The Definition of Namaste in Yoga

The meaning of namaste
Yoga Class Namaste. Hero Images/Getty Images

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, according to Hinduism expert Subamoy Das.

People habitually greet each other on the street this way, with their palms pressed together at the heart and a brief nod of the head. 

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. After the class is formally closed, often with the group chanting three oms together, the teacher will say namaste and bow to the students, who 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, bending 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, and you will not offend anyone if you choose not to bow all the way to the floor.

Your teacher may choose to elaborate a bit of the basic meaning to namaste, such as saying "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.

She is also 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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