Why do we say Namaste?
"Namaste" is steeped in a deep and profound history. Understanding that helps give you clarity and a deeper appreciation for this common term.
In the nineties, when yoga was making its main-stream splash, namaste was a novel way to greet your fellow yogis. It was said with trepidation and often seemed awkward. Now it is said so often and with such comfort, that we may have drifted from the original idea of why we say it and what it actually means.
My young sons say it with such sweetness and ease that it sparks in me reminders of the innocence and flow behind the sentiment.
One of the best experiences I have heard with the word namaste is when our music group Shanti Shanti was touring and we performed at a New Thought church in Seattle. Their music director was a lovely gentleman named Eric O’Dell, in which he punctuated each. Syllable. Of. His. Name.
He was so expressive in his music direction that he made a notable impression on us. He wrote a song called “Namaste”, which he taught us right before the service so that we could sing it with the congregation. It was so catchy and cute that we still sing it to our kids today.
The lyrics were “The God in me beholds the God in you. Namaste!” in which you ended the namaste with your hand in prayer position at your chest. I loved that little song. I think his song sums up the sentiment and the meaning of namaste better than any other explanation I have heard. Over the years we have lost contact with each other, but his song still rings in my mind. Click here so that you can listen to the song, as well.
Namaste is a useful greeting. It is used both for hello and goodbye throughout India. It is derived from two Sanskrit words,
- Namah which means "salutations," "I bow" or "I honor."
- Te which means you.
These two words are combined together with an “s” which happens in Sanskrit in a process called sandhi, which is the combination of two sounds.
Sanskrit is at least 5,000 years old and it originated in India. The vast library of knowledge of yoga, meditation, Ayurveda, astrology, sacred architecture and mathematics was written in Sanskrit in sacred volumes called the Vedas. It is the foundation of the Hindu and Buddhist religions and continues to permeate the culture of India and the teachings that have migrated to the West.
In the West, we enjoy the freedoms and the excitement of the teachings of the East but have a tendency to play with and alter their meanings to better suit our own ideals. However, if you just look at the depth and meaning of namaste you will find it has its own profound teaching. I have heard numerous translations of namaste that are not accurate, but when we say it is more than just a greeting, that is absolutely true.
Like in the little song we sang many years ago at that Seattle church, namaste is a way of acknowledging and honoring the other person and thus acknowledging the divinity in yourself.
For a moment, you are both caught in an experience of being present and acknowledging each other. It is a little moment of conscious awareness being imposed on you.
I say take it! Let it force you to be present!
Use that moment to allow your awareness to expand to the other person and perhaps even to the people around you.
In the West, most yoga sessions begin and end with namaste. This is a beautiful and respectful way to give salutations to the instructor and the knowledge that has been shared with you. If done properly this is a moment to fill your awareness and be open to your instructor and engage in the exchange of knowledge between teacher and student.
It acts as a little ceremony of deference. This is important as the knowledge that comes from India is steeped in ceremony and deference and our Western society rebels terribly against these limitations.
While we may see this mind-set as “judgy” and a damper on our free spirits, Indian culture puts a huge value on discipline and structure. The namaste at the beginning of yoga instruction is a reflection of that respect.
Namaste is often accompanied with the hands pressed together in prayer position at the heart and a slight bow is given. This is also a beautiful moment for us to express love from our heart and humility.
The hand gesture is not only beautiful, but it is also a mudra. A mudra is a gesture or position of the arms, hands and fingers in order to direct the flow of energy. With your hands in this position, we are directing energy to our hearts.
So reside in the beauty of namaste. Let its gentle teaching seep into your consciousness. Offer namaste silently to people you pass by and bless them with your awareness.
Feel yourself expand with the deference and respect that you receive in acknowledging another soul on the journey of life. The next time you are getting ready to begin, or are concluding your yoga practice, offer your respect and admiration for the sacred teaching that has traveled thousands of years and now has been given to you!
That is why we say Namaste.
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