The mala beads that are commonly found around the necks of yogis and yoginis have 108 beads. Why might you ask? Here are some brief explanations of the use and importance of this number:
1, From the planets: The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance from the Sun to the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun. The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Moon.
2, From Ayurveda: there are 108 ‘Marma’ points that are vital for giving life to living beings. These are similar to acupuncture points.
3, From yantras: The powerful Sri Chakra yantra intersects in 54 points each with a masculine and feminine quality, totalling to 108
4, From vedic astrology: there are 12 houses and 9 plants. 12 times 9 equals to 108.
5, From Tantra: it is estimated that every day we breathe 21,600 times out of which 10,800 are solar energy and 10, 800 are lunar energy. Multiplying 108 X 100 is 10,800.
6, From Indian dance: The famous saint Bharata wrote “The Natya Shastra” which has 108 karanas (Movement of hand and feet). This is the source of classical Indian dance.
7, From the Sanskrit language: There are 54 letters in Sanskrit each can be mentioned as masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Shakti) aspect, totalling to 108.
9, From numerology: 9 times 12: Both of these numbers have been said to have spiritual significance in many traditions. 9 times 12 is 108. Also, 1 plus 8 equals 9. That 9 times 12 equals 108. 1, 0, and 8: Some say that 1 stands for God or higher Truth, 0 stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 stands for infinity or eternity.
10, From mathematics: Powers of 1, 2, and 3 in math: 1 to 1st power=1; 2 to 2nd power=4 (2×2); 3 to 3rd power=27 (3x3x3). 1x4x27=108 108 is a Harshad number, which is an integer divisible by the sum of its digits (Harshad is from Sanskrit, and means “great joy”)
12, From indian folklore: There are said to be 108 earthly desires in mortals. There are said to be 108 lies that humans tell. There are said to be 108 human delusions or forms of ignorance. Some say there are 108 feelings, with 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future.
13, From chakras: The chakras are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path to Self-realization.
14, From nature: The sacred River Ganga spans a longitude of 12 degrees (79 to 91), and latitude of 9 degrees (22 to 31). 12 times 9 equal 108.
16, From chemistry: In astrology, the metal silver is said to represent the moon. The atomic weight of silver is 108.
The Meru bead is a larger bead, not part of the 108. It is the guiding bead, the one that marks the beginning and end of the mala. Traditionally this bead is never crossed. On completion of one round of mala, you change direction for the next round.
Japa is the silent repetition of mantras whilst touching the 108 individual mala beads.
So there is a lot more to the number 108 and significant history to its importance in yoga.
(Adapted from an article that first appeared on www.sanskritimagazine.com)