Bowing Meditation Explained: Calming your Mind, Strengthening Your Body
For thousands of years, Asian cultures, such as that of Korea, have used bow meditation and other prostration exercises as part of their spiritual and physical practices. They were performed both as a preparation for sitting meditation, and as a meditation in their own right. Bow meditation was neither used as a form of worship, nor as a form of self-punishment. Practitioners did not bow down to anything exterior. Rather, they bowed in humble acceptance and deference to their own highest nature.
As Dahn Yoga founder Ilchi Lee wrote in his book Human Technology, “Bowing is one of the most humble and spiritual acts a human can perform. It is an action that simultaneously signifies acceptance and a deep understanding of and feeling toward its object. Moreover, through this action, we cast aside the narrow confines of the self and accept the energy of the universe.”
Japanese Zen master Shunryu Suzuki concurred with this view of bowing in his book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: “By bowing, we are giving up ourselves to the universe. To give up ourselves means to give up our dualistic ideas and become one. When you become one with everything that exists, you find the true meaning of being.”
Even today, many people engage in bow meditation—from Buddhist nuns in mountain temples to ordinary housewives. In one session they may perform anywhere from one bow to ten thousand bows. For instance, in his blog, Sumi Loundon writes about a friend of his in Korea who did 3,000 bows in one night.
On her blog, Sr. Ellie Finlay of the St. John’s Center for Spiritual Formation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, writes that bowing is good for “shifting very deeply ingrained habitual tendencies.” A repetitive full-body movement that involves strength, concentration, and balance, bow meditation is a means through which a person can become more aware of his or her thoughts, emotions, and habits, and through which they can reinforce or change them. It’s also a way through which the emotional heart can open, allowing a person to love and accept his or herself and others.
Besides its mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits, bow meditation also invigorates and strengthens the body. It’s a meridian exercise that strengthens the back and legs, warms the body (especially the lower abdomen), stretches the muscles, oxygenates and circulates the blood, and makes you sweat. As a stress reducer, bow meditation also enhances the immune system and generates a more positive and hopeful outlook on life. The health benefits are similar to those derived from Sun Salutations performed in Indian yoga.
Because of its advantages on multiple levels, many people even in Western countries practice this moving meditation regularly as a way to enrich and enliven their lives. In Dahn Yoga, bow meditation is not taught in the regular classes, but is often a part of special classes such as follow-ups to the Shim Sung workshop. And many Dahn Yoga practitioners do bow meditation as their daily meditation routine because it helps them calm their minds very effectively.