The first time I took a live yoga class, at age 12 or 13, I remember hearing some strange, prayer-like, exotic word come out of my teacher’s mouth. Everyone echoed it back, and it made me uncomfortable. It didn’t stop me from going back, but I did kind of feel “left out,” as I didn’t know what they were saying, what it meant, or if it was the name of a god or other deity. Frankly, it sounded kind of religious, and I was definitely not into god-stuff at that point in my ’tweendom.
When my teacher told me the meaning of Namaste in yoga (“I bow to the god within you”) and how to pronounce it (Nah- Mah-Stay), it didn’t necessarily make the phrase any easier for me to embrace. But the social pressure of “call and response” soon won me over. I attended very small classes in Santa Fe, and any non-compliant Namaste’ers would be very obvious to the teacher and other students. At first it barely rolled out of my lips, a garbled rumble of vowels with slight hiss in the middle. I had no way of knowing that a decade later, I would be the one at the front of the room offering the same salutation to my classes.
As a teacher of Yoga Tune Up®, I don’t front-load my classes with too much Sanskrit. I prefer speaking Latin and talking about body parts and bio-mechanical phenomena. So I tend to go light on the Sanskrit, especially when there are new students, because a part of me does not want them to feel intimidated by the words. Trying to get your body parts to move correctly is hard enough!
However, over the years I’ve picked up a few more definitions that have made it okay for me to say Namaste:
1. “The divine in me acknowledges the divine in you.”
2. “The sacred in me respects the sacred in you.”
3. “The light within me reflects the light within you.”
4. “Greetings.” (I really like this one!)
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[reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life.]
It’s interesting to me. I was introduced to yoga in an ashram at 16 and had the same experience of feeling left out but I was intrigued by the secret language and I wanted to learn it. Also, as a yoga teacher to small children I have adopted namaste to mean hello. In it’s simplest form, that really it. Hello, fellow soul of energy. I see you. I acknowledge you. I feel good about namaste. I also feel good about OM because it’s science that sound is a vibration that has neuro-implications. It’s a vibration that creates stillness. I think there is a way to not loose the sanskrit and keep the latin. They are both so incredibly interesting ways to learn by using the roots.
As a teacher, I think that it is important to be aware that not all students are going to know why we om or say namaste, and make sure that everyone knows that it is optional. It can be very intimidating for someone new to yoga and can make them feel left out. The first time i experienced chanting rounds of om at my first day of 200 hr yoga teacher training it was honestly hard not to laugh. I have never lead an om and i personally prefer not to chant om, I just listen to the vibrations. I think that it is important for students to know that it is not required but completely optional and you will not be judged for not participating.
With teaching older clients, they want to participate but they need to know What Exactly they are saying and WHY. Its important for us as teachers to convey the roots of the information so people can understand why they are doing something. Then it is Their choice, an empowered choice.
Funny…I have that problem with chanting “OM” in the classroom, (although I have found myself at Kirtan several times) LOL! I can recall the first time someone said Namaste to me, I was in Nepal for the first time. Coming down the stairs of the Shangri-La Hotel, a employee was coming up the stairs & had a flower is her hand, she clasped her hands together & offered me her Namaste…..I felt her heart touching mine. It was both beautiful & surreal.
Interesting! I always loved the word, and the meaning, and never gave it too much thought… But lately have been paying attention, and see that many yoga people don’t say it.
Thank you for this. As a practicing Christian, saying and chanting in Sanskrit were tough for me at first. I do not believe in the gods and religious aspect posed by the more traditional aspects of yoga instruction. I do not feel comfortable in talking about half-man and half-monkey gods as anything more than fun myths.
My faith also is deeply serious about not praying to idols, having other gods, or believing in any other form of salvation.
However, I have become more comfortable with chanting and saying “ohm” in classes as long as I keep in perspective that I am submtting myself to the community spirit; not necessarily submitting to religious doctrine. I like your apprach of using Latin as it is more technically correct and perhaps, more welcoming of people who might be uncomfortable with any religious association.
The divine in me acknowledges the divine in you isn’t my favorite just because of obvious reasons… hahaha… but for acting as a reminder that we are all – equal in the divine – part of the divine. None is superior – None inferior in the divine realm. Today I teach you, tomorrow you teach me while we all grow because of the unique perspective we bring.
Thank you… Namaste !
Thanks for this post. I personally love Namaste and I love to read the meanings you are presenting to us. I always forget what it means and I love forgetting it’s meaning. To me Namaste is neutral in a way because it’s not an english word, because I keep forgetting it’s meaning. It is neutral to me because I have no point of reference for this word except for the humble and so loving vibration that all the teachers that use it put into it. And I can feel this vibration. I love namaste because it tought me how to perceive an intention behind a rubbish sounding word. To me Namaste is an excuse to offer and share an intention between teachers and students by using a word that doesn’t have any everyday life connotation. It’s not an english word, it’s not literally HI, not literally GOOD BYE, not literally I LOVE YOU or COME BACK TOMORROW or SEE YOU NEXT WEEK or THANK YOU. Namaste acts as a bridge that carries a sweet intention lying deep inside of us when we bow to our teachers and reply Namaste. I love Namaste!
Ah, Namaste. I always find it more engaging when I’m leading, or taking, class and a definition is provided (like the ones you have listed). It both activates me as a student when I hear a definition preceding “Namaste,” and activates me as a teacher when I speak it.
I started teaching a group of beginner students recently, and have been thinking about this very topic. Just as you said, I want to be clear with language so that my students can focus on the actions and feelings in their bodies, and not on words they have never heard before. Many of the students play sports and I so I think many of the Yoga Tune Up poses will be really great for them in order to ease them into the practice of yoga, and to feel the practice in a strong and supportive way right from the start. I’m really excited to work with them tomorrow morning with some of my new YTU tools!
I still struggle with it especially when my Indian friends come to class. I feel as though it erases the rest of the authentic class because I am not comfortable with it. And guess what the kicker is?? I am Indian. Through and through. But it was never something I heard growing up as Indians rarely use the word except for in a Hindu setting. In modern day India…if you hear a ‘namaste’, you are lucky.
One of the locations I teach yoga is at a gym and I struggled for a very short time on singing out a closing Om and Namaste, especially when I had a few students approach me after class wanting to know more about the OM we chanted and to let me know that it felt uncomfortable for them. I say “short time” regarding the struggle because I knew I wanted to teach from my authentic self and that included a closing OM and Namaste….so I taught……I educated….I shared….Much like the context grids I am now just learning for the YTU poses…I let my students know….Why? How? Which? What? and that the choices are always their own without judgement….Today…my students “ROCK” the most amazing uniflying OM and I often hear them saying Namaste to one another outside of class! Last week we sang…OM SHANTI, SHANTI SHANTI OM….beautiful baby steps!
This is very insightful. I used to be extremely intimidated by Namaste. I would basically whisper it, self-conscious and afraid. Now that I have been practicing steadily, for a little over a year, I have a fully confident, clear and crisp voiced Namaste. Maybe I just got more comfortable with it from continuous practice? But… I have this feeling that I never used to actually acknowledge the divine in myself, so I couldn’t fully voice my acknowledgement of the divine in someone else?! Maybe.