It seems like every yoga class, teacher, and person who practices yoga gives the salutation ‘Namaste’, usually followed by something about divine light, divine love, or some other divine mention.
But what is the translation of namaste and how is it actually used in Hindu culture? And why do yoga teachers get this word wrong so often?
Understanding the translation, both as a definition of namaste as well as a spiritual practice, is an important first step to deepening your yoga practice.
After all, you probably say that phrase enough to finally understand more than just the literal meaning.
So what does namaste mean, anyway?
I decided to give a quick and dirty breakdown of the namaste definition as well as a clear guide on how to use it in everyday life.
Namaste Meaning 101
The Sanskrit word Namaste is a popular greeting and often used throughout India with the “namaskar” hand mudra. The gesture of namaskar is with the hands placed together in front of the heart with palms touching and your fingers facing up. It is also called Anjali mudra and in Hindu culture, is a way of saying “I bow to the divine within you.”
If you want to break down the etymology of the word, namas in Vedic literature means to “worship” or “adore.”
The definition of namaste is not connected to any religious meaning, but it doesn’t mean there is not a deeper meaning. Unfortunately, Western culture has lost its understanding of the meaning through using “namaste” as a slogan on yoga clothing with phrases like, “namaste in bed.”
The spiritual meaning of Namaste refers to connecting to the Divine spirit or light in each person you meet and honoring that within them. It is honoring your soul and the light within each and every being. Namaste is a sign of respect and acknowledgment that means more than just a “hello” or “thank you.”
The truth is that namaste isn’t necessarily a part of yogic philosophy, like something of the 8 limbs of yoga. Instead, it’s a reverential way to greet someone in Hinduism and can be used in your spiritual practice, yoga practice, or just everyday life.
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When Is It Used?
Namaste is used as a salutation to greet and show respect for elders, family members, your yoga teacher, friends and strangers on the street.
At the end of a yoga class after Shavasana, a yoga instructor will usually say “namaste” to their students to thank them for their practice and sharing their energy in the class. Usually, the students repeat it back, and it honors the relationship and spiritual connection between the teacher and student.
It represents that we are all one.
If you want to use namaste with Anjali mudra to go deeper into your heart, this action alone can bring you peace and relaxation in any of the postures, especially during hatha yoga or restorative yoga. It can bring you into a deep union with your soul and teach you how to live from the heart.
How To Namaste
- Bend your elbows and bring the palms of your hands together in front of your heart, with your thumbs pressing into your chest and your fingers pointing upwards.
- When using namaste for greeting you can look the person in the eyes and gently bow your head.
- If you are saying namaste at the end of a yoga practice, you can bow your head with your eyes closed and touch your head to the ground to connect with the earth. In this way, you are acknowledging and allowing your mind (ego) to be below your heart for once. It is also a sign of gratitude.
- If you wish to connect with your Ajna or third eye chakra you can bring your thumbs in between your eyebrows while bowing your head in prayer. This cultivates the feeling of gratitude from within, which radiates outwardly.
Namaste is always used positively and can also be used as an act of forgiveness. Something to remember when greeting a person with namaste is that there is supposed to be no physical contact. This is to keep the energy flowing between you both and to respect the other person’s space.
You might also like: The Complete Glossary of Sanskrit Words Used in Yoga
If you want to start practicing this beautiful heart-centered greeting as a sign of respect, a yoga studio is a great place to practice. If you want to practice saying namaste to your friends and strangers, they might give you a funny look…or you can just go to India where it is considered to be a normal part of their culture!
Namaste yogis and yoginis.
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