No more Namaste at the end of class!
As someone who’s grown up greeting elders and respected visitors with “namaste,” I found it really odd as I delved deeper into a yoga practice to end practice with saying “namaste.” I remember air hostesses in Air India and Jet airways flights beginning their pre-flight shpiel with “namaste;” clearly, we were not just getting out of svanasana at the end of a yoga class. Any time my family and I greet another Indian we are meeting for the first time, we greet them with “namaste.” It has a really beautiful meaning, yes, but it is a pretty formal way to greet someone. Usually if I am greeting another Indian or Hindu, I will use a more colloquial greeting.
If I did not feel authentic when saying namaste, why did I continue to do so? I mean, it means something totally different to me, to my culture and to an entire nation of over a billion people. After some introspection, my 2 answers for continuing to say namaste at the end of my classes included knowing that it was basically a fad in Western yoga studios, and that I was taught to do so in my teacher training. No one would really address why we said that word or what true meaning it held. I realized that I did not have a good reason for saying this greeting at the end of class.
So I stopped.
I think no one’s really noticed, though a few students have said it at the end of class to me, and I have obviously reciprocated the same sentiment. In my preliminary research, I was not able to find when and where this practice of closing out a yoga class with Namaste started. If you find any information, please do comment below or use my contact page to start a dialogue. When did this become a yoga thing?
If I were to take a stab at that question, I would say namaste became a yoga thing because it has such a profound meaning; people seek a connection to something greater and something spiritual through yoga. However the way certain Indian things have been inserted haphazardly in a yoga practice and appropriated, I feel the meaning of these cultural gestures has been lost. Therefore, I am going to try to stay on topic just talking about Namaste and not delve into the gargantuan task of addressing yoga from a Hindu’s viewpoint.
Namaste is derived from Sanskrit and can be broken up into two parts:
Namah + te
Bow or reverential salutation + you
Literally, it means “I bow down to you,” and for a lot of Indians, it will also mean “The divinity within me bows down to the divine within you,” referring to the belief that we all have divinity within us.
Sanskrit is considered one of the oldest languages, it has influenced many languages (English and Latin for example), and it really is where Hindi (and many other Indian languages) is derived from. To see more on this, I love this Khan Academy video on YouTube that takes a quick glimpse of Sanskrit's connections to English. Furthermore majority of, if not all, Hindu scriptures are written in Sanskrit. These scriptures embrace ideas of peace, community, family, and adhering to one’s dharma. It is from these same scriptures that Patanjali was inspired to write his sutras, which are considered as dogma in yoga practices today. Side note: Patanjali’s Sutras in fact only became popular in the 20th century. Don’t get me wrong. Patanjali was still revered as a great philosopher and yogi in Indian history. The teachings of the Bhagwat Gita really is what dominated yoga practices for many years, as it describes concepts of bhakti yoga (yoga of devotion), gnana yoga (yoga of knowledge), and karma yoga (yoga of law of action). But I digress…
Every Sanskrit word and every syllable has a meaning. Every Sanskrit word and every syllable has a vibration that comes with it's pronunciation. These vibrations and meanings have withstood thousands of years. So of course these words are going to mean something now. Of course these words are going to resonate within you somehow. These vibrations have been within our ecology for so long that it's really not surprising that words like namaste mean something to everyone, even now.
By the way, it's pronounced "namas-teh" NOT "nama-stay." So please stop with the "nama-stay in bed," "nama-stay bitches," and "nama-stay at the bar." It took me weeks to get why everyone thought it was so cute and funny. I don't say the Sanskrit words the same way. Pronunciation matters.
Usually with the Namaste greeting or yoga salutation, there’s also a gesture of folded hands or anjali mudra. This gesture is used in so many cultures for generally the same reasons: to show respect or humility towards the other person, or to bow down in prayer. The word “anjali” in Sanskrit means a divine offering or salutation, and “mudra” means seal or sign. So, anjali mudra will mean a salutation seal.
For me, the challenge of seeing appropriations arises when you start realizing that yoga, Indian culture, and Hinduism, which technically is not religion but really a way of life (this should be a mind blowing knowledge bomb, and I’ll leave this topic for another day), are so intertwined that it is hard to separate one from the other. Many practices and mantras from all categories describe an internal power that you have, but these also come from our very ancient doctrines. I cannot simply just go into a yoga class now and watch certain practices become popular because they are cool and yogic, or because someone started it and people followed suit without knowing why.
Am I advocating that people stop saying it, or that yoga is just a big form of cultural appropriation? Absolutely not. Just understand that these words and phrases have very profound vibrations within its syllables. The asanas and gestures used within a yoga practice date back to at least 400 CE. The ideologies that inspired yoga date back to at least 1100 BCE. Words like namaste mean something more than just something that’s said at the end of yoga class. They come from a culture that dates back to at least 1100 BCE.
Namaste is divine in its meaning, not because it's related to yoga, but in our greeting we are acknowledging the Divinity and goodness within the other person. With that, I encourage you to treat your fellow man (yes, even that annoying friend or coworker) with the same idea that divinity does indeed reside within them, even if it’s at some infinitesimal level.