Over the past couple of weeks, the number 108 has been everywhere in my life. I just returned from leading a yoga retreat in Bali and brought back some Mala necklaces consisting of 108 beads. I also hosted an astrology event with Leslie McGuirk of Lucky Stars Astrology and began researching how the number 108, astrology, yoga, pranayama, chakras and meditation all intertwine.
If you’ve ever wondered why this number is considered holy and auspicious in many cultures, the following are a few points of interest for you to ponder.
Yoga: Sanskrit, the ancient language of yoga has 54 letters. Each has masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Shakti). 54 X 2 = 108
Mala Necklaces: Sometimes referred to as prayer garlands during meditation, the beads of the mala are used to count the number of repetitions of a mantra, 100 are counted as completed. The remaining are said to cover errors or omissions. The 8 are also said to be an offering to God and Guru. At the end of the necklace is a larger bead, called a meru that is not part of the 108. It is not tied in the sequence of the other beads. It is considered a guiding bead that marks the beginning and end of the mala.
Chakras: In the subtle anatomy of the body, the chakras are energy lines. The heart ( Anahata) chakra which is considered the fulcrum point where the physical body meets the spiritual body is said to have a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path to Self-realization.
Lucky Stars: Astrology is based on the planets and stars, there are 12 houses and 9 planets. 12 times 9 equals 108. There are 12 constellations, and 9 arc segments called chandrakalas. 9 times 12 equals 108. Chandra is moon, and kalas are the divisions within a whole. In relation to the sun and earth, the diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance from the Sun to the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun. In relation to the moon, The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Moon.
Meditation and Enlightenment: In a state of deep peace that occurs when the mind is silent, if you are able to be so calm in meditation as to have only 108 breaths in a day, enlightenment will come.
Pranayama: In the art of yoga breathing, Hatha Yoga estimates the average number of breaths per day at 21,600, of which 10,800 are solar (Surya) energy, and 10,800 are lunar (Chandra) energy. Multiplying 108 by 100 is 10,800. Multiplying 2 x 10,800 equals 21,600.
There are many other auspicious meanings of the number 108, showing up in chemistry, math, religions and even Pop Culture. I’m reading a book called The Martien by Andy Weir, about a space odyssey. I discovered that a Soviet cosmonaut named Yuri Gagarin manned the first space flight on April 12th, 1961. Guess how long the flight lasted? 108 minutes.