“How many times do I repeat…” comes up a lot in the list of things people searched to get to this blog. Here are some guidelines I use … perhaps other people will chime in with their own.
First, what is the purpose of repetition? I can think of several reasons I’ve had… meditation, heat production, increasing flexibility, devotion, finding flow… Each reason calls for its own guidance.
On the low end, sometimes I’ll repeat poses or vinyasa twice on each side because I find more release on the second round. If I hold an asana, come out and then find my way back into it, I often find more opening on the second repetition, even more than simply holding the posture for the same total length of time.
In the Ashtanga series, you begin a practice by repetitions of Surya Namaskar A & B at least four times each (I’ve been taught differently by different teachers, perhaps an Ashtanga Teacher will give us specific guidance) for the purpose of creating heat in the body, often referred to as Tapas (this is a small aspect of tapas – heat, focus, fire). I have taken this into my own practice and often will start my standing practice with at least four repetitions of whatever version of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) I’m currently exploring, simply to create heat in my body and focus in my mind. I’ll go to twenty if I’m looking for a particularly cardiovascular sweat.
Finally, the traditional number of repetitions for either Surya Namaskar or Mantra Repetition is 108. There are myriad explanations for the specialness of this number, some are very mathematical (resolution into the Pi function), some rely on symbols attached to numbers it is divisible by… The one that has meaning for me is that the heart chakra according to Indian physiology has 108 nadis – or energy channels – running out of it. So, when you repeat something 108 times you are energizing each one of these connections, paying special attention to the connectedness of the body.
In the end, as with everything else in life and yoga, repetition has more to do with conditioning the body or creating a state of mind. The number is a bit arbitrary except that it’s something you set as a signpost for yourself. You bind yourself consciously to something meaningful of your own choosing: this is and leads to true freedom.
Remember Moonymaid’s full formula: Rhythm, Persistence, Patience. Even more important than the number we choose: how we conduct ourselves towards ourselves on the way.