I recently began practicing prostrations as part of my daily practice. I haven’t accumulated many, about a hundred, but I really enjoy doing it and look forward to it when I practice. Prostrations are a small part of accumulating the refuge practice, which I may write about later. For now, I just want to write a little bit about practicing prostrations, or learning to bow.
Bowing is not a foreign practice to me. I practiced martial arts quite a bit in the past, so I’m used to bowing to my superiors and to images of past masters. Bowing in the martial arts serves as a way to show respect, while also wearing down one’s own pride and egotistical thought.
Even with all that past experience, it took me about three or four months before I finally began bowing to the shrine at my sangha when I go to practice. At first I abstained because I didn’t want to do it “wrong” and come off as being disrespectful. Then I realized that I felt a little silly about it. I knew that was just ego talking. If I made sure to bow to my superiors when at the dojo, how much more important was it to bow to the Buddha?
So I started practicing prostrations at home. I knew there were benefits to it. In addition to acting as an antidote to pride and arrogance, prostrations can help instill ideals like gentleness, appreciation, and respect. All things I value and have in my life or would like to have. I started out just doing five during each session, then ten, and so on. Right now I like to do twenty-five prostrations during each practice.
There are two ways to do prostrations: short and long. For short prostrations, you touch your forehead, your palms, and your knees to the ground. For long prostrations, you first touch your knees and palms to the ground, then stretch out to your full body length with arms and legs extended and touch your forehead to the ground. Whether you choose to short or long prostrations, make sure that you begin and end each one standing with your feet together and your hands at your heart center in the lotus blossom mudra.
Here’s a helpful video on how to do prostrations.