The word yoga comes from Sanskrit yuj, “yoking, joining together or unite” and by extension “harnessing of one’s mental faculties to a purpose” and thus “yoga.”
While teaching a retreat in India the kriya we performed called for 108 repetitions. The question came up, “Why did we do that 108 times?” My response was, “Because 108 is a sacred number.” It’s not the first time the question has been posed so here goes: 108 can be said to be a numerical symbol of yoga. The number is esteemed throughout numerous schools esoterically, and through 108, the union between the microcosm and macrocosm is depicted concretely.
The importance of the number 108 can be seen repetitively in astronomy and astrology:
- In Vedic astrology there are 12 solar houses and 9 lunar houses, 9 x 12 = 108.
- The diameter of the sun is about 108 times that of the diameter of Earth.
- The average distance between the Earth and the Sun is 108 times the sun’s diameter
In taking this universal element and applying it to the individual, you may notice that:
- Yogis do 108 sun salutations on solstices and equinoxes
- Tai chi chuan long forms are counted as 108 postures or movements.
- Meditators count mantra repetitions with mala beads of 108, (100 counted for self, 8 for mistakes and for those who have not the opportunity to meditate in mantra)
Why do we chant mantras 108 times?
Vedic sages believe outer cosmology should be mirrored or reflected
in inner cosmology of the human. They said the number of 108 units represented the distance from the body of the Devotee to the god situated within. According to Ayurveda (an ancient medical technique with roots in the Indian subcontinent), we have 107 weak spots (Marmas) and these weak spots are chained together form 108 links. This is why we chant 108 times, it represents the journey from our material self towards that of our highest spiritual self. Each chant is believed to bring you one unit closer too Gurudev the ‘Divine Teacher’ within. This means our soul has to make the journey through 108 stages to reach liberation (Moksha). When chanting the devotee starts the symbolic journey from the physical body to the heavens.