Celebrating spring equinox while also giving back to the local community
The sun sits low in the sky, the morning air is still cool. People begin to arrive, yoga mats over their shoulders, hair still wet from the shower and water bottles or coffee cups in their hands. An altar is set up at the front, the river its backdrop. A carved Buddha sits in the centre already surrounded by an assortment of personal belongings -a set of wedding bands, a mala, a crystal and a family snapshot.
So began the 2019 inaugural Sun Salutations Challenge, held by Yoga Joy Saigon to mark the Spring Equinox and raise money for The Little Rose Warm Shelter, a charity that rehabilitates girls and young women at risk or survivors of sexual trafficking in Vietnam.
Saturday March 21st 2020 will be the second annual challenge, held at Riverside Residences in Phu My Hung District 7. The event brings together dedicated yogis and newbies alike, with no prior knowledge of yoga necessary to take part.
So what is the Sun Salutations Challenge?
This practice is traditionally observed by the yoga community to celebrate the change in seasons. People come together to complete 108 sets of Surya Namaskar—more commonly known as sun salutations. This is a sequence of 12 poses that anyone who has done yoga will no doubt be familiar with. The whole event takes about 60 to 90 minutes, with an instructor leading the group and calling out cues for each pose. Modifications and rests are encouraged for those who need them, making this a truly inclusive event.
Why 108 sets, you may ask? Well, the number or numbers 108 hold a lot of significance in the yoga world.
- 1, 0 and 8 respectively refer to higher truth, emptiness or completeness in practice, and eternity or infinity. Together, the numbers connect the whole universe.
- There are 108 sacred sites throughout India, according to yogic tradition.
- The average distance of the Sun, Moon and Earth is 108 times their respective diameters.
- The Sanskit alphabet has 54 letters, each with a feminine and masculine form, adding up to 108 total.
- Prayer beads or mala have 108 beads.
From a spiritual side participation in a 108 challenge is unforgettable. The silence of the group as each person works through their own challenge is electrifying. There may be soft music in the background and the cueing of breath by the lead instructor, but underlying that is a quiet, contemplative hush, similar to what you experience in a temple or church.
To harness all that energy being created by the kind of people who choose to get in the early hours for this challenge, an altar sits at the front or centre of the group. Participants are encouraged to bring something special to them to place on the altar, both to offer personal encouragement throughout the challenge, and to be ‘charged’ by the positive energy created by the group.
Do I Have to Be a Yogi?
All that said, the challenge is not a religious event, and plenty of participants are not regular yoga students. They may attend to help out a charity, support local businesses, or simply challenge themselves mentally and physically. Basically, the ‘woo woo’ side of yoga is there for those who want it, and not forced down the throats of those who don’t.
As for fitness, the pace is slow enough that individuals unfamiliar with the sequence can follow the instructor and other students. The lead instructor will offer more gentle modifications that people can take (for example, taking knees down for chaturanga -high to low plank) as well as encourage anyone to rest in Child’s Pose if they’re feeling tired.
For an indication of physical exertion, the Sun Salutation Challenge has been described as more of a 5km race than a marathon. However, the length of the event (more than an hour) means that your mind will be put through a similar experience to longer races. The beauty of the 108 Challenge is battling the tedium of repetitive poses, challenging yourself to find peace in your breath and see each set of 12 poses as its own hurdle to complete. Many people feel themselves entering a trance-like state as their body takes over, repeating the sequences as the mind meditates.
The Yoga Joy Sun Salutation Challenge is the only one of its kind in Saigon, offering like-minded people the chance to come together and challenge themselves for charity. Mats are available for those who don’t have one, and a charity raffle follows the challenge with a range of prizes from local sponsors including Saigon Suds, Pom Pom, AMP, I am Kendell, Malt South, Simrans Bakery, Pho 24, Highlands Coffee & Aldo.
Images Provided by Yoga Joy Saigon
Join the event on facebook at www.facebook.com/yogajoysaigonadultprograms/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The registration fee is VND500,000 with all proceeds going to charity. March 21, 2020; 8-10am; Riverside Residences (Nguyen Luong Bang, Phu My Hung, D7)