Korean Templestay – 108 Prostrations

In the past I have been invited to teach for yoga mala’s which are events where participants do 108 Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar.) Teachers guide students through traditional Sun A and/or B, or through variations of both. It is both challenging and rewarding to push yourself to perform all of the sequences and as a teacher it has been fun to be creative and come up with variations. Although I have taught and participated in a few yoga malas, I never really knew what that number 108 was all about.

Recently, I took the opportunity to participate in a Korean Templestay. Templestays are little nightly or weekend getaways to a Korean temple. They are geared towards foreigners visiting or living in the country. During the stay, participants experience a brief monastic 24 hours (give or take.) At my templestay I wore simple cotton pants and a vest (worn over a T-shirt as showing shoulders is a big no-no at Korean temples,) ate and experienced the process of eating a monastic meal, attended two Buddhist ceremonies, made a strand of mala beads, and did 108 prostrations.

The Beads

Making the mala strand of beads felt a little bit like a summer camp activity. The other 20 or so participants and myself gathered in a beautifully painted room, sat upon meditation cushions, and were given little kits which included rough wooden beads, thick string, and a small metal tool that was to be used to push a better hole into the bead if it hadn’t been properly punched out.

While we made the malas our guide asked questions of us about Buddhism, such as what are the six offerings people bring to temple (I remember four of the six – rice, incense, flowers, fruit.) The guide/translator also explained that the beads were made of cedar which gave them a strong scent. According to her the scent is offensive to mosquitos and helps ward them off – bonus!

The number 108 was also explained, but in a mathematical-windy way reminiscent of conspiracy theories that add, subtract, and multiply to find their way to a meaningful number that supports their case. I’m not good with numbers in any sense, so unfortunately those numbers went in one ear and out the other. The following morning after stringing the beads we performed the 108 prostrations in the main hall and that’s where the magic happened.

108 Prostrations

After an opening ceremony of tycho drum, chant, and a few introductory bows, we began the 108. As I mentioned, the event was for foreigners; none of us were Korean speakers and the monks didn’t speak English, so during the bows they played a youtube video that gave a meaning to each bow. At first the video was offputting because the anouncer had a very cultish, deep, monotone voice, but what was being said by him was actually quite moving.

Reasons for bows came in groups. For example, for six or so bows there would be reasons about repenting. This is a rough memory, but a few  that I remember went something like this: “I prostrate in repentance for ever having taken my family for granted.” Then it continued with the same, “I prostrate in repentance for ever having taken my friends/nature/teachers for granted.” Another theme I remember was gratitude for similar topics: “I prostrate in gratitude for all the teachers that have touched my life,” for example. Having the sound of the video going, which visually displayed monks in monk like settings, helped the bows go by more quickly and gave them meaning.

Physically I didn’t find the bowing to be taxing, minus the speed. We bowed to the count of the youtube video which runs around 25 minutes, about 20 of those minutes being the actual bows. Doing 108 bows in 20 minutes is quick. The bows were similar to Sun Salutations and were performed by bending at the knees, hands at prayer at the chest (Namaskar,) lowering the knees down onto a meditation cushion, placing the forehead on the cushion, and then going to standing again. I overheard other participants complaining of the difficulty of it; it might be that my consistent yoga practice made the act easier for me.

Full bow.

Full bow.

Here is the link to the video to listen to while performing 108 bows, or while you do your dishes, give it a listen.  The intro of the video is a child giving a little background to the number 108 and then it gets right into the creepy voice reading of the 108 prostrations. As much as that description is not enticing, I encourage you to listen, it honestly moved me into conscious reflection.

If you ever get the opportunity to attend a Yoga Mala or a Korean Templestay, take the opportunity. Through both you can learn a lot about yourself while participating in events that lie outside of your comfort zone. Coming soon will be a write-up of the monastic meal that was the highlight of the first evening at the temple.

The templestay that I participated in was at a temple named Hongbeopsa. It is north west of Busan and can be reached by shuttle bus or taxi from Nopodong Bus Termanl. Hongbeopsa generally hosts monthly cultural events for foreigners such as lantern making, tea ceremonies, and kimichi making. To find out more about their events follow them on facebook here.

Spring Equinox 108 Sun Salutations – Lesson in Discipline

Yep, you read that correctly, one-hundred-and-eight Sun Salutations. That was the number that a group of us in Busan, South Korea recently performed for the Spring Equinox to mark the arrival of spring. The number has significance, which I will not go into here, what I want to touch upon is the discipline required to perform such a feat.

It might be hard to grasp how big of a number that is in terms of performing a yoga sequence and in case you are not familiar with what a Sun Salutation is, let me first explain that. There are two primary, traditional Sun Salutations, known as Sun A and Sun B, or Surya Namaskara A and B in Sanskrit. They are routines of poses performed in a quick moving pace, one breath one movement. By their name, you may have guessed that they were traditionally performed in the morning at sunrise to salute the sun, giver of all energy. In western yoga classes they are still performed, but usually long after the hours of sunrise. If you’ve attended a yoga class, chances are are that you performed either, or both A and B as a warm up that begins the class. Typically a teacher guides students through 4-6 salutes as a warm up, and boy do they do the trick to warm up the muscles, so imagine how much heat is created performing 108!!


For this event there were six teachers who split the teaching. Each teacher had free reign as to which salute (A and/or B) and whatever modifications they wanted to add on. The first three teachers who taught added a lot of modifications to their sequences, which was a great workout and  a good mental practice. That first section was where the practice of discipline was really honed for me. Thoughts went through my mind such as,

“This is difficult, I wish I could take a rest, but no, keep enduring with everyone else!”

It truly helped to pump through the event with a group. We were all silently working towards the same goal.

You don’t have to be participating in a long event to struggle with endurance in yoga, in any yoga class or in your home practice, you might bump into big walls that try to push you down and defeat you. I have two views on how to react to those overbearing obstacles; first, succumb to the pressure and take a rest; second, kick up some dirt and plow through that bad boy.

To expand, during any physical activity it is good to be reminded and to remind yourself, that it is not necessary to overexert yourself. Not only is it not necessary, but it is generally not safe as injuries can arise. As a teacher, I remind my students to take child’s pose whenever they need to and I enjoy when I see students doing just that because I know that they’re listening to their bodies and giving themselves the rest that they need in the moment.

Saluting the sun.

Saluting the sun.

On the other hand, it’s also good to grit your teeth and go deeper.You have to ask yourself if you really need the break, or if you can push on and complete the pose or sequence (safely.) For if you always slumped into child’s pose instead of giving it one more go, you might never discover that you can accomplish a pose. Also, you wouldn’t be building the strength that comes with those trembling quads in your 42nd warrior pose of the afternoon.

After an intermission of moving entertainment by two fellow yogis, who perfored a stunning acro yoga sequence, we moved on to the last three teachers, I should mention that I was one of the teachers in the last set! At this event I was the final one to lead and for this reason, I switched my lesson plans up a little bit by removing all chaturungs to give achy wrists a break (did anyone just get Achy Breaky Heart in their head? If you didn’t, you do now!) Personally it wasn’t my wrists that needed the break as much as burning triceps! It was very rewarding as a teacher to be able to guide everyone through the final salutes and to give the cue of “Just three more.” and “Last one, you did it!” There were smiles and sighs at the completion of the event. And I’m sure we all learned a little something about ourselves in the push through those 108.


This event was organized by Kaizen yoga studio of Busan. It is the wonderfully talented and ambitios Mindy Sisco who has made the equinox and solstice events possible that I have been so fortunate to be a part of. Mindy and her business partner Simon have regular classes at their gym. Schedule and pricing can be found here.

Mindy and Simon of Kaizen.

Mindy and Simon of Kaizen.


Simon of Kaizen is credited with all photos of the Spring Equinox event used in this post.