What does namaste mean?

Q:

What does namaste mean?

A:

You may have heard someone say Namaste at yoga class, or when you walked into a studio or ashram, and you might be curious about what it means.

Four Meanings of Namaste

Hello!

First of all, namaste is a respectful way of saying hello. If you travel to many parts of India and Nepal and wish to greet someone with "Hello," you say "Namaste." It is especially common as a way for children to greet their elders. So, if the other meanings below feel inauthentic, but you still wish to participate, you are free to think of yourself as saying "Hello!"

(What does India have to teach us?)

An End Note to Hello

It is relatively common for teachers in the West to say namaste at the end of class. While this isn’t a traditional usage, in its own way it can make sense. For some teachers it is a way of saying "Hello, you" to the now more present person; a person in a better state for having seen the divine light in him/herself and others.

I Bow to You

In the context of a yoga class in the West, most teachers don’t mean to say hello when they greet someone with Namaste. They are instead using the literal meaning of the word. The root of the word, namaste, is nama, which in Sanskrit means "glory to" or "reverence to." Namas indicates that I, the speaker, am the one paying reverence, and the ending, te, indicates that the object of action is the person being addressed. Therefore, namaste means something like "I revere you," "I bow to you" and many more translations of the same nature.

Acknowledging Our Divine Light

The verbal greeting is part of a namaskar in which the greeter places his/her hands together in front of his/her heart and bows the head while saying namaste. When saying namaste, I’m not thinking about my grocery list or the phone call I need to make after class. Especially while performing the full namaskar greeting, with hands together and head bowed, I am consciously abandoning all thoughts of difference between myself and the person I am greeting. We are both of the divine, and to say namaste is to acknowledge the divine light in each of us. It is a way of reaching within to the divine light in yourself and honoring the divine light in another.

(Is namaskar the same as namaste?)

You Get to Decide

If you choose to say namaste, you can mean it as a respectful hello, or you can mean it as a part of your own spiritual practice in which you recognize the inherent sameness and sacredness within yourself and the person you are speaking to.

(Read on in Why do we say "Namaste?")

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Written by Sheila Miller
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Sheila Miller, Ph.D., ERYT-500 is a Senior Teacher of ISHTA Yoga and has been a student of yoga and Buddhism for more than 20 years. Her specializations include teaching meditation, asana and yoga nidra for healing, self-knowledge and lasting personal transformation. She researches the effects of meditation and yoga practice on learning, communities, health and the healing of trauma. She also teaches public and private classes, workshops and retreats around the world.

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