Updated: Oct 10, 2021
Have you ever wondered why you hear the number 108 so often in yoga classes or associated with yoga classes? 108 Sun Salutations...108 mala beads…108 cycles of pranayama…108 and the Sanskrit Alphabet…108 nadis (or energy channels) racing through our bodies…108 earthly desires...and so on.
In yoga, the number 108 refers to spiritual completion. When we are practicing, breathing, chanting in rounds of this sacred number, it was believed by the ancient yogis that we would be able to align ourselves with the rhythm of the creation. Though, how exactly the yogis arrived at the number 108 is a bit unknown still.
There is a relationship the yogis have had between astrology and yoga, which is where the number 108 potentially could have stemmed from. 108 also connects the Sun, Moon, and Earth. In the Vedic astronomy, the diameter of the Sun is 108 times that of Earth. The distance between the Earth and the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Sun. The distance between the Earth and the Moon is 108 times the diameter of the Moon. Cool, huh?
Earthly desires are another piece of the 108 puzzle. It is said that we go through 108 vices throughout our lifetime. Vices include experiences like anger, obsession, and arrogance. Humans are to experience these vices or "earthly desires" in order to reach enlightenment. Enlightenment is the true nirvana - True bliss - The place with no suffering and no sense of self. Nirvana is the final goal of Buddhism. I might be the only one thinking “only 108 vices in our lifetime?”
Another large piece of the significance of this number to yoga would be the Sanskrit Alphabet. The Sanskrit Alphabet is comprised of 54 numbers. Each letter in the alphabet has a masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Shakti) energy. 54 multiplied by the two energies is 108.
How about this…have you ever come across mala beads? Those beautiful strings of beads that you may see folks wearing in a yoga class or while they are meditating. There are also 108 beads on a strand. Mala beads are used to help while counting during meditation and as you repeat mantras. There are teachers who use mala beads to help count during 108 Sun Salutations to stay on track.
Have you ever meditated?
There is another correlation between 108 and meditation and that is while you are in a deep meditation, you are only taking 108 breaths a day. Another theory that has been tossed around is that the number 1 stands for God, the universe, or your own Higher Power; 0 stands for emptiness and humility in spiritual practice; and 8 stands for infinity and timelessness. I am sure initially a lot of folks are thinking “only 108 breaths?” But if you are breathing appropriately during meditation; slow, deep, long inhalations rather than the short, choppy breaths, it begins to make sense. If you are able to stay calm enough to only breathe 108 times in a day during your meditation you are on the path to enlightenment.
If you have taken a yoga class, specifically Ashtanga, you end your practice with 108 Bhastrika Pranayama breaths to finish it off. Bhastrika pranayama is a breath that is a rapid inhalation and exhalation that you repeat consistently to 108. It gives your body a boost and can pump a lot of oxygen into your body. There are then 108 nadis (or energy channels) racing through our bodies helping to embrace life-giving energy, that is vital for human existence. Your nadis help to converge the heart chakra.
Have you ever practiced 108 Sun Salutations?
I am lucky enough to have experienced it and the feeling I had after completing a practice like that was invigorating. I felt cleansed, renewed, and powerful. Sun Salutations are a sequence of yoga poses that are strung together in a consistent movement. Think vinyasa-type classes. Sun Salutations were typically practiced to usher in the new day. Now we practice them typically during the change of seasons. (Ex: Winter and Summer solstice, and Spring and Fall Equinox).