You may have heard Namaste spoken at your local yoga studio or between two individuals. But what does this phrase mean? And why do we use it in yoga?
The Origins of Namaste
Namaste is a traditional greeting used in India and is often spoken with a corresponding gesture. This gesture is performed with the hands pressed together against the chest, palms facing one another, the head slightly bowed. In fact, it’s common for many to carry out this motion silently, as Namaste is implied in the gesture’s movements.
The word Namaste is a combination of two Sanskrit terms: namah (I bow respectfully to you) and aste (let there be). However, the literal translation is not nearly as important as the spirit of the greeting – a motion that is deferential, cordial and executed with grace and a certain humility. In India, Namaste may also be used in cross-cultural academic and business settings, although generally, the Western handshake has replaced this tradition.
The Meaning Of Namaste
In India, many regard Namaste as a colloquial salutation, a simple way to say hello and offer well wishes. It requires no touching and can be used between individuals of various social status, ages, and backgrounds.
But Namaste also has deep spiritual connotations. The word “Namaste” can indicate a belief between one or both parties in a “divine spark” that exists in all life. Many believe this divine spark rests in the Heart Chakra, the spiritual center of human compassion. When performed in this manner, Namaste becomes more than a polite custom, but an exchange in which one soul essentially recognizes another.
Namaste in Yoga
Cultural practices change as they are borrowed and adapted. This is especially true for Namaste and the way it is used in Western yoga. While Namaste is often heard at the beginning of interactions in India, it’s standard for Western yoga teachers to say it at the end of class. However, in yoga, Namaste is rarely a formality or simple salutation. It’s a mindful practice that taps into the word’s deeper spiritual meaning. When you say, “Namaste” in yoga, you recognize and pay homage to that divine spark which resides deep within all of us. In this context, Namaste has a very specific meaning. It translates to, “The divine in me honors the divine in you.” One acknowledges themselves and others as inherently spiritual beings. By recognizing we are all part of the same divine creation, we see that we are all equal and one. We shed our egos, and instead, attempt to connect to one another through a shared sense of love and gratitude.
Other translations of Namaste:
You may find that different yoga teachers offer different translations of Namaste, though all capture that vital sense of reverence and oneness. Other translations include:
“I honor the place in you which is love, light, and peace.”
“I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells.”
“The light that is in me honors the light that is in you.”
“I bow to the divine within you.”
“I salute the divine within you.”
“We are one.”
Using Namaste In Your Practice
When a yoga teacher says “Namaste” at the end of class, it’s common for students to respond in kind. Though no one is obligated to participate, you may discover that saying “Namaste” with heartfelt intention imbues your practice with a sense of peace and deep meaning. Not only does it help you be present, it encourages gratitude and love for yourself, for your teachers, and your fellow students. It’s also a mindful way to conclude your practice, reminding you to take the patience and strength from your session and carry it with you long after you’ve left the mat.
While it takes a mere moment to say “Namaste”, many strive to embody its meaning in all aspects of their lives. Some like to wear Namaste jewelry outside the studio as a beautiful reminder to live in a spirit of reverence and honor. You can also outfit your home with Namaste wall art or decor to give your space a sense of warmth, letting others know that they’re welcome and respected.
How to Say Namaste
When reciting “Namaste” at the end of a session, close your eyes and let your palms softly join together against your chest. Notice the sensation of your hands on your physical body, keeping in mind your own precious heart and inner spirit. Sense the presence of those around you as well as your teacher’s. Take a moment to silently thank yourself and them for their hard work and for the opportunity to practice together. When saying Namaste, you may say it as loudly or softly as you please, as long as it feels genuine.
Like any powerful word, Namaste carries importance that extends beyond its literal definition. The more you use it, the more you may notice that it doesn’t just influence your yoga practice, but the compassion you hold for yourself and others. Namaste!