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Namaste: What are we really saying at the end of class

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

'Namaste' has the most beautiful meaning yet many of us just nod mindlessly and repeat this word after our instructor at the close of class without even knowing what it means.

Your yoga class is coming to an end. You have just sat up from a beautiful savasana and now you are bowing your head to your instructor and repeating the word ‘namaste’ after them, the same as after every class, but have you ever considered what it means? For a while when I started yoga, I too had no clue what I was saying, but it sounded pretty, and everyone was doing it so I joined in. As my yoga journey continued I tried more classes. I was in a class with a new teacher and I was ready to close with namaste, still not knowing what it meant, when the instructor diverted from the standard protocol and switched out ‘namaste’ for ‘the light in me recognises the light in you’. I was stumped. Where had this come from, it was a beautiful sentiment but what on earth was I meant to say in return? Luckily there were several regulars in the class, so I mumbled a ‘namaste’ and pretended nothing had happened. I then got talking to the teacher at the end of the class to find out more and she explained that what she had said was the meaning of namaste. I was instantly infatuated with the word. I think that closing a class with a sentiment as powerful as essentially saying you recognise the person that everyone truly is, is absolutely wonderful.

“Namaste - The divine in me bows to the divine in you”

The exact definition varies depending on who you speak to or what you read. It is often described as being directly translated as ‘the divine in me bows to the divine in you’, which will resonate well for those of you who have a lot of yoga philosophy knowledge. ‘Bows’ is sometimes replaced with ‘nods’, ‘salutes’ or ‘recognises’, while ‘the divine’ can be changed out for anything from ‘spirit’ through to ‘god’. But my favourite arrangement, the one that I share with my students, is still the same as when I first heard the translation, ‘The light in me recognises the light in you’. To me this is an accessible translation for anyone regardless of how long they have been practising yoga, or how much ancient yoga philosophy they know; it just makes my heart sing.

The word originates from Sanskrit and is still used as a greeting in India. It is accompanied by the bowing of one's head and bringing your hands together in front of the chest. It could be considered the equivalent of a Western handshake, just a more poetic and profound equivalent! The lineage of the word Namaste is rich with culture; cultures which have brought yoga to our lives and along with it this beautiful word.

So next time you are drawing to the close of class, think of the meaning behind the word 'namaste' and perhaps allow the sentiment to be a little more heartfelt and sincere; add a little purpose to the word and see how wonderful it feels.


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