At my weekly gentle Iyengar class (taught by the fabulous Liz Owen), we get beautiful, contemplative gems during the meditation periods at the beginning and end of class.  One week it might be a visualization of our vertebrae as shining pearls of energy, suspended inside our bodies in perfect alignment.  Another week it might be bringing consciousness to our hearts, going deeper into our inner bodies as our outer bodies completely and deeply relax.  Or, we might direct our breath into the openness that our yoga practice creates in our bodies.

I so love and look forward to these moments in class, but afterwards, Liz often asks us to bow our heads to whatever it was that we just meditated on.  That, I can’t do.

Bow to the openness that you’ve created.  Bow to the light in your heart.  Bow to the energy that holds you up. 

When she asks us to do this, I always close my eyes and take in the meditation, but I keep my chin even.  I don’t jut it out any higher than it naturally sits, but neither do I lower my head.  I don’t know where this comes from, but I have this instinctive averse reaction to bowing in any spiritual context.  In me, it triggers not the gentle humility the gesture is meant to evoke, but an unnecessary submissiveness–and, in the case of bowing to my own heart, a jolting hubris.

There is one exception to my no-bowing instinct–I do bend my knees and bow my head during the Aleinu prayer in synagogue.  I’ve struggled in a big way with my Jewish identity over the past few years (Click here if you want to hear the crazy story of why.).  But when I do find myself in synagogue, I immediately reconnect–even if momentarily–to the faith through that prayer.  I can’t say why–probably some combination of the lilting melody, the humble praise of God, the feeling of community when the whole congregation moves in unison, and more.

I share this not to say that I wish we weren’t asked to bow in yoga class–on the contrary, one of the best parts of a trustworthy, wise yoga teacher is that her students feel free to do as instructed or create your own experience within the general shape of the class.  But I do wonder if anybody shares my feelings about bowing, and where that comes from for you?


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