Bowing is old-fashioned, some say. It's an Asian tradition. It's an action of subservience to lower one's head before another person. Who knows what can happen when you lower your head hoping that the other won't lop it off!
That's a brief history of opinions about bowing. It's actually an action of humbleness to the very core that you can feel comfortable closing your eyes for the time it takes to bend over with complete trust that your life will be preserved when you stand upright!
Bowing is out of fashion in many circles, perhaps, but I say bowing is honorable. It is a graceful and peaceful show of acknowledgement and respect. Monks bow with hands in supplication. (Some prostrate themselves completely to the ground!) Some people in this country bow to each other and they really don't know why. I started doing it, however, because I am surrounded by others who do it often. Anjali mudra: the palms together at the end of the yoga class. "Namaste," we all say.
It appears customary in American yoga classes to bow with palms together and "namaste" at the end of it. It is not this way in India where yoga started, but it has become an American yoga custom nonetheless.
So, I was teaching several classes per week, and took classes, too, so I was bowing up to seven times per week. Then when I started going to a Japanese Buddhist temple, and you know Japanese people bow every time they see you and say to you with cheerfulness, "O hai yo! Go zai mas! Good morning! Welcome back!" So then I was bowing a lot more often.
Over the next year, I was bowing to everyone I met, in addition to the traditional western handshake: over 30 times a week! By now, it was becoming a habit, but I didn't ever forget the meaning of what I was doing. My yoga practice with others, in group classes, had ingrained in me, "the light in me sees the light in you." To me that means that I have a shining light within, and you also have a shining light. While we may appear different, and I may know nothing else of you at all, I have respect for you as a human being with full potential to become enlightened. We come from Spirit, we are of spirit, and we will return to Spirit, and this feeling is contained in my simple gesture of a bow.
This includes people who don't even know they HAVE a light! So you can imagine I was asked by folks why I bow, and that's what sparked this writing. I may bow when I meet you. I will shake your hand as well, as is customary in business and formal greetings. Just know that I have adopted this custom of bowing which reflects my respect for you and your light within, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or whether you know your light is shining within. I can see it even if you don't.
Kristen Fewel, Yoga Educator, Reiki Master
Full Circle Yoga & Healing Arts