Building Community by Saluting the Sun: How rituals can be healthy for body & spirit

Tricia & Pamela celebrate as Anton photo bombing us
Those of you who follow me know that last year I participated in the largest Bikram Yoga class in the world in Time Square. Along with 4,000 plus yogis and thousands of tourists and New Yorker's looking on, I found my zen. I learned that day that in the middle of urban madness you can tap into your inner peace. As much as I was inside, I also felt amazingly connected to the men and women challenging their bodies in the sweltering heat.

This year when the owner of the studio where I practice Bikram Tricia Donegan announced that she wanted to start a tradition and celebrate Summer Solstice by performing this ancient offering, I jumped at the chance. With another amazing yogi, Pamela Herron, she lead a group of twenty brave ones through 108 yoga poses by the Hudson River just as the sun was hitting high noon.

The almonds counted 108 salutations
Why 108 sun salutations? Turns out 108 is a very auspicious spiritual and scientific number. Some of the more intriguing facts are: there are 108 names for Buddha, there are 108 beads int the Catholic rosary and the Tibetan prayer beads or the mala. The distance between the earth and the sun is approximately 108 times the sun's diameter; the diameter of the sun is about 108 times the earth's diameter and the distance between the earth and the moon is 108 times the moon's diameter.  Oh, 108 is six times the number 18 which is a Jewish good luck number... the significance of this number goes on and on and cuts across cultures. It gets more fascinating with this 108 number. Read Lauren Cahn's wonderful postings on it. 

But here's to why my post. As we were about to begin the 108 sun salutations Tricia explained what motivated her to organize the yogic ode: "I want to make community through yoga."  And so it is! You can build community through many ways -- volunteering to help kids, the elderly, the infirm, the formerly incarcerated, by helping the environment, and just about any cause. Saluting the sun on the day it stays with us the longest is one healthy and soulful way to build connection to others, yourself, and our planet. Thanks for reminding us ladies!

Eat, pray, love watermelon
At the end of the offering, it took under an hour and a half to complete the 108 salutations, Mike and John brought watermelon. And I thought about of my mentor's Susan Taylor's exquisite essay to the watermelon in her, "In the Spirit" column in Essence years ago. Susan reminded us that watermelon, a super fruit packed with all sorts of nutritional value--it hydrates, has vitamin C which helps boost the immune system, is an antioxidant, cleanses, among its many nutritional values--may have helped slaves survive the nutritional nightmare of the foods that they consumed. Since they had to eat all the shit the masters did not want -- pig, cow, goat and other livestock innards, etc. scholars believe that eating watermelon may have helped keep their bodies nutritionally sound because it served as a cleansing elixir. And so it was a special way to end our summer offering by eating the fruit of the gods.

Building community takes one bold step and inviting others to join you. Or, inviting yourself to join in. 

Rites that welcome the changing seasons are ancient and are found in every culture. When we have a "party" for a new season, we not only connect more deeply to nature--but the pause and recognition opens us to more intensely enjoy the new season's offerings. In other words, we become more present to the gifts of nature as it changes before our eyes. Celebrating seasonal changes gets you in tune with your body and how it wants to be fed and what is wants to do (Hello more light salads, watermelon, and outdoors!)

But, another wonderful benefit that I've also discovered since introducing salutes to nature is connection. Rituals build community. And maybe that is the essence of these public offerings.

If you haven't officially welcomed summer, it's not too late. It might be fun to start a special ritual with your kids, special friends, family members,  even strangers. Yea, tweet that you want to host a party for nature and watch how many people will show up. 

You can try the 108 sun salutations. Here is a video for beginners. Or if yoga is not your thing, you can hike, do a meditative walk in the park, a group jog by a river, if you are near a body of water and can swim, do a group dip, go for it.

Nature is waiting for you to partake in its beauty and help be the bridge to your and your community's connectedness.


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