
(salutations to the golden Cosmic Self)
Repetition 8: Om hreem maareechaye namaha
(salutations to the Lord of dawn)
Repetition 9: Om hroom aadityaaya namaha
(salutations to the Son of Aditi, the Infinite Cosmic Mother)
Repetition 10: Om hraim savitre namaha
(salutations to the Benevolent Mother)
Repetition 11: Om hraum arkaaya namaha
(salutations to the One who is praiseworthy)
Repetition 12: Om hraha bhaaskaraaya namaha
(salutations to the One who leads to enlightenment)
Post written by Catriona Tyler. Teacher Walter Ruta (in Italy).
[“I think my students are gong to be worried we’ll be doing 108 sun salutations in the next class!” Alyson]