The literal translation of Namaste in Sanskrit is “to bow.” “I bow to you.” Yet the true meaning of this word, like most words in Sanskrit, runs much deeper than your average greeting.
The practice of yoga reminds us that we are all interconnected. We are all unique, but simultaneously united in the human experience of emotions: upheaval, joy, sadness, and peace. By practicing yoga or pranayama (breath-work), we navigate away from the monkey-mind, swinging in the to-do lists of daily life. Instead, we journey inwards toward the truest version of ourselves and the present moment.
If we think of our yoga practice as an exploration or inquiry of the present moment, we may be going through different things individually, but as a group, we are all united on the yogic path.
How does this connect back to Namaste?
Well, when a teacher uses the word Namaste at the beginning or end of a class, what she is saying on a deeper level beyond “I bow to you,” is that “when I (the teacher) am in a state of yoga in me, and you (the student) are in a state of yoga in you, we are one.” In other words, “we are all different, but being on the yogic path unites us.”
Other translations of Namaste include the concept of “the divine light” that resides within each of us, and bowing to the innate goodness at the core of another person.
If you choose to think about yoga as a vehicle to reach your highest self or true nature, this definition may especially resonate with you. From this perspective, Namaste might be translated as “the divine in me bows to the divine in you,” or “the light in me honors the light in you – in this place together, we are one.”
Saying Namaste is the traditional way to end class. At a more practical level, it represents a teacher’s acknowledgement of her students. As a teacher, she is not above or better than her students; she is an equal, who bows to the divine that resides in each of them. In saying Namaste back, the student echoes back gratitude for the teacher and all the other students in the room. Gratitude for one another, the shared experience, and for the practice of yoga itself, is deeply embedded in this word.
Like so much of yoga and Sanskrit, the exact translation of Namaste can be left up to personal interpretation. Create a definition of Namaste that fits best with what yoga means to you and the value you receive from the practice. Then say it with abundance (or choose not to) at the end of your next class.
Since the ways we can think about these Sanskrit words and what they mean are infinite, please share your thoughts on Namaste or your favorite definition in the comments below.