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It’s OK To Say ‘Namaste’

in YogaDork Ed

by Jill Miller

OK Namaste 1

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 what Namaste meant (“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 a 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.

Saying Namaste

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:

“The divine in me acknowledges the divine in you.”
“The sacred in me respects the sacred in you.”
“The light within me reflects the light within you.”
“Greetings.” (I really like this one!)

What is Namaste? And is there another option?

According to 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.”

Namaste closure

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.

OK Namaste 2Nothing 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!

Article reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life.

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19 comments… add one

  • Actually, “namaste” is a greeting and not a farewell. Would you say “hello” at the end of your classes? If not, then say “namaste” at the beginning of your class, not the end!

  • Aloha.

  • Fateh

    Nah, must go.

  • LarsBoga

    ….or as in the wonderful FogandSmog “Yoga Girl” video:
    He: you wanna go with me?
    She: nah i’m gonna stay

  • Nitya

    Actually, Svasti, – Namaste is like Aloha. It is a salutation used both as a greeting and valediction – when you first see someone and when you part. It does not mean “hello”. It is an acknowledgement of another person’s inner being. So saying it when you leave someone is nothing like saying “hello” when you mean “goodbye”. Anyone who has been to India can tell you this. Namaskar has the same meaning as Namaste, but it is much more formal.

  • Nicola

    Yes, I noticed in India it is used as a greeting and not a farewell/ending. However if it is meant in the context of bowing to the god in all of us, I say why not.

  • Nitya

    I spent 8 months all over India. It was most definitely used as both a greeting and a farewell.

  • One of my students told me a funny story about getting into an argument with her boyfriend after their first yoga class. He was POSITIVE the teacher was saying “have a nice day!”

  • Diana

    I love the meaning too, when it says something like there is a place within me that is always in peace and light and also within you. When you and I are both in this place, we are “ONE” Or something like that lol
    I used to say it to my little son when turning out lights and once he said yes Mama Stay!!”

    Namaste Mamastay

  • Hil

    I recently took a trip to Kathmandu, Nepal, where upon arrival at the airport I was greeted with NAMASTE! Being very familiar with the word as a yogi, it was wonderful to hear it spoken outside of yoga class. all the Nepali people great you with Namaste. Needless to say I felt totally at home duiring my stay in Kathmandu.

  • Twisted Yoga Sister

    For me it means, “May the divine light in me honor the divine light in you”.

  • Angela

    I love this!
    Namaste,
    Angela

  • tai

    Namaste everyone!

    from my teacher:

    http://yogachicago.com/may07/namaste.shtml

  • Siddhartha

    Namaste can be used everywhere, whether in the beginning or at the end. We in India use it in place of “Hello” when meeting someone and also in place of “Goodbye” when parting. The pronunciation (Nah-mah-stey) provided by you doesn’t seem correct, “Namaste” is just pronounced the way it is written. The translation of the Aadil Palkhivala is not correct. Namas(h) is one word, which means – “I bow down” and “te” mean “to you”. So a very literal translation of Namaste is – I bow down to you. So, there is no fuss about God or anything religious in it. The most ancient usage of Namaste can be found in Rig Veda (3.33.8 and 8.75.10), the most ancient and most sacred scripture of India. It is also found in some of the other Vedas. This makes it most probably the most ancient greeting in the world.

  • Chris

    Teaching the Sanskrit terminology associated with Yoga should be an integral part of teaching Yoga. It makes so very much more sense to call it Adho-Mukha-Shvaan-Asana than Downward-Facing-Dog-Pose.

    Learning Sanskrit is part of the fun of learning Yoga. Besides, as Latin has borrowed heavily from Sanskrit, it is not difficult to pick-up the Sanskrit terminology, as one goes along. As the class advances in their Yoga, it makes sense to exclusively use the Sanskrit names for the Asanas.

    For example :

    Paad in Sanskrit = Ped in Latin = associated with the foot
    Supta in Sanskrit = Supine
    Hasta in Sanskrit = Hand

  • Fateh

    Nah, must go.

  • Great post! For our kids programs, we only use “om” and “namaste” with the children, after of course ensuring approval from the school staff. Never had a problem.

  • Love this – i actually am a bit of a newbie to Yoga and so wasn’t quite sure if I had enough experience under my belt where it would be ok to say “namaste” Silly I know!

  • As I see it, from my Yoga experience and my Hindi friends, it is a respectful but not formal greeting that can be given at the beginning or the end of an interaction with another — like Aloha in Hawaii.

    To me, it’s a beautiful thing because of the traditional meaning of “I bow to you”. It’s a show of respect to the good part of being human we all have within us. In today’s day and age, I feel this is of the upmost importance — to honor that with each of us that is good — when what we are fed via the media is hate.

    Nothing to be nervous or uncomfortable about. But just be happy that in that moment — in that place, space and point in time — we are all together in peace.

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