Summer is officially here, my friends, and this morning, I ushered in the summer solstice the only way I know how: by rolling out my yoga mat and honoring the arrival of a new season through fluid, mindful movement. However, I didn't flow through my usual practice; instead, I decided to try out a yogic tradition that's incredibly challenging to both the mind and body. Instead of simply partaking in one of my standard routines, I did 108 sun salutations for the summer solstice, and spoiler alert: It was just as extra as it sounds, and what's worse, literally nothing went according to plan.
If you're wondering how the heck I arrived at the number "108" (because damn is that a lot of sun salutations), rest assured, it wasn't a random choice on my part. The number 108 is actually a very sacred symbol in the yoga community, one that often appears in ancient texts. According to YogiApproved.com, the number 108 "symbolizes universal love, eternity and awakening," and many yogis like to use a necklace of 108 mala beads during a yoga flow or a meditation session. Additionally, in Ayurveda, which is a type of natural medicine used to bring the body into balance, there are 108 sacred points on the human body.
And finally, if you want to get super scientific up in here, the distance between the sun and the earth is 108 times the sun’s diameter, making it a truly significant number, especially on the day of the summer solstice.
All that being said, 108 is still a pretty big freaking number, guys — especially in the context of sun salutations. In case you don't know, sun salutations are done as a sequence of poses that strengthen and lengthen every part of your body, building heat and warming you up for the rest of your yoga practice. There are eight yoga poses in one sequence (mountain pose, upward salute, standing forward bend, low lunge, plank pose, four-limbed staff pose, upward facing dog, and downward facing dog), and it's all about moving through each asana as they seamlessly flow from one to the other.
Anyway, even though I knew that doing over 100 sun salutations in a row was going to be a challenge, I was genuinely excited to wake up and greet the summer solstice in such a special way. So you can only imagine my disappointment when I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to sync my salutations with the tangerine-colored sunrise, only to discover there was literally no sunshine in sight, but plenty of rain to replace it.
Despite the dreary weather, one of my best girlfriends and I decided to make our way to a local beach on Long Island. We were both determined to complete our sun salutations, rain and lack of sunshine be damned.
Side note: Thanks to all the rain, my original photos and video footage of our sun salutations were completely blown out and ruined. But because i am the most extra yoga teacher that has ever lived, I went ahead and recreated the salutations on my friend's balcony — 'cause there's nothing quite like doing more sun salutations after you've already completed 108 of them, right?
Anyway, back to what it was like saluting the "sun" at the crack of dawn, on the beach, in the pouring rain. It might sound like a pretty dreadful scene, but after rolling out our mats, breathing in the fresh air around us, and closing our eyes while the chilly drops caressed our skin, it actually felt really nice and meditative. The sounds of the ocean mixed with the gentle pitter-patter of the rain made for a lovely backdrop to our physical, heat-building meditation. The salty breeze sent shivers down our spines, and we couldn't help but laugh at how ridiculous it was that we were standing out in the rain at 6 a.m. to greet the sun, even though it apparently did not want to greet us at all.
After 20 sun salutations, I have to admit, I started feeling pretty tired.
During sun salutations, you basically do a push-up (aka "chaturanga" in Sanskrit) in between each sequence of poses, and to put it lightly, my arms were feeling like flimsy ramen noodles about 20 push-ups in. To make sure we didn't give up on the challenge, my friend and I decided to take quick meditation breaks whenever we started to feel winded.
After the first break, we began flowing again, making it all the way to 50 sun salutations. I tried to picture the rain drops falling on my back as little pats of reassurance from the universe, telling us we were exactly where we needed to be in that moment. It was really incredible to feel that connected to nature, especially because I never would have thought to take my yoga practice outside in this sort of weather in any other case. In fact, I kind of started feeling grateful for the rain at this point (although that may have been my exhaustion talking).
After another meditation break, my friend and I planned to power through all the way to 80 sun salutations, but we had to break again at 70 because of a little medical curveball: I have a heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia, which is basically a really wordy way to describe an unusually fast heartbeat. It's not life-threatening, but when I can feel my heart really racing (which typically happens only during intense exercise), I have to listen to my body and chill for a bit, or else I run the risk of fainting. Usually, I just wait until my heart skips a beat and the rhythm returns back to normal, but I was a bit flustered in the moment because all I wanted was to keep flowing and reach those 108 sun salutations.
This little setback, though frustrating, taught me that sometimes, life just doesn't care about your plans — and that's OK. Sometimes you just have to improvise.
After about 10 minutes of rest (and lots of water), my heartbeat returned to its normal rhythm, and my friend and I finally completed the 108 sun salutations. Victory!
It's safe to say our arms are going to be sore AF for the rest of the week (if not longer), but honestly, I don't even care. The experience was well worth the pain, and I've never done something like this in my life. I proved to myself I really am capable of just about anything, as long as I'm dedicated to sticking it out to the end.
All in all, everything that "went wrong" during the summer solstice — the rainy weather, my phone deciding not to record a single, visible image or video, and my heart spazzing out at the worst possible moment — really showed me that my yoga practice never fails to teach me something new. And today, yoga taught me that not everything in life will always go according to plan. But I'm strong enough, both mentally and physically, to weather any storm that comes my way.