You’ll hear it at the beginning and end of a yoga class. Your yoga teacher may use it to greet you in the street. You might even hear it in the organic café as the person in front of you orders a chai latte or coconut water. You’ll often see it accompanied by a gesture with the palms pressed together at the heart.
But what does “namaste”, and the hand gesture, really mean?
In India, namaste is an everyday greeting, akin to hello. It’s also a valediction – a way of saying goodbye. It literally means “I bow to you”, and is usually accompanied by the hand gesture.
The hand gesture – placing the palms of the hands together at the heart centre – is also know as anjali mudra and is usually accompanied by slightly bowing the head. It can also be done by first placing the hands to the “third eye”, or between the eyebrows, then taking them back down to the heart. This is a deep acknowledgement of respect – both to the person it’s bestowed upon and for the person doing the bestowing. In fact, simply using the hand gesture implies the word namaste – no words need to be spoken.
Honouring Those Who Give and Receive
A deeper meaning of namaste, though, can be inferred from “I bow to you”, to “I bow to the divinity within you from the divinity within me”. Sometimes you’ll hear it defined as “The light in me recognises the light in you”, or “The highest in me recognises the highest in you”.
Whichever definition appeals to you, we use it to honour both the giver and the receiver. And in a yoga class, we’re using it to honour the teacher, ourselves and the tradition that has been passed down through all the yoga teachers who have gone before.
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