Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bowing for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit

From early age Koreans are taught to bow. Children at their parents prompting are told to greet the guest with a formal body bow a 'saebae'-- bow shown on the left, given during the beginning of the New Year. There are different bows for different occasions, bows given with different meanings, bows by women and by men. The meaning of the bow is determined mostly by the degree of the head moving down to the waist the most formal being the one on the floor, the whole body bow. All the bows of what ever kind show respect for the other and are the traditional Korean greeting similar to our handshake.

My first assignments in Korea I saved my handshaking for foreigners and took to bowing. However, gradually I began to notice that the handshake was more common among Koreans than the bowing, so I also switched to handshaking. Last year because of the flu scare we decided to bow, but at present we are back to the shaking hands again. On many occasions the handshaking accompanies the bow.

Bows can be just a lowering of the head towards the person greeted, you may bow more formally by lowering the body to the waist or the most formal bow where one gets on his knees and gives the body bow. One priest mentioned giving a retreat in which he recommended that those making the retreat give body bows each morning to the 103 Korean Saints. The retreat master was told a year later that the improvement in health of the members of the community was extraordinary.

The priest has written an interesting article telling the reader of the benefits of bowing--the formal bow that you do on your knees with the head on your hands. The craze in Korea at present is for 'well being', yoga, deep breathing, aerobics etc.. For health of both body and mind there is nothing that can compare with bowing, it doesn't cost anything, can be done anywhere anytime in the privacy of your own home was the priests strongly worded advice.

In his own house the priest mentioned there is a draft because he is using the ondol (heated floor). When the draft is too much for him he will get down on the floor and do some bows and then returns to his work when his body feels comfortable. He is able with the bow to overcome the cold, digestion is helped, the nape of the neck becomes soft, the whole body because light. This is not all, the mind is rested and the body regains strength. When you are bowing this way daily and have your head touching the floor you get rid of selfish thoughts, and the poison of pride vanishes.

There are many ideas on how to maintain health of body and mind. This recommendation was another to add to all the others that I have received over the years. This suggestion somewhat different from all the others doesn't cost anything, and it works on the principle that what your body does often influences the spirit. In this case with your head resting on the floor the hubris of life takes on a completely different meaning.

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