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Yoga Mala: A journey through 108 sun salutations

When I decided to theme my yoga classes around the then upcoming Summer Solstice I knew I would have to mention the tradition of performing 108 sun salutations (or Yoga Mala) on the day of the Summer Solstice to honour the shifting seasons. At the precise moment of mentioning this in class I made the decision to do this myself. After all, how could I promote this practice to my students if I had never done it myself.

From the moment of making this decision I felt excited. I have performed countless sun salutations over the years but had never performed 108 in a row and was always curious to know how it would "feel" to do this. I didn't overthink it but in fact felt restless just to experience it.

My other half decided to join me in the experience despite not having a regular yoga practice himself and so upon waking on the morning of the Summer Solstice we were up and yoga mats in place. I set up some yoga music to accompany us on our journey and lit the incense. The children were still in bed and off we went.

Still being half asleep probably helped a little to begin with and having soothing yoga music in the background added to the ambience. My brain didn't feel alert enough to keep a mental note of how many rounds I was performing so I decided to keep a written tally to keep count and also to chart how I was feeling.

The first 27 rounds (a quarter of the total) in fact felt surprisingly okay. Only my neck felt a little uncomfortable at the start which I think was to do with going straight into the sun salutations from getting out of bed so I took care not to strain my neck during some of the movements. At this point I took the opportunity to change out of my pyjamas and into my yoga clothes - it was starting to get a little warm! We opened the patio doors to let some air through and continued.

The next 10 rounds brought with it a little discomfort in my wrists. This is a common complaint from my beginning yogis as sun salutations can be very strong on the wrists and shoulders. I don't usually experience it myself during sun salutations, but then again I don't usually do 37 rounds in one go! Approaching round 40 and I changed the music to more upbeat yoga tunes to help keep our flow going which helped a lot. At this point one of my cats came in and decided to join in the fun.

When I reached the half-way point at 54 rounds I was just under an hour into the practice and had a quick loo break and made a quick cuppa. My wrists were still protesting a little but not so much as to need to stop. At round 60 my elbows started to feel a little uncomfortable which is not a feeling I had ever experienced. All those transitions through to Bhujangasana (Cobra) and up to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog) obviously were starting to have an effect! Remembering of course that one round of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) is composed of one sequence performed on the right side and one sequence performed on the left. Thus by round 60 I had already performed 120 Cobras and 120 Downward Dogs!

At round 70 my other cat came in, by now both cats were hungry and wanting to be fed. I think this was fuelling their interest in our practice more than anything else! By round 81 (three-quarters of the way through) I was starting to feel the work in my back and legs now and had an incident tripping over one of my cats at this stage too! By round 90 my shoulders were aching, I was beginning to long for the savasana relaxation and our children had finally surfaced! Oh and I should add my elbows were now screaming at this point. My other half said at this point he was starting to feel trippy!!

Heading towards round 100 I found I was starting to really savour the pauses that each asana (posture) afforded rather than flowing through the sequence as I had done at the start. I started to really feel the amazing benefit that each separate asana gives. I enjoyed the stretch in my hip flexors when I stepped back into a lunge, I savoured the heart-opening sensation when moving into Cobra, I relished the lengthening of my spine in Downward Dog and the calm release when hanging in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold). I felt truly able to appreciate the beautiful sensation that each posture gives your body.

The final 8 rounds were performed - quite frankly - in sheer pain and a desperate longing for the "finish line". I was now experiencing intense pain in my elbows and wrestling with the knowledge that I ALWAYS tell my students they should stop when they experience pain, however, I was so close to the end of the practice that I went against my better judgement and pushed through the pain. As much as I attempted to avoid using my elbows I discovered how clearly impossible it is not to use your elbows fully when performing Sun Salutations!

When I reached the final round - just under two hours since I had started - I felt instantly calm. I sat down on my mat, stretched out my sides a little and did some gentle twists then took my place in the long-awaited and much cherished savasana. How wonderful that felt - the sheer bliss of truly deserved relaxation.

By the time we had enjoyed our relaxation it was still only time for breakfast and it felt so amazing to realise what we had achieved with our morning. The rest of the day was spent almost in sheer disbelief at what we had accomplished. Much discussion ensued about how we felt but there was an overriding feeling that something special had happened.

Today, the day after, I ache ALL OVER. Everything is sore - but good sore - and I clearly used every single muscle in my body. However, beyond the physical aches I feel like a shift has occurred. The 108 sun salutations are performed to mark the shift from one season to another and as such are traditionally performed at the time of the Summer and Winter Solstice and can also be performed to mark the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. For me, I really do feel that performing this Yoga Mala has marked a shift in me too. It has shown me that I can achieve what I set my mind to, it has shown me that my yoga practice runs deep and is not just something I do but who I am, that it is an inseparable part of me. Performing these sun salutations has shown me I have strength and commitment and I feel I am moving forward into the next part of the year on a really positive note.

Would I do it again? Yes, definitely! I'll be back on my yoga mat for the next 108 Sun Salutations to mark the Autumn Equinox in September and I look forward to it...

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