Namaste is a vital Sanskrit word to yogis worldwide. It comes from two words: namas (I bow), and te (you), so the most literal translation is “I bow to you”.
When we say Namaste, we bow our heads slightly forward, with our hands pressed together in front of the heart chakra, or the breastbone. We align fingers to fingers, palm to palm, with elbows extended directly out, in prayer position. This gesture alone means Namaste, but the verbalization of the word often accompanies it.
In the southern regions of Asia, Namaste can be a casual social greeting. Used as such, it has a wide variety of implications related to social status and level of respect shown to the person you are greeting. It can also acquire a more formal tone as the setting dictates.
In my yoga experiences, we have always spoken Namaste at the end of class, while bowing forward, seated at the front of our mats. Some teachers open their class with Namaste, as well. In addition to “I bow to you”, there have been other, more poetic and longer translations offered, such as:
- We are one.
- We are equal.
- Your spirit and my spirit are one.
- I greet that place where you and I are one.
- I honor the Spirit in you which is also in me.
- The light within me honors the light within you.
- The deep space of joy within me honors the deep space of joy within you.
- All that is best and highest within me salutes all that is best and highest within you.
- I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, light, peace and joy. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are one.
When I say Namaste, the meaning doesn’t stop at any of these things. Both as a teacher and as a student, I am also saying “thank you for coming to class today”, “thank you for allowing me the opportunity to practice with you”, and “I am grateful for yoga and all it has to offer, and I am blessed to have shared an hour of it with you”. We already know that yoga means union, and Namaste is a beautiful way to seal our union before leaving class.
Most importantly — what does Namaste mean to you?