Understanding Namaste in Yoga

Why Does Your Yoga Teacher Say "Namaste"?

Mixed race woman meditating with clasped hands
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The literal translation of Namaste (pronounced nah-mah-stay) is "I bow to you." It is used as a courteous greeting and also to mean "thank you." In yoga classes, it has become traditional for teacher and students to exchange namastes at the end of class as a gesture of mutual respect.

Namaste in Yoga

In India, the Sanskrit salutation Namaste and its variant Namaskar are still in informal daily use. People habitually greet each other on the street this way.

Their palms are pressed together at the heart and a brief nod of the head is given. 

In the west, Namaste is used a lot in yoga settings to indicate thanks and esteem. At the end of a yoga class, the teacher will usually bring the class into a seated position after savasana. This is sometimes used as a time for a brief Satsang (teaching) or meditation, depending on the type of yoga.

How a Yoga Class Closing May Go

After the class is formally closed — often with the group chanting three oms together — the teacher will say namaste and bow to the students. They respond in kind, bowing their heads with their palms pressed together in Anjali mudra at the heart or the third eye (middle of the forehead).

Sometimes everyone will then continue their bow. They will bend forward from a cross-legged position until their hands or foreheads come to the floor for a moment. Taking the bow down a bit further indicates a deep appreciation for the teacher.

It's a matter a personal preference, however. You will not offend anyone if you choose not to or cannot bow all the way to the floor.

Teaching Each Other

Your teacher may choose to elaborate a bit on the basic meaning to namaste. These include sayings such as "the light in me honors the light in you," or "the teacher in me bows to the teacher in you."

Most of these interpretations acknowledge that although you came to learn from her, she has also learned something through her time with you. In addition, she is saying that she while she acts a guide during the practice, you are your own teacher.

Does Putting My Hands in Prayer Position Mean I'm Praying?

Although Namaste is the greeting and Anjali mudra is the position of the hands, they are sometimes conflated.

Anjali mudra is often called "Namaste position" or prayer position. However, even though the position of the hands is one that we associate with Christian, Hindu, and other religions' devotional practices, it doesn't have the same significance in this context.  

Yoga is not a religion, although many of its customs emerged from Hindu traditions common in India. The modern practice of yoga poses is secular in nature and the Anjali hand position represents union or oneness. It's primarily a way to show respect to another person.

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