I no longer end my classes by saying Namaste. For me, it crosses the line from cultural appreciation to cultural appropriation more on that here.
I now ask my students to “bow their head in humility to the wisdom within own heart” and then with my hands in the same gesture (palms together at the heart ) I say “thank you for sharing your practice”
Saying ‘Namaste’ with hands and palms touching each other at the center of our hearts is sort of a staple in Yoga classes. Sometimes, a few brave students ask about it and its meaning. However, many students just automatically do it, without knowing the meaning behind it.
It can become a sort of a meaningless gesture that people just automatically perform at the end of class.
So, what does Namaste mean? And why might we choose to do it, other than trying to look like one of the ‘cool Yoga kids’?
According to senior 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.”
This bow is not bowing down in servitude or lowering oneself, but instead, this bowing is in recognition and reverence for each other as fellow travelers on the path and an acknowledgement of our interconnectedness.
The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is an all-pervading oneness within each of us that is located in the heart center. This gesture is a way of honoring that connection and oneness within each other.
We place the hands together at the heart center in Anjali Mudra (palms touching together), close our eyes and bow our head to our heart. In some traditions, it is done by first placing the hands together in front of the third eye, bowing the head and then bringing the hands down to the heart. This is a deep show of respect.
In the Western Yoga circles “Namaste” is usually said aloud with the gesture, but in India, the gesture itself means Namaste. There is no need to say the word while bowing.
In a Yoga setting, whether it be a teacher and student or students practicing together, Namaste allows us to come together energetically to honor that place of connection and reverence.
We bow our heads to our own hearts and the heart connection with the others in the room. If it is done with that intention in our hearts, it can serve as a reminder that we are all one and that everyone is our teacher. To bow in humility to our own heart and the hearts of others.
Typically, Namaste is done at the end of class because the mind is calmer and the energy in the room is more cohesive and resonant. Most often, the teacher initiates Namaste as a symbol of gratitude and respect for their students and a way of honoring their own teachers. This is then followed by an invitation to return the gesture to the teacher, then the other students they practiced with.
Namaste is a reminder of this universal truth that we are all one when we live in our hearts.
My heart to your heart, Namaste,