Chapter Five: Mindful Prostration

In this chapter, I will explain a third technique of meditation used as a preparatory exercise before walking and sitting meditation. This technique is called mindful prostration. It is an optional practice, and may be omitted if desired.

Prostration is a practice common to followers of various religious traditions around the world. In Buddhist countries, for example, prostration is used as a means of paying respect to one’s parents, teachers or figures of religious reverence. In other religious traditions, prostration may be used as a form of reverence towards an object of worship – a god, an angel, or some saintly figure, for example.

Here, the prostration is a means of paying respect to the meditation practice itself; it can be thought of as a means of creating humble and sincere appreciation for the practice, reminding one that meditation is not just a hobby or pastime, but rather an important training worthy of respect.

More importantly, though, mindful prostration is a useful preparatory exercise, since it involves repetitive movement of various parts of the body, forcing one to focus on the activity at each moment.

The technique of mindful prostration is performed as follows:

1. Begin by sitting on the knees, either on the toes (A)[1] or on the tops of the feet (B).

2. Place the hands palm down on the thighs (1), with back straight, and eyes open.

Begin by turning the right hand ninety degrees on the thigh until it is perpendicular to the floor, keeping the mind focused on the movement of the hand. As the hand begins to turn, note ‘turning’. When the hand is halfway through the turning motion, again note ‘turning’, and when the hand completes the movement, note a third time ‘turning’ (2). The word is repeated three times in order to create awareness of the motion throughout all three stages of motion – beginning, middle and end.

Next, raise the right hand to the chest, stopping right before the thumb touches the chest, noting ‘raising, raising, raising’ (3). Then touch the edge thumb to the chest, noting ‘touching, touching, touching’ (4), while the thumb touches the chest. Then repeat this sequence with the left hand: ‘turning, turning, turning’ (5), ‘raising, raising, raising’ (6), ‘touching, touching, touching’ (7). The left hand should touch not only the chest, but also the right hand, palm to palm.

Next, bring both hands up to the forehead, noting ‘raising, raising, raising’ (8), then ‘touching, touching, touching’ when the thumbnails touch the forehead (9). Then bring the hands back down to the chest, noting ‘lowering, lowering, lowering’ (10), ‘touching, touching, touching’ (11).

Next comes the actual prostration; first bend the back down to a forty-five degree angle, noting ‘bending, bending, bending’ (12). Then lower the right hand to the floor in front of the knees, saying ‘lowering, lowering, lowering’ (13), ‘touching, touching, touching’, still keeping it perpendicular to the floor (14), this time with the edge of the little finger touching the floor. Finally, turn the hand palm down to cover the floor, noting ‘covering, covering, covering’ (15). Then repeat this sequence with the left hand: ‘lowering, lowering, lowering’ (16), ‘touching, touching, touching’ (17), ‘covering, covering, covering’ (18). The hands should now be side by side with the thumbs touching and approximately four inches between index fingers.

Next, lower the head to touch the thumbs, saying ‘bending, bending, bending’ as you bend the back (19) and ‘touching, touching, touching’ when the forehead actually touches the thumbs (20). Then raise the back again until the arms are straight, saying ‘raising, raising, raising’ (21). This is the first prostration.

Once the arms are straight, start from the beginning to repeat the entire sequence a second time, except starting with the hands on the floor, noting ‘turning, turning, turning’ as you turn the right hand (22), then ‘raising, raising, raising’ (23), ‘touching, touching, touching’ (24). Then the left hand, ‘turning, turning, turning’ (25), ‘raising, raising, raising’ (26), ‘touching, touching, touching’ (27). As you raise the left hand this time, you should also raise the back from a forty-five degree angle to a straight upright position. It is not necessary to acknowledge this movement separately; simply straighten the back as the left hand comes up to the chest (see 26).

Then raise both hands up to the forehead again, noting ‘raising, raising, raising’ (28), ‘touching, touching, touching’ (29), and down to the chest again, ‘lowering, lowering, lowering’ (30), ‘touching, touching, touching’ (31). Then bend the back again, ‘bending, bending, bending’.[2] Finally, lower the hands again one by one, ‘lowering, lowering, lowering’, ‘touching, touching, touching’, ‘covering, covering, covering’, ‘lowering, lowering, lowering’, ‘touching, touching, touching’, ‘covering, covering, covering’. Again, touch the thumbs with the forehead, ‘bending, bending, bending’, ‘touching, touching, touching’, and back up again, ‘raising, raising, raising’. This is the second prostration, after which a third prostration should be performed in the exact same manner, repeating the above one more time from 22.

After the third prostration, come up from the floor starting with the right hand as before, ‘turning, turning, turning’, ‘raising, raising, raising’, ‘touching, touching, touching’, and the left hand, ‘turning, turning, turning’, ‘raising, raising, raising’, ‘touching, touching, touching’. Then bring the hands up to the forehead again as before, ‘raising, raising, raising’. ‘touching, touching, touching’, and back down to the chest, ‘lowering, lowering, lowering’, ‘touching, touching, touching’. This time, however, instead of bending to do a fourth prostration, bring the hands down one at a time to rest on the thighs, returning them to their original position; starting with the right hand, note ‘lowering, lowering, lowering’ (32), ‘touching, touching, touching’ (33), ‘covering, covering, covering’ (34), and the left hand, ‘lowering, lowering, lowering’ (35), ‘touching, touching, touching’ (36), ‘covering, covering, covering’ (37).

Once one has completed the prostrations, one should continue on with the walking and sitting meditations in that order. It is important that as one changes position one should maintain mindfulness, not standing up or sitting down hastily or unmindfully. Before beginning to stand up, one should note ‘sitting, sitting’ (38), and then ‘standing, standing’ as one lifts the body to a standing position (39). Once standing, continue immediately with the walking meditation so that clear awareness of the present moment remains unbroken. In this way, the mindful prostration will act as a support for the walking meditation just as the walking meditation will act as a support for the sitting meditation.

During an intensive meditation course, students are instructed to practice all three techniques in this manner; upon completion, they are instructed to rest for a short time and then start again from the beginning, practicing round after round for the duration of the lesson, normally one twenty-four hour period. Once this period is over, one would meet with the teacher to report and receive the next lesson, including more intricate walking and sitting techniques.

Since this book is aimed towards giving the basics of meditation, advanced lessons will not be discussed here. Once one has mastered these basic techniques, one should seek guidance from a qualified instructor if one wishes to pursue the practice further. If one is unable to enter a meditation course, one may begin by practicing these techniques once or twice a day and contacting a teacher on a weekly or monthly basis to obtain new lessons at a more gradual pace, according to a regimen agreed upon between teacher and student.

This concludes the explanation of formal meditation practice; in the next and final chapter I will discuss how to incorporate some of the concepts learned in this book into one’s daily life. Thank you again for your interest, and again I wish you peace, happiness and freedom from suffering.


[1] Parentheses indicate a corresponding illustration in the appendix.

[2] From here, the technique is exactly the same as illustrations 12 to 31, performed for a second and third time.

Chapter Six