Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Zen Monk's Workout for Perfect Quads & Abs

I mentioned briefly that Russian River Zendo held its first-ever Full Moon Ceremony on New Year's Eve. What I failed to note was that I hobbled around like an old lady for two days after that.

The Full Moon Ceremony lasts about 20 minutes. It has all the fun Zen stuff - big bells, small bells, clappers, the inkan (another bell), and a kokyo script (for the chant leader) that would test Pavarotti. I showed up early for rehearsal, to "shadow" the doan (master of all the bells) and kokyo, with the idea that at some point in the future, I may be able to take on one of those roles. Also, since our sangha had never done the ceremony, Joan Amaral (our ino, person in charge of the ceremony for the night) thought it would be helpful to have one other person (me) who knew what was coming next, to help model for everyone else.

For the ceremony, you set aside your zafu, and use only the zabuton. The entire time, you are either standing, bowing, or sitting in chokei, which means knees bent, resting your weight on your knees and shins, with the rest of your body upright, in gassho (hands in prayer position). I have done some exuberant full prostrations at Tassajara, and also at our recent Rohatsu Sesshin, so I know that those bows can work up some body heat. But I had never sat in chokei before. It looked deceptively simple. But, whoa! It turns out that this posture requires some major quadriceps action! Between the bowing and the kneeling, I was warm, winded, and sore by the end of rehearsal.

And that was only the rehearsal. I had to do the whole thing all over again about an hour later, the real deal.

Don't get me wrong; it was absolutely fabulous. The ceremony, the sounds, the music of it all, combined with the physical movements: It was like being part of a dance. I loved it so much, that I can't wait to do it again. And I really want to learn the kokyo role.

But when I woke up the next morning, I groaned. My thighs felt like I had just gone through circuit training at the gym with a gung-ho 20-year-old fitness pro, after spending a year of sloth on the couch eating bon-bons and watching daytime soaps. It was that bad. My partner was in hysterics listening to me vocalize every time I had to either stand up from a chair, or sit back down again - equally painful.

I asked around via email, and it turns out I'm not the only one who got a workout. My buddy Malcolm Yuill-Thornton said he had just been saying to someone in his life that he was still "feeling the 'burn' from our prostrations." When I mentioned it to Joan, she sent this reply: "I call the full moon ceremony the 'quad and pec total workout.' Not for sissies!!"

So, coming as it did at this auspicious time of year when we're all setting goals for ourselves and turning over the proverbial new leaves...How about introducing the idea of a Zen Monk's Workout? I can already see the ad campaign on late-night TV:

"So busy you need to multi-task? Find spirituality and get fit at the same time! Just call this toll-free number. We'll send you a Full Moon Ceremony workout DVD and a zabuton for only $29.99! Call within the next 15 minutes, and we'll include a complete set of oryoki bowls, with detailed instructions on how to lose weight through the clumsy use of chopsticks. But wait! There's more! Tonight only, we'll also throw in a five-inch-high glow-in-the-dark statue of Buddha. Act now, and don't miss this amazing offer!"

Whattaya think? A money-maker, or what?


  1. This was so funny! Love the bit at the end.

  2. You tell it true! Sounds like me after our center's Nyung Ney retreat.