Ever since we were little, we were told by our parents, teachers, and elders to “stand and sit properly.” Well, what’s the proper way to stand and sit? The ancients had a marvelous verse to describe how we should walk, stand, sit, and recline:
Stand like a pine;
Sit like a bell;
Walk like a breeze;
Recline like a bow.
If we can stand as tall and erect as a pine tree and sit as firmly and steadily as a great bell, then we’ll have a natural air of dignity and vivacity, which gives us an extraordinary presence. However, most people, whether they are sitting or walking, love to lazily lean to one side, slouch over and hunch their backs, or stand with their weight supported on one leg so they can extend one foot out sideways. When they lie down, they sprawl with their four limbs out in the shape of the Chinese character for “big” (大). People think these are comfortable positions, but actually, not only do they look unpleasant, they end up with deformities of the spine and buttocks. Incorrect posture is not only unsightly, but is the cause of all kinds of disorders.
Due to the stress and work pressures of modern life, headaches, dizzy spells, and backaches have become habitual ailments; the pain killers people take soon lose their effectiveness and only add to the suffering. Later, research indicated that all these ailments stemmed from an unhealthy spine, and that an unhealthy spine was due to incorrect posture in reclining, sitting, standing, or picking up or carrying things. That’s when foot massage and acupressure became very popular, and spinal nerve specialists were widely consulted. However, many people soon discovered that while the results were not nil, their condition would sometimes improve and sometimes regress; they hadn’t cured the root of the problem, because they hadn’t corrected their bad posture. Therefore, if one’s posture in walking, standing, sitting, and reclining is not proper, not only will one have bad comportment, but one’s health will suffer.
However, if one only sits and stands erect, yet one’s actions are clumsy and rough, one cannot be considered a refined person. The next two lines really put it well:
Your half-bows should be deep and full,
and your full bows be made with respect.
The word “deep” refers to the depth of our sincerity when we bow; bowing is more than just putting our hands together and bending at the waist. “Full” refers to the elegance of our bowing; it should neither be affected nor rough. The ancients used the phrase of “a jade tree in the breeze” to describe a person who is tall, stately, and handsome, and whose movements are gentle and gracious. Truly an apt description! Someone who is neither hasty nor slow when he walks and whose gestures are always naturally just right, like a gentle breeze, will give people a cool and refreshing feeling, like a jade tree waving gently in the breeze--how refined and carefree! This is what it really means to be “cool.” Today many young people not only hold the rules in contempt, but are very casual and sloppy in their manners; this is a total misconception of what “coolness” really is!
When Confucius was advanced in years, he once went to visit an old friend, Yuan Rang, with whom he had grown up. What kind of person was Yuan Rang? Ever since he was young, he was a rascal who had never listened to his parents; when he grew up he didn’t do anything to make a living, and so when his mother died he could not afford to give her a good funeral. Confucius went to help him prepare things for the funeral. When he noticed Confucius’ hands, which were white and delicate, he started thinking of improper things and humming a frivolous tune, totally forgetting about his mother’s death. Being that kind of person, he of course had not achieved anything worthwhile in his life, and was not loved by anyone in his old age. Yet Confucius didn’t forget his old friend and would visit him occasionally. That time, Yuan Rang had lazily stuck out his two legs and looked like a live dustpan waiting for some trash as he squatted by the door waiting for Confucius. This made Confucius really angry, and he knocked Yuan Rang on his shins with his staff, scolding him, “You! When you were little you didn’t know how to be filial to your parents or kind to your siblings. When you grew up, you didn’t do anything praiseworthy. In your old age, you’re still as rascally as ever! What’s the point of living so long? Have you no shame at all?” Even Confucius, as kind and affectionate as he was, couldn’t keep from giving him such a round scolding, which goes to show how ugly it is to sit with one’s legs spread apart. Squatting with one’s legs apart doesn’t look good, and neither does wriggling and squirming when one walks. Some girls think moving their hips back and forth as they walk makes them look seductive, so they are always trying to imitate the way a model walks on stage. They don’t realize that they really look like ducks and turkeys! How pitiful these people are, blinded by their ignorance!