Solstice celebration: Salute the sun

At least in the Northern Hemisphere, June 21 marks the Summer Solstice– the beginning of summer and the longest day of the year. Since just about the beginning of human time, people around the world have celebrated the summer solstice– also known as Midsummer, Feast of Epona, All-Couples Day, Alban Heflin and Sonwend– in a variety of different spiritual and religious ways.
Ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes celebrated Midsummer with bonfires, which were believed to boost the sun’s energy and help ensure a bountiful harvest. Ancient Romans honored Vesta, the Roman Goddess of the hearth, in a special June ceremony at which even married women were allowed to enter Vesta’s otherwise virgin shrine.
In 21st-century Charlottesville, a growing number of people, many of them yoga-practitioners, celebrate the summer (and winter) solstice by communally saluting the sun–- 108 times. Whether you’re just curious to see such a sight or eager to join in the flow yourself, you should head on out to the idyllic Yoga Barn in Ivy for a special Summer Solstice Celebration on June 21 from 5-6:30pm.
How did this tradition of 108 sun salutations start? It apparently began as a New Year’s Day celebration a few years ago, but the original group-– which included yoga instructor and Solstice celebration organizer Jennifer Elliot-– had so much fun that they decided to do it on Equinoxes and Solstices as well.
“It has become a wonderful way to celebrate life and the changing nature of it,” says Elliot, who teaches at Studio 206 and is also instrumental in bringing some of the nation’s leading Ashtanga teachers– like Troy Lucero this week– to Charlottesville.    
Why 108? Well, because this number, like 18, is fundamental to Indian psychology and represents wholeness or completeness. There are, for instance, 108 nadis (subtle energy channels) that pass through the heart chakra, 108 names of Shiva, 108 books in the Mahabharata, and 108 beads on a prayer mala. The practice of 108 Sun salutations is known as a “Yoga Mala,“ with each sun salute acting like a bead strung on the thread of the breath. As anyone who’s done it knows well, it’s not easy to keep the mind focused on the breath for all 108 salutes. Enter community.
“When one loses the focus, there is the strength of others,” Elliot explains. “Hearing the sound of Ujjayi breath from others helps to bring us back to our own breath, to the present moment. The Yoga Mala is a wonderful way to experience the power of breath, of community, of impermanence, and assists us to be more fully present in each moment.”
If the breathing of others just isn’t enough to carry you through, don’t wilt. Local musicians Spiral Gypsy will be present to guide the group with their heartbeat-like rhythms. And once everyone reaches up to the sky for the 108th time, a bonfire will be lit outside in glorious pagan fashion and there will be much food and merriment on this Midsummer night.

Salute the summer at a special Summer Solstice Celebration with live music by Spiral Gypsy on Saturday, June 21 from 5-6:30pm at The Yoga Barn in Ivy (1040 Owensville Road). Bring a potluck dish to share around the warm light of a bonfire after the salutations. Call Jennifer Elliot with questions at 970-7890, or email her at tjelliot@earthlink.net.