Bowing is a part of every culture. It’s a sign of respect and humility. Bowing can be supplication or an honoring. When we bow we feel a presence, we sense another dimension to life.

Bowing is a very serious practice. You should be prepared to bow, even in your last moment.

— Shunryu Suzuki

Bowing is especially prominent in India, Thailand, Laos, China, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Vietnam. Its essence is universal. Whether in prayer, religious service, as worship or veneration, bowing is one of humanity’s universal postures.

We bow our heads with specific emotional states as well, such as shame, begging, embarrassment, hiding.

There’s bowing even in sports: Starting positions at track runs and swimming, football and basketball huddles, during national anthems.

It’s interesting that the human body is designed to bow in several ways. We can bow only our heads. We can bow the head and top of torso, or all of the torso. We can also lay on our stomachs with legs and arms extended, flat on the ground for a full bow, or a semi-full bow by touching forehead to ground while sitting on the knees. We can bow sitting down or standing up.

By bowing we are giving up ourselves. To give up ourselves means to give up our dualistic ideas…

When everything exists within your big mind, all dualistic relationships drop away. There is no distinction between heaven and earth, man and woman, teacher and disciple. Sometimes a man bows to a woman; sometimes a woman bows to a man. Sometimes the disciple bows to the master; sometimes the master bows to the disciple. A master who cannot bow to his disciple cannot bow to Buddha. Sometimes the master and disciple bow together to Buddha. Sometimes we may bow to cats and dogs.

— Shunryu Suzuki

Dancing too has many, many instances of bowing and similar movements. In the Sufi’s dance, the head is tilted toward the heart.

Bowing helps our body and mind become one very easily. It also builds awareness moments in the day, little spaces of mini-meditation and remembering.

Perhaps the bow we need the most is the one we can make to ourselves. This isn’t important in a self-aggrandizing way. Only that in a society where there’s so much self-hatred, hatred in general, bullying, bias and false ideals set by so-called influencers, our relationship with ourselves is unsteady, self-blaming, critical and dishonoring.

Learning to make that first bow to ourselves is perhaps a step to realizing that a bow is just a bow, a simple gesture where all ideas of ‘self’ and ‘other,’ ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy,’ fall away.

— Christina Feldman

To bow is to change one’s orientation. It’s both a going in and a finding spaciousness.

It removes us from dependence on our head and brings a focus to the heart. The physical motions of joining palms at the heart, dropping head or torso, kneeling and bowing, and full prostration on the floor all lead to quiet, introspection, peace and harmony.

Even without the physical movements, bowing practice establishes the ability to mentally stop and acknowledge or recognize.

This has applications in conflict resolution, healthy governance, working for global solutions and so much more at a systems level. Therapy, healing, recovery, mental health, wellness, self-development at a personal level are some areas where stopping for moments of recognition or appreciation is made more real and memorable.

Bowing brings about the realization that there’s more unity in life than division and separation. We begin to see that a stranger suffers as much as we do and celebrates with laughter, just like we do. There’s a sense that the common good for people and planet is often difficult to choose but absolutely the right one.

… if even a few individuals simply try to create mental peace and happiness within themselves and act responsibly and kind-heartedly towards others, they will have a positive influence in their community.

— Dalai Lama


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The Practice of Bowing