If you’ve taken a yoga class or two, you may have heard the word “namaste”. You may have also seen memes like “namastay in bed” or “#namaslay”. These are fun and you all know I LOVE a clever meme, but it detracts from the meaning of this amazing word. Really, it’s more than a word. It’s a practice unto itself.
Namaste is a sanskrit word that literally means “I bow to you.” It is used as a salutation and can be a greeting or farewell. Pretty simple, but when flavored with context and seasoned with yoga philosophy, these three little syllables become so much more.
The word “namaste” symbolizes the connection of different individuals through the fabric of the universe. It reminds us that, although we are different humans, we are all one at the same time.
Let’s begin with a teensy bit of yoga philosophy…
While most people believe they are familiar with “yoga” they are really only familiar with one aspect or “limb” of the yogic path: the physical practice of asana (you know, the poses like upward and downward facing dogs, the sun salutations and happy babies, etc.). There are seven other “limbs” of yoga that make up the entire philosophy and cover a variety of topics such as how we treat ourselves, how we treat others, meditation, and breathing to name a few. If you’d like more information in the 8 limbs of yoga, try this.
In a broader sense, the word yoga means to yoke. What are we “yoking”? In one sense, the body and the mind. In another sense, we are connecting ourselves to the world at large.
Yoga is a form of exercise, but it’s not just fitness and fat burning. It has spiritual roots, but it is not a religion. It is a philosophy, through which regular practice builds awareness, focus, and confidence, in addition to physical strength, balance, and coordination. Yoga requires equivocal and simultaneous effort from the mind and body, and is quite unlike other physical activities for this reason.
It is an individual activity, but yoga is popular in a group setting, such as a yoga class. Even though practitioners are learning and progressing at their own rates, there is a shared energy among the students in the group. We are all in different places, but we are thinking, moving, and breathing as one being. It’s amazingly powerful.
There is usually a teacher in the room leading class, but that individual is much more of an adventure guide, as we can only teach ourselves. That’s right! At the risk of my livelihood as a yoga teacher, I’m telling you that nobody can “teach” you how to do yoga. Instructors make thoughtful suggestions based on our experiences and observations, but it is up to you, as both student and inner teacher to take what you want and leave what you don’t.
So when we say “namaste” it is not just a cute way to end class or a signal students to jump up and leave the room. It is a shout-out to our connectedness. It helps us tie the physical yoga practice to the other limbs of the philosophy. When our mind and body work in harmony, we realize our truest self. It reminds us that teacher and student are equals. It encourages us to use our practice to prepare us for what happens in life; working through challenges, staying focused despite obstacles, returning to our breath and intention…it is so much more than a workout.
The exchange of “namaste” between teacher and student encourages us to pay forward the goodness we create through our practice, to feel grateful for our gifts, and to keep the yoga in our lives even after we roll up our mat.
I recognize the light, the goodness, and the power within you, because it is also within me. I bow to you, as you to me. Although we are different,we are connected, we are one.