I remember for a long time, I didn’t really know what Namaste meant. I just kind of went with the flow. It seemed like a respectful gesture toward my teacher at the close of a Yoga class and, umm, that was about it. I also recall one of my teachers saying something like, “I salute the divine within you.” Which sounded sort of nice to me, but wasn’t really meaningful, to be honest.
Then, when I was preparing to teach my first Yoga class some years ago, I decided to do a little research into this word and gesture that I use in my personal practice, in other teacher’s classes, and that I ask my students to use in my classes.
Wouldn’t you expect I would have done that sooner? Well, whatever. I’m a little slow. I’ve mentioned that before….
The gesture used when bowing in Namaste is the bringing of both hands together, palms touching, in front of the person—at the heart, or a higher level such as below the chin, below the nose, at the forehead, or, even above the head.
Technically, this gesture is a mudra, a symbolic hand position in eastern religions. One hand representing the higher, spiritual nature, and the other representing our everyday selves- foibles and all. In combining the two, the person is aspiring to meld these two aspects of self, and by bowing to the other person, they are honoring the same of the other, in respect and love.
The first thing that struck me about this is that the definition of Yoga is union, so in a very literal sense, the bringing of the hands together is a physical symbol of our practice- our desire to infuse our life with the spiritual wisdom we all inherently possess. The second thing that struck me about this is that when we salute another with Namaste, we are assuming that we reside on common ground with the other. It is an act of peace toward ourselves and the world around us.
When I practice, even by myself, I always bow deeply and say Namaste at the end of my practice. I envision that I am bowing to all my teachers- including, or maybe especially, the people that challenge me. Doing this echoes throughout my life. I find myself remembering my hands pressed together and my head bowed in respect…
One of my favorite quotes which I think embodies the meaning of Namaste perfectly, is from Mahatma Ghandi.
“I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and love.”