Namaste - What does it mean, and how do we use it?

If Namaste means "Hello" then why do we say it at the end of a Yoga Class?

Have you ever wondered about the meaning of "Namaste" and its use in the yoga community?  Perhaps you have heard others discussing why we should or shouldn't use this word as part of our yoga classes. I would like to offer you my own unique perspective on this topic, as a white, American Yoga teacher living in India with my Indian husband. But first, let's take a look at the literal meaning of this word and its modern day usage. Then I will share with you my thoughts about this word and its place in my yoga practice. 

The word Namaste is said with the palms pressed together in front of the heart (anjali mudra) and accompanied with a bow of the head. Namaste is very commonly used today when greeting others, but it can also be used when parting. Although the word namaste is often used as "hello" and sometimes for "goodbye" the literal translation is neither hello nor goodbye. In Sanskrit the word namah means "to bow" and namaste means “I bow to you” The word namaha can also be literally interpreted as “na ma” (not mine). It has a spiritual significance of diminishing one’s ego in the presence of another. 

The bow I take at the end of yoga class after saying Namaste is for me the most sacred moment of my practice. I am not saying it out of habit, and not I am not saying it just because my own yoga teacher also ended classes in that manner. In a way, I suppose I AM using it as "Hello". Hello to your authentic self. Students arrive to class weighed down with their thoughts and worries. Stress clings to many of them almost as visibly as the dust of India sticks to my sweaty skin. Our yoga practice helps us to wash that away. I feel that yoga helps us shed what is no longer serving us. It helps us get to the root of who we are. Once we see ourselves clearly, then we are able to see others more clearly too. And then, in that moment at the end of class, after we have released sweat, and released tension and released whatever is not true to our best selves, then, in that moment of authenticity, we bow to each other. It is my way of saying, "I see you. I see who you are. Hello to your beautiful soul. Thank you for sharing this part of yourself with me." 

There is another reason why the word namaste and its accompanying bow is such a profound moment for me. I am not only bowing to each one of my students, but I also bow, with respect and gratitude, to the teachings of yoga. This is an expression of reverence. I set my ego aside and recognize that I am but a channel, a vessel, through which yogic wisdom flows for the benefit of others. I do not exalt myself as a teacher, but bow down as a servant, with a heart so full of gratitude that it overflows and often leaks out of my eyes as a small teardrop in that moment. How blessed am I to have studied these teachings and how fortunate to have the opportunity to share them with others. Gratitude, reverence, humility and joy are all contained in that one word for me. Namaste.

Now that I have explained the literal meaning of the word and described my own feelings about why I use it at the end of my yoga classes, I leave it to you to explore its meaning for yourself.  What it means to YOU is the most important consideration in deciding if you feel comfortable using this word in your own yoga practice. 


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