You’ve completed your first few yoga classes and notice your teacher always ends class the same way. They place their hands in prayer position, either in front of their chest or forehead, bow their head and utter the words ‘Namaste’. You look around the room and realise everyone else is reciprocating, either saying the words or doing the motions. You nervously do the same but have no real understanding of what you are saying or why you are saying it. This was me when I first started out my journey in yoga.
Namaste is something most yoga teachers say at the end of their class and is pretty normal practice. Even at the studio I currently teach at – Sweat Studios, where the ethos is to remove the language and spirituality associated with yoga and make it more approachable to fitness-seeking individuals – most of the teachers close their classes by saying Namaste. I do too, and when I say it, I mean it.
Mean what, I hear you cry! What on earth does it mean?
In short, Namaste is a Sanskrit word and means this:
Nama = Bow
As = I
Te = You
So the literal translation is ‘bow I you’ or ‘I bow to you’. It’s origins lie in the Hindu religion as a form of greeting or departing and is a gesture of mutual respect and acknowledgement to recognise the divine in each other. If you Google the word Namaste on the internet you’ll find a million descriptions citing the meaning of the word, it’s significance and it’s relevance in a yoga class.
I’m not a Hindu and I don’t subscribe to any specific form of religion, but I live with faith, respect and follow my own moral compass. For this reason I can only discuss what the meaning of Namaste is from my own perspective, which may drastically differ from other interpretations.
There are a couple of reasons I choose to close my class with this one little word. Firstly, I believe it shows a great respect for the ancient roots of our yoga practice. Thousands of years ago yoga was much more than just the physical act of yoga asana (postures), it was developed as a physical, mental and spiritual practice, a method for people to live with ethics, self-discipline and aid them in accessing their divine self.
Nowadays, as we know, yoga asana is primarily practiced in the Western world as a form of exercise, but it doesn’t hurt to recognise these incredible roots and respect yoga’s place as an ancient practice. Every time I say it, I’m reminded of how much I still have to learn about yoga.
Secondly, I respect it’s meaning. What greater way to thank everyone for attending class, for sweating it out for 90 minutes, for working together and for creating incredible energy in the studio, than to bow to them momentarily. It’s my way to say thank you for turning up to class, for sharing your practice, for trusting me to teach a good class and to bring me a little piece of joy.
Namaste may mean something different everybody,and if you ask me in three years time I may give you an entirely different response. But today these are my thoughts and I standby them wholeheartedly.
To finish I’ll end with one lovely little word (three guesses!), a word that at first seems so small but actually turns out to be pretty big…