The first time I heard the word, Namaste, was at the end of a yoga class. Even without understanding its meaning in any definitive way, I liked its sound. As my teacher brought her palms together and smiled at us, the word seemed to seal the experience we had shared together. It appeared to acknowledge that the yoga we had just practiced was special, and to be held in our highest regard. And in doing this, it seemed to suggest that we, too, were special and worthy of honoring.

Translation

My intuitive response to Namaste shows that some words have a resonance that belie our conscious comprehension of them. Sanskrit is believed to be the oldest language in human history; and while things do get lost in translation with a language that’s more than 6,000 years old, we can begin to delve into its meaning on several levels. The root word, nama, means “to bow,” while as means “I” and te means “you.” So, literally translated from the ancient language of Sanskrit to modern-day English, Namaste means "I bow to you."

Namaste can also be defined as, “I bow to the light in you,” or more succinctly, “I bow to the divine light in you.” It’s said that our divinity rests in our heart center. This is the reason we place our hands in prayer position, or anjali mudra, at our heart center and bow when we say, “Namaste.” In feeling my teacher’s blessing and warm regard, I feel I was connecting on some level with this beautiful meaning, perfectly coupled with her gesture of prayer. (Learn more about the anjali and other mudras in The Best of the Mudras.)

Yet another translation of Namaste is "The God in me sees the God in you.” While yet another is, “I bow to and honor the spirit in you – the one that’s also within me.” (This makes sense since after all You Are a Spiritual Being.) The exact translation is less important than the universal meaning Namaste possesses. It’s a gesture of peace, respect, honor and divinity.

When to Say Namaste

So, when do we say, "Namaste," apart from the end of a yoga class? People also use this term as a simple greeting in Eastern cultures. It’s got to be the most spiritual and compassionate way to greet someone in the entire world. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists are known to use the term, as are yogis of any faith, the world over.

When we say Namaste as we bow to one another, it’s like saying hello to the other person’s soul – their essence. In saying it at the end of a yoga class, we acknowledge the fact that yoga is largely about getting in touch with our soul’s essence through the practice and then residing in that place as we go about our daily lives.

Ending the class with “Namaste” is a powerful way of sealing the class and bowing to our teacher. Sometimes we bow to our fellow students, too. By placing our hands in prayer position at the heart center, we’re placing them in the area of the heart chakra, the subtle energy center of the heart. Sometimes we also place the hands in prayer position at our third eye first, then bring them down to the heart center, and then bow. We let our minds connect more deeply to our heart’s wisdom, so that we can live from this heart-centered awareness in our everyday lives. (Learn more about Integrating Feelings of the Heart.)

A Connecting Blessing

One of the great blessings of Namaste is that, whether you’re feeling overly spiritual toward the person you’re greeting or not, by simply taking on the gesture, you’ll find yourself naturally moving into that spiritual place. It’s like when we make ourselves smile, whether we’re actually feeling happy or not. As Elizabeth Gilbert discovered when she was given a smiling meditation by Ketut in “Eat, Pray, Love," the more we sit smiling, the happier we naturally become. It’s the same with Namaste – the more we practice the gesture, the more connected we become with our own spirituality and that of those around us.

In essence, Namaste symbolizes deep respect for the human being to whom you are greeting. This is a lovely way to acknowledge that we’re all equal, all children of God. As the yoga tradition continues to gain popularity all around the world, so will this loving gesture of respect. There’s no doubt we need more love, compassion and respect for one another, and we can only hope that the Namaste gesture becomes just as common as a handshake or a “hello” someday.

Good Day, and Namaste

So, why wait until the end of your yoga class for your next “Namaste?" Why not find a fellow yogi friend and practice on each other? You may even want to greet a complete stranger in the street with Namaste and wait for their reaction. Chances are it will be a good one. And even if their reaction is one of bewilderment, at least you’ll be sending love and light their way – which is always a good thing. (And in doing so, You May Be More Yogi Than You Think.)