Anyone who has taken a yoga class before probably heard the instructor saying “Namaste” at the end of each class.
What happens at the end of a yoga class? The yoga instructor, sitting cross-legged, presses their palms together, takes a deep breath, bows reverently, and says “Namaste.” The dutiful students mimic them and say Namaste back in unison.
Ending the class with Namaste is so common in yoga that no class is ever complete without the ritual. But lately, yoga instructors are more careful about when, why, and how they use the word Namaste.
So, does Namaste mean what you think it means, and are you using it incorrectly? The Sanskrit term may have a deeper meaning than you initially think. Let’s explore what Namaste means and its significance in yoga.
What Does Namaste Mean?
To understand the word’s literal meaning, you need to first learn about its composition. Namaste is a Sanskrit word made with three words, Namah, As, and Te.
Namah translates to bow and has similar meanings as respectful salutation and adoration. In the second part, As means “I,” the pronoun, whereas Te translates to you. Thus, Namaste means “bow I you” or “I bow to you.”
Namaste is a greeting; some may even call it the Indian or Sanskrit equivalent of hello. However, it carries more respect for the other person.
Throughout India and in the world of yoga, Namaste is a way to show respect to someone and honor their existence.
Common Translations of Namaste
- My soul recognizes your soul
- We are the same, we are one
- The divine in me honors the divine in you
- I honor the place in you where the universe dwells
- When you and I bow to our true nature, we are one
- The bow to the place in you where there is light, joy, and love
The Spiritual Essence of Namaste
In the yogic context, Namaste is the Sanskrit way to say, “The divine in me honors the divine in you.” The term’s sentiment of honor and respect makes it important for yogis to say.
They firmly believe that yoga is about digging deeper into the meaning and intention behind what you say or do. After all, yoga is more than outer forms; it is a lifestyle.
You may wonder what the “divine” is. According to the Hindu belief, god resides inside everyone. Therefore, Namaste acknowledges the holy presence of god in another person and reveres it. It may also refer to the soul inside a person. Therefore, your soul honors another soul when you say Namaste.
Bowing your head and saying Namaste is more than marking the end of a yoga class/session. The greeting is a spiritual revelation you acknowledge on your end and is felt in the receiver’s spirit.
When a person greets another with the feeling that they are paying reverence to another’s soul, Namaste becomes more than a hello. The greeting creates a spiritual emotion that resonates throughout all of the individuals present.
Therefore, Indians and yogis use Namaste to pass positive energy to others as the chakras and heart centers also connect.
Namaste, According to the Tantrik Philosophy
Namaste is a concise Sanskrit word that captures several teachings. Another teaching associated with the term comes present in the Tantrik philosophy.
The term recognizes that all are one. Namaste represents the idea that humans are made of the same thing. No matter how we look on the surface or feel on the inside, we all are not so different.
According to Tantrik’s philosophy, all that exists makes one divine consciousness longing to be experienced in different forms.
The belief teaches that forgetting is human nature, but this fact remains true. Each thought, feeling, and experience is an expression of the Divine awareness that all humans share.
Feelings of separation, inferiority, and superiority can make humans forget their divine consciousness. As a result, they suffer in their spirit, which harms their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Therefore, spiritual practices like greeting with Namaste are critical to remembering your reality and who you are.
How to Say Namaste?
Americans tend to attribute a short “A” sound to the vowels, emphasizing the last syllable in Namaste. So, the pronunciation results as nah-mah-STAY.
However, the more accurate and correct pronunciation is nuh-MUH-stheh. You need to place more emphasis on the middle syllables, and pronounce the “A”s with a short “U” sound. Training your mind to treat the “A”s like “U”s is not so complicated, and anyone can master it in a short time.
Furthermore, saying the last syllable is also often a struggle for American English speakers. It begins with “ST,” a relatively familiar sound for South Asians.
As compared to its English pronunciation, “ST” produces a much softer sound in the word Namaste. The significant difference lies in how you pronounce the “T.”
Instead of a hard T sound, the T in Namaste produces a sound similar to “TH.” When saying the last syllable, your tongue should touch the back of your front teeth, creating a clipped lisp.
Nevertheless, you should not feel for saying Namaste correctly. If you’re making an honest attempt, Namaste will still be just as significant. Make sure you give your best and feel comfortable when saying it.
The Namaste Gesture
As we already discussed, Namaste is more of a salutation than a simple greeting at its core. The word is a traditional Indian greeting that pays respect to others.
Since it means “I bow to you,” a physical gesture of bowing also accompanies the greeting. Synonymous with its meaning, people in India and yogis press their hands together and slightly bow in the Anjali Mudra pose or prayer position.
In India, family members, relatives, and people on the street acknowledge one another with the Namaste gesture. Children and youth press their palms together and reverently bow their heads to pay respect to their elders.
The Anjali Mudra pose, and Namaste greetings are very common in yoga, and are a sign of respectful greetings. But what is the significance of the Namaste gesture? According to the belief, when you bring your hands together in front of your chest, the flow of divine love, compassion, and kindness increases inside the heart.
Similarly, bowing your head and closing your eyes signifies surrender to the divine power. Doing the Anjali Mudra pose represents your gratitude for life and honor for your soul and others. However, you can also keep your eyes open and gaze into the eyes of the other person when saying Namaste.
Here is how to correctly practice the Anjali Mudra position.
- The palms and fingers should touch.
- Both your thumbs should join in front of the brows or chest
- The body should slightly incline forward
- Your head should bow (slightly touching your pressed palms or the tip of your fingers, not necessary)
Namaste vs. Namaskar
You may have heard some people use Namaskar interchangeably for Namaste. While Namaskar is more common in India as a greeting, many yogis also use the term at the end of their classes in lieu of Namaste. By most accounts, using the terms interchangeably is not wrong. In fact, both Sanskrit terms are used to pay respect to and express honor to another person.
They also have similar meanings. Like we divided Namaste into three syllables, Namaskar breaks into two words. The first syllable, “Namah,” translates to “salutation,” whereas the last syllable, “kaar’ means “doing.” Put these meanings together, and Namaskar translates to “I pay my salutations.”
While the meanings are similar, many theories surround the terms regarding when to use the terms correctly. For the most part, Indians believe that anyone can use Namaste at any time, but a few rules apply to the use of Namaskar.
For example, Namaskar is a term for greeting multiple people and is more often used for highly respected and influential people. It is also more common for spiritually significant persons (think about the ”Surya Namaskar,” i.e., greeting the sun god).
Why You Should Say Namaste
Whether you believe in the spirituality of Namaste or not, the Sanskrit word is a sweet way of greeting someone. It helps express your respect and best wishes for the other person.
Additionally, if you pay attention to the meaning, saying Namaste provides you with the opportunity to see and acknowledge the virtue in someone. Furthermore, it is used to affirm equality, unity, and oneness in humans. Therefore, the bowing gesture is a common practice among most south Asian cultures.
Do You Feel Uncomfortable Saying Namaste?
Many people may not feel comfortable during certain yoga practices, such as chanting Om or saying Namaste at the end of the class. The common reasons behind this discomfort include:
- You still haven’t grasped the whole meaning of the Sanskrit term
- It feels inappropriate or culturally insensitive
- The meaning does not align with your spiritual belief
- You can’t pronounce Sanskrit words correctly
- You think you don’t know enough about yoga to understand the meaning fully
If you’re uncomfortable saying Namaste in a yoga class, you can stay silent or just bow. Alternatively, you can whisper another recitation or phrase that has a similar meaning. Or, you can meditate on Namaste’s meaning in your head while your yogic mates end the class with the Namaste.
Practicing Namaste in Yoga
If you were to encapsulate the spiritual traditions of yoga in one word, it would probably be “Namaste.” The Sanskrit greeting term represents the essence of unity and oneness, and everything else that yoga practices.
Typically, yoga instructors do not prefer telling people whether they should or should not use the Sanskrit greeting. However, yogis encourage thoughtfulness when they evoke Namaste in class.
Yoga teachers suggest students learn about this Sanskrit term and acknowledge that it has a deeper meaning in Indian culture, Hindu religion, and Tantrik philosophy. Yoga instructors that use Namaste often do so at the end of each class. However, many others may practice the greeting at the beginning too.
At the beginning of a yoga session, Namaste typically means a respectful greeting and welcome. When the session ends, the energy is more peaceful, and students’ minds are less active. In these cases, Namaste becomes a greeting used for gratitude.
In typical yoga settings, the instructor initiates the Namaste greeting and gesture, inviting the students to follow. The students may say it back to honor the instructor, thank them, or for relief that the class has ended.
In yoga, Namaste is a message of peace and spirituality that allows yogis to connect with their students, allowing the truth that we are all one.
Significance of Namaste in Yoga
Here are some reasons why the Sanskrit greeting is becoming more popular in yoga.
Greeting for the Soul
As already discussed, Namaste is a greeting from one soul to another. Hindus use this greeting term in India with the Anjali Mudra pose for religious reasons. They say Namaste and bow down to honor the god that resides in the other person.
Many assume that yoga is a form of exercise that also helps maintain physical health. But the truth about yoga extends far beyond its benefits like keeping you fit. Yoga uses meditation and breathwork to improve physical, mental, and spiritual health. Practicing yoga also helps improve emotional well-being.
When talking about the soul or divine power, yogis refer to the inner light or the elevated part of a being- the spirit.
Connects the People
Since yoga highly focuses on the soul’s health, Namaste becomes a way to connect with people. The greeter and receiver’s souls experience a connection when using the greeting after understanding what it means.
All yoga sessions and classes end with the corpse pose or Savasana. But, Namaste is the real way that yogis will close out their classes. Many yoga instructors believe that the Namaste gesture allows them to connect with their students.
Whether a student is a beginner or an advanced yogi, the instructor can connect with their soul and gather a deeper understanding of them. Yoga teachers can fully see their students when greeting with the Sanskrit term at the beginning of the class or saying goodbye with it.
As such, Namaste strengthens the relationship between the students and the teachers as everyone, as everyone repeats the greeting in unison. It also makes new students feel included and respected as Namaste honors them and values their presence.
Establishes Equality among Everyone Involved in the Practice
Following the previous point, Namaste greetings and gestures establish equality among everyone in a yoga session. It signifies that each student has the same respect as the yoga instructor.
Usually, the instructor says Namaste when a session ends, and the students repeat it in unison. During an ongoing yoga class, the yoga instructor is the leader in the room- the superior party.
When the students and the teacher connect deeper, they see one another’s capabilities and consider them equal. Not forgetting, Namaste also allows each student to feel equal to another in group yoga classes. Whether one is new to the practice and the other has been practicing yoga for years, they become equal when whispering Namaste at the beginning or end of the class.
Things to Remember the Next Time You Say Namaste
Here are some things to keep in mind when saying Namaste.
1. Spiritual Connection
Merely saying Namaste will not have the same benefits as saying it with understanding. It is critical to creating a spiritual ring around you if you want to experience the power of this Sanskrit greeting. When you feel the meaning of Namaste, it exudes positive energy, benefiting you and the receiver.
2. Lack of Physical Contact
Lack of physical contact in this form of greeting is a primary reason for increased positivity. According to the yogic belief, physical contact increases the chances of transferring negative auras and energies. For that reason, a spiritual connection is more valuable than a physical one.
What Happens During Namaste Yoga?
Usually, at the end of a yoga session, the instructor bows in the Anjali Mudra pose and greets the student with Namaste. The students mirror the actions to mark the ending of the class.
How Do You Practice Namaste?
Pronounced as Nuh-MUH-Stheh, Indians and yogis speak this greeting with a slight bow in the Anjali Mudra pose (prayer position). You should press your palms together, take a deep breath and say Namaste while bowing forward.
Beginner yogis don’t often get the meaning of Namaste and may even feel uncomfortable practicing the greeting. But, learning the meaning can give a better understanding of the practice.
In this article, we have explored the meaning of Namaste, its benefits, and the significance of the practice.