UPDATED: AUGUST 2016
For many years, I attended a yoga class where the teacher would close our practice by joining her hands together and saying, “Namasté”. We all sat quietly and then class was done. I eventually discovered that I was not alone; I don’t think any of us in that class knew what Namasté meant, no one knew to return the greeting, and the instructor never told us.
She was a very good instructor, don’t get me wrong; she just assumed that many of us were smarter than we actually were.
(Sure, could we have asked her? Of course! Did we? Umm, no. Why not? I don’t know. Maybe we were all just embarrassed that we might be the only one who didn’t know what it meant.)
Today, in the Wikipedia world, one can find the meaning of most anything quite quickly. But those were slower times and so we wondered.
By the way, I define “Namasté” as “The divine within me bows to the divine within you.”
It’s sort of like a sacred “Aloha” greeting to me — it can mean hello or goodbye.
Deepak Singh said on National Public Radio in 2015 that Namasté is simply a formal greeting in India and that we Yoga students here in the West define it much differently than he knows it.
Maybe. I’m not so sure. I think we are on the same page.
We use it as a greeting, too. Hello. Goodbye. But, I think it has a much deeper intention and offers great respect to the person being addressed.
When we say Namasté, we look beyond the physical, we bow to the purest essence of the person before us. That’s the light that resides at one’s heart. I sometimes like to say that Namasté means, “I can see past your bad hair day today and all the stresses and strains you endure, to see and honor the true, beautiful and vibrant you that is the really, truly you.”
By the way, Singh also says that Western Yoga students pronounce Namasté incorrectly: “I say, ‘num-us-teh’ vs. the Americanized ‘nahm-ahs-tay.'”
Yup. He’s right about that. But, Yoga is about bringing the pose to the body, not the body to the pose, right? So maybe our uniquely American pronunciation is simply our way to bring the Namasté to the mat in the way that fits our practice best. (Or, maybe we’re just saying it wrong.)
So, here’s the question: What should you do when your Yoga instructor greets you at class with “Namasté”? That’s easy. What do you say when someone says “Hello” to you? You say “Hello” back, right? So it’s lovely to respond with “Namasté.”
I really like when my students say “Namasté” to me. I like to think it’s their way of seeing past my bad hair day and the mistakes that I might make as the class unfolds (mixing up my right and left as I mirror, forgetting an asana as I guide them through a flow, falling out of a pose as I demonstrate). It’s their way of saying, “It’s ok, we know you’re trying your best.”
And a suggestion for Yoga instructors: Don’t assume that students know what you’re talking about. Sanskrit is a beautiful poetic language. But, a bit of translation can help those words blossom more fully in a student’s heart.
And, now … to practice what I preach. I’ve been closing recent classes with a loving yoga blessing. I offer the translation in class as well. But, in the off-chance that someone actually wanders through this blog (aside from my journeys through it looking for typos), I offer it here. It’s a beautiful blessing and it inspires my practice.
Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu
There are many translations from the very simple “May all be happy” to very long and detailed translations. But, here’s the one that I like best:
“May the universe be filled with peace and joy, love and light.”
I like to share other blessings in my Yoga classes from time to time, and when I think about it, I add them to this website. To find them all in one place, just click on the Meditations & Blessings link at the bottom of this post.