Months ago, a friend living in Beijing complained about yoga teachers using Sanskrit and not explaining the meaning. She was especially annoyed by closing class with “namaste,” when many didn’t know what it meant. I believe my friend and colleague Ben also takes issue with this. I’m guilty of it, I admit, largely because I do not chant in my Columbia classes, and it’s nice to have a touch of the spiritual tradition. I don’t explain simply because by the end of the class, there is less than no more time.
I always intend to explain, because I get the impression some students think it means, “thank you.” And because my friend is right, it should be explained. Namaste literally means “I bow to you.” It is the act of acknowledging the soul of another. This is also described as bowing to the divine, the light, the spirit, the humanity, in another. Some teachers also say, “The light in me bows to the light in you.” Namaste is traditionally said with the hands together in front of the heart, with the head bowed, or with the hands at the third eye, and drawn down to the heart. The posture itself literally means “Namaste,” and because the meaning is inherent in the action, it doesn’t need to be said. A final note: It is not by chance that the hands are pressed together in front of the heart.
p.s. In response, Jessica just sent this video, which is too great not to post: