What Does Namaste Mean?
Words by Puravi Joshi
I’m sure you’ve seen many 'Namaste' memes over the past few years - ‘Namastay in Bed’, ‘Namaslay’ are the two that come to the top of my head. These are a play on the word Namaste and became popular as Yoga became more and more mainstream in the west. As Yoga became popular so did the Sanskrit words for the poses.
Last year when the pandemic hit, all of a sudden hugs and shaking hands with people, our everyday norm suddenly became foreign, but what did gain popularity was the Indian gesture of respect. Hands together at heart centre (Anjali Mudra) with a gentle bow of the head – Namaste.
SO, EXACTLY WHAT DOES NAMASTE MEAN?
Namaste is a Sanskrit word that comes from the Vedas which are a large body of religious ancient Indian texts. Namaste is composed of two parts ‘namas’ meaning ‘bow to’ or ‘honour to’ and ‘te’ meaning ‘to you’. This translates to ‘I bow to you’. When the word Namaste is recited it is reinforced with a gentle bow to the head.
The word holds a sacred connotation and when you bow to another you are acknowledging that they are worthy of respect and dignity. The gesture can be used with or without saying the actual word; this is how much significance the word holds.
Namaste Holds Spiritual and Energetic Significance
In Yogic tradition, we say that we have a subtle body where our energy lies, where we can’t see it or touch it. This is where our chakras are. Chakras in Sanskrit literally translate to spinning wheel.
When we hold our hands together at our heart in Anjali Mudra, we connect to our Heart Chakra (Anahata). We tap into this chakra of love and peace within our bodies, which allows us to connect to this love and peace and share it with others. Sometimes in this gesture we also place our palms in the space between our eyebrows that connects us to our third eye chakra (Ajna) and this is where our intuition, imagination and visualisation lies. When we connect here we connect to the deep truth within us and to those around us.
Are you pronouncing “Namaste” correctly?
Contrary to the memes you’ve seen across the internet, it’s not quite Nah-Mah-Stay. Instead in Nuh-Muh-Steh, the last syllable pronounced slightly softer than the first and not elongated as long as the memes have you believe!
WHEN SHOULD YOU USE NAMASTE?
There are many ongoing debates as to when to use Namaste and I’ve had many conversations with both family and friends as to what they think with the use of the word at the end of yoga classes. With everyone I’ve spoken to we all had the same response; we had no issue at all, we enjoyed using the word, explaining what it meant, and engaging in the conversation with people unfamiliar with the word. However I know some do feel strongly about it.
In India, the gesture of hands together at heart centre is used as a greeting both as hello and goodbye. I personally do not take any issue with it being used in a yoga class, especially if it fits the style and tone of the class as a whole. I wouldn’t be totally keen on a studio throwing in a Namaste however for ‘cool aesthetic’. ‘Namaste and Chill’ would not be okay. It's a word that holds a sacred connotation, so as long as it’s being used with intention, absolutely use it with all your heart!
HOW IS NAMASTE USED TODAY?
Sanskrit is not ‘a yoga thing’, it is deep rooted in culture, ancient Indian culture, and should be given the deepest respect and honour. What we need to ask ourselves is do the teachers using it honour the word, understand the word and explain the word when asked? I’ve spoken about the cultural appropriation of yoga in depth previously and go into in much more detail there.
The West has made Yoga much more accessible and has opened the world to its beautiful practices. If we can continue to honour these practices with respect and ask questions when we are unsure, then I think that is the best authentic way to be. Continue to do what feels right. Yoga calls us to think, speak and move authentically and to become more aware and mindful. Yoga holds no judgement and meets you exactly where you are.