Happy Spring yogis! Yesterday was the spring equinox, or the first day of spring, when the length of the light matches the length of the dark, for those of us in the northern hemisphere. I celebrated the day, and the coming season of increasing light, with 108 sun salutations. 108 sun salutations are practiced by many yogis for different reasons, including marking the change of seasons, celebrating important dates or occasions, re-connecting to our practice, cleansing, detoxifying, optimizing energy flow in the body, and so many others. Here is a short vid of the last set of my 108 (you can tell it was the end and I was pooped by how hard I am breathing 😉 ).
What is up with the number 108? Well this number is considered sacred and significant in many different traditions from Ayurveda to astronomy, Buddhism, Hinduism, and others. And for those of you sports fans, I also learned from my teacher that 108 is the number of stitches on a baseball! As you know, sun salutations are combinations or sequences of movements in yoga practice that are meant to build heat in the body, and to create a moving meditation as we repeat these movements in concert with our breath. Sun salutations can be vigorous, and 108 is a big number, so practicing this can be challenging to body and mind. But the benefits of the practice can be so profound. Here are a few of the reasons I like to do it.
One simple one is to celebrate the change of seasons, and specifically for Spring, to welcome the increasing light and clarity as winter passes. Creating the habit of practicing 108 at the change of seasons just helps remind us to take a little time to recognize the changes, and what they might mean for us in our lives.
Many of you know, I love sun salutations for their moving meditative qualities. When I practice sun sals, I truly get lost in the harmonization of my body with my breath as I transition from one shape to the next. It is almost impossible not to be truly present in this place, as my thinking mind quiets to stillness.
Another important reason I like to practice 108 with some regularity is that is provides an opportunity for me to consciously recommit to my yoga practice. Like anyone, I occasionally find a little stagnation in my practice or lose motivation, and 108 always stokes that inner fire right back up and reminds me why I get on my mat, renewing my dedication and love for yoga.
Perhaps the most important reason I keep coming back to this practice of 108 sun salutations is the way in which it brings me face to face with the strength and resilience of my body and my mind. When I practice 108, I feel healthy, confident, and empowered, despite the scars, asymmetries, and limitations that my cancer treatment left behind. I was a little reluctant to share this video, as it so obviously shows my wonky chest, with one breast implant high and prominent due to fibrosis from radiation, and the other riding lower and highlighting the breast animation deformity (movement effect from the pectoralis muscle). While overall I am very grateful just to be alive and healthy, and I feel fortunate to have even been able to have bilateral breast reconstruction after my cancer treatment…. there is certainly still a part of me that feels “ugly” and “damaged” when I see myself in certain images or videos. However, when I watched this particular video clip after recovering from my practice and savasana, instead of those negative emotions, I felt love and compassion for myself. I felt full acceptance and even an embracing of all of my physical scars and imperfections, as well as my sometimes busy and judging mind, my self-doubt, my fears, all of it…. in other words I was able to welcome the whole catastrophe that is me (a reference to Jon Kabat Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living, a guide to mindfulness).
And THIS is the magic of yoga. As one famous yoga teacher Rachel Brathen so eloquently said, “The yoga pose is not the goal. Becoming flexible or standing on your head is not the goal. The goal is to create space where you were once stuck. To unveil layers of protection you’ve built around your heart. To appreciate your body and become aware of the mind and the noise it creates. To make peace with who you are. The goal is to love…. well, you”.
So for all of these reasons, today on the second day of Spring, I am devoted to continuing this yoga journey of growth and transformation, to continue to nourish and strengthen my body, heart, mind, and spirit.
My wish for you is that you find whatever practices or habits leave you similarly empowered and motivated to love and care for yourself as you recover from cancer and the effects of its treatment. It doesn’t have to be yoga or 108 sun salutations. It could be walking or painting, cycling or swimming, gardening or singing. But find what works for you. You owe it to yourself and you have the power.