Letter to the Editor: Keep healthy by bowing rather than shaking hands

Kelley Weaverling demonstrates “gassho” at The Reluctant Fisherman. (March 5, 2020) Photo courtesy of Amy O’Neill Houck

What gesture can introduce calm, show respect and connect people while possibly mitigating the spread of disease? According to Kelley Weaverling, leader of Cordova’s Pathless Way Zen Community, it may be as simple as a bow with hands together. “People realize the handshake or hug is a cultural norm and that this is a good time for some distance,” he says reflecting on the fact that the movement might be new to people. The World Health Organization is currently recommending a “social distance” of approximately six feet. With that in mind, adopting a different way of greeting could be both hygienic and fun.

The bow is Weaverling’s standard greeting, and he says it’s almost universally met with acceptance. “They stick a hand out or open their arms, I bow with my hands together. Usually I don’t need to say anything.” He says he always steps back in preparation to bow, “Stepping back is not stepping away from aversion, but so we don’t bonk heads.” In Japan, he says, putting palms together is called “gassho.” In yoga, it’s sometimes called “angeli mudra.”

Cultures in many parts of the world use a bow as a greeting. Weaverling says it feels good to show respect, and that feeling is reciprocated by those you are greeting as well. He says “It’s also a small bit of isometric exercise and a small bend and stretch. Bend forward, exhale, straighten up, inhale.” He says it could even be considered “mini Tai Chi” or a “super-mini sun greeting,” referring to yoga sun salutations. “It’s probably the most common greeting in the world,” he says, “at least in the numbers of gesturers.”

Amy O’Neill Houck