According to YogaJournal.com Iyengar Yoga teacher Aadil Palkhivala, “‘Nama’ means bow, ‘as’ means I, and ‘te’ means you. Therefore, Namaste literally means ‘bow me you’ or ‘I bow to you.’”
But not all yogis say Namaste. The Kundalini yogis actually say “sat nam,” which looks a lot like Namaste but flipped inside-out and back to front. One of my NYC friends, legendary Kundalini teacher Hari Kaur, enlightened me by sharing that Sat Nam is also used as a greeting that has loads of esoteric meanings but it roughly implies marrying truth, identity and universal consciousness.
My own mentor, Glenn Black, doesn’t mess around with any complicated salutations; he simply says, “Well done.”
One of the things I love about the word Namaste is that it gives closure to a class. As a teacher who tends to ramble, and has a difficult time with closing statements, choosing instead to add another clause, and then another, and then re-massaging a point, it comes as a huge relief for me to be able to say those three syllables and know that I am finished, and it must be a relief for some of my loyal students to know that I won’t be adding any further context.
Nothing needs to be said afterwards; students quietly roll up their yoga mats, grab their water bottles and wander into their day. One of my dear colleagues in Santa Monica, Julian Walker, likes to say that Namaste means “No More Stay.”
A corny Namaste poem:
Are you okay with Namaste?
Are other thoughts jumping in the way?
It’s a greeting to one and a prayer to another.
But are you willing to bow down to your brother?
Well, I’m okay with Namaste.
But don’t let me have the last say,
Post your thoughts on this today!
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[Reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life.]
Intéressante explication sur la salutation «Namaste». L’intention en prononçant cette parole peut varier grandement d’une personne à une autre, pour certains porteuse d’une croyance religieuse, pour d’autres constituant une simple salutation de courtoisie. En ce qui me concerne, je suis plus confortable avec l’utilisation de salutations dénuées de connotation religieuse, et je suis réconfortée de voir dans cet article que certains yogis choisissent aussi d’autres formulations.
Namaste concept is concise and in-depth, it’s the very gist of yoga. I love wrapping up my classes with it, they are precious moments. I also heard of health benefits of it – joining your palms in front of your heart center reduces high blood pressure, for example. Indeed, the body is one fascinating thing.
I once had a teacher offer the translation “the light in me honors the light in you.” A more flowery version of the literal translation, but one that added a valuable layer of meaning for me. Thanks, also, for the reminder that once we say namaste, we’re done leading. Nice, simple, clean transition.
my favourite meaning of namaste that I have herd is “thank you for sharing your energy with me.” When you go to a class, its a completely different experience than practicing by yourself at home. You really draw energy from the group and I think that it’s important to acknowledge that and say thanks.
The West has absorbed Yoga and reflected it back East in a massive tsunami of new knowledge and discovery. The proven science in Yoga Tune Up’s approach, methods, and techniques is a fine example of this. And, there is value in respecting a tradition and its origins. Namaste-ing at the end of class, regardless of content or style, is one way to do this. It binds the entire community together. It’s a honorific nod towards the idea that despite having different views and approaches, our end goal to make ourselves, and thereby our communities (and dare I say the world), better, is a shared endeavor from a shared point of origin. Teachers can make more or less of it, but it only needs to hold that honorific intent. Namaste!
I don’t use all that much esoteric language or concepts in my classes, I like to keep it pretty straightforward, but I totally agree about namaste. It gives closure in a way that also leaves you open to whatever might come next. I truly appreciate and am grateful for every student that comes into my class and teaches me to be a better student and a better teacher, so for me namaste is also always a big “thank you”.
Im ok with Namaste! But I’m always looking for ways to translate it in an accessible way without scaring newbies. I enjoyed the literal translation of bow me you. But I need something more inspiring? I do like Glen’s ending thou.
Thank you for this short translation of namaste. I have heard much longer variations that I think “skepticals” (like my sister) have a problem with. This one on the other hand could work for everyone. I like the tradition to end a class with namaste and if you watch the Fog and smog video “yoga girl”, which can also be a very useful translation if you actually want to stay…
Thank you, I also like to rable on with my love of yoga and sharing the knowledge with anyone wlling to hear me and wanting to know more. But I am not very good with small talk. Reading this post on how you described Namaste I can now feel guilt free when ending a class with Namaste and your friend saying ‘no more stay’ I dont have to be there for any small talk unles it is yoga related.
I so enjoyed your blog post on the meaning of Namaste. As there seems to be so much mystery, confusion or misunderstanding surrounding it’s meaning, it’s nice to have a few “accessible-to-everyone” interpretations of its definition to offer students if and when they inquire about it. Or when there is that look of resistance or recoil on their faces, perhaps Julian Walker’s “No more stay” interpretation would be a welcome alternative.
I personally am OK with Namaste, in fact I Love saying it! For me it means that my spirit is aware of and honors the spirit of the person(s) I’m speaking it to. Sometimes we deal with people that we wonder what ever happened to their God spirit! This simple, one word statement reminds me that no matter if a person has disappointed me, I’m aware they’ve got God’s spirit inside them the same as I do; that that’s what makes us all the same and that we all deal with varying states of mind at different times in our lives. That probably that person is doing the BEST they can at the time as I am.
An interesting topic, right up there with chanting Ommmmm. I like Namaste and the associated gesture, a way we can all come back to the moment just briefly before it’s off to – whatever.
Thanks for breaking down the meaning of Namaste! One of my favorite teachers says, “The light within me bows to the light within you,” which I guess is a stretch.
Knowing the meaning of what you’re saying is so important, and I feel it’s too often overlooked when teachers use chanting/ sanskrit words in class. It can be alienating to students, or just sound corny. I would like to see more teachers taking the time to translate before chanting and using sanskrit words, even if they don’t break it down in such great detail as in this article.
The meaning of Namaste I love the most is “I salute the divinity within you .” A wise person in my life once pointed out that all we need do is “salute the divinity” in people we find toxic, that is to say, that we recognize all others as amazing creations of God, Goddess, Nature, or however we want to describe it, that their hurtful behavior results from conditioning and adverse circumstances in life, not from their original heritage. Recalling this when anger or hostility toward others has arisen in me has helped me put my feelings into enough perspective that I could feel compassion instead of outrage.
Thank you. This is exactly how I feel. I’m a rambler and Namaste offers a quiet close. As an Indian, I always struggle with what I choose to adopt in the Western context pf yoga before it feels sacrilegious. This works…
Funny you mentioning your friend says Namaste means no more to say. When I began teaching at a local senior center one of my students would ” have a nice day too ” after I would say Namaste at the end of class. Finally after a couple we both figure out why she said that . She couldn’t hear me clearly! I likening the traditional ending of namaste but have no problem with another teacher using something. There could be a reason for this and as long as its fitting for an ending I say great. That what makes each teacher unique.
What a great post. For the first year I practiced yoga, I didn’t even know what the translation was for this word that we say after each practice to on another! You make a great point- it lets students know the closure of class. In the beginning of my practice if there had not been a formal “namaste” it might be confusing as to whether the class was finished or not. I also feel like it is similar to savasana, students expect it , it lets them know where we are in the practice and I do enjoy the exchange.
I really think some teachers can get lost in chanting and sanskrit. Thought I do like ending the class with Namaste. I try and say and bring namaste into my everyday life. Just like everything from yoga.
I think that saying Namaste to bring closure to a group practice is appropriate. It’s important to have a beginning and ending greeting for any shared experience of a group. Joining palms together and bowing to the teacher and other students while saying Namaste to end a class is like the final unifying experience for that yoga practice session.
Jill thank you so much for bringing light to this. I think that a lot of new practitioners will come to hear the term namaste, and not really know where it came from or what the meaning is behind it. I respect that it gives a final statisfying feeling of the classes end, and the sign that students can go back out to their busy city lives!
Jill such an interesting topic to discuss. For me saying Namaste at the end of class is tradition. It is the first sanskrit word I ever learned and understood. I have now come to expect it at the close of class. I love how each instructor and every student can have a different variation on the translation to make it unique, and to make if fit them. I am not opposed to instructors closing class with another word, but I think another very clear, definite word or statement is necessary.