Do You Know the Way to Namaste?
One Word and One Mudra Nicely Sum Up Yoga's Spirit
Just about every Yoga enthusiast is familiar
with Namaste - both the word and the mudra, or hand position.
Those of us who have been practicing Yoga for a while often
find ourselves Namaste-ing all over the place - it's such
a pleasant way to end Yoga practice that we get into the habit
of closing our emails with it, or using it when we run into
fellow Yoga practitioners outside of the Yoga studio. Most
of us know the basic meaning of the word - something about
the divine in me bowing to the divine in you, right? But admit
it - you probably haven't really given Namaste much deep contemplation.
For as much use as we give it, Namaste is somehow taken for
granted - it's there, we like it, we use it, But underneath
its simplicity Namaste has a richness and depth that make
it more beautiful and expressive than we even realize.
Namaste (pronounced nah-mah-STAY), like many
other Yoga terms, is a Sanskrit word. What most people don't
realize about Sanskrit is that it does not translate well
into English - the English equivalents don't quite encompass
the words' true meanings. Namaste breaks down into two parts
(or three, if you want to get down the root, 'Nam,' which
means, roughly, bowing or silently submitting). 'Namas' is
a reverent greeting or salutation. 'Te' simply means 'to you.'
Thus, according to the English language, Namaste means, "I
salute and honor you." Very nice, but it robs a lot of
meaning from the Sanskrit.
'Te,' for example, is not just 'you,' as in
the worldly you and me. Sanskrit acknowledges the divine force
that vibrates throughout every living thing and all of nature-that's
a lot more powerful than just the basic English 'you.' The
Nepalese, who have also adopted Namaste, go even further.
To them Namaste means, "I honor the place in you where
the whole universe dwells. When I am in that place in me,
and you are in that place in you, then, we are One."
To them, we as humans are vessels through which the whole
universe can find expression. Namaste both embraces the personal
and the infinite. Call it God, light, the divine, or the all-knowing
Absolute all of that is part of 'te.'
Similarly, 'namas' is more than just 'honor'
or 'greeting reverently.' When you're facing the Divine, even
if it's in the form of another human being, reverence takes
on a much fuller interpretation. It's one thing to honor your
elders because they're been around longer than you have and
they've seen more of the world. It's another thing altogether
when you are honoring the ancient inner wisdom that is expressed
through them. It's an all-encompassing type of reverence in
keeping with the Sanskrit version of 'you.' Think about it
- to really live Namaste is to come close to the feeling of
The Meaning of the Mudra
And what about the Namaste hands, held in prayer position
close to the heart? It's interesting to note that the prayer
position exists in both the Eastern and Western worlds. It
is said that this is one of several hand positions that came
about long, long ago to prove that the greeter was unarmed,
thus signifying a mission of peace. But once again, the spiritual
and religious connotations take the meaning to a different
level. In Indian cultures this hand position is called the
Anjali Mudra and it signifies bringing the dualities together
- male and female, positive and negative, yin and yang, however
you want to call them - to create unity. The implication is
that all is One. To add an extra touch of reverence (or Namas)
to the Anjali Mudra, the head is bowed just slightly and the
fingers can be brought up to touch the area between the eyebrows
(the third eye, or Ajna Chakra). Another variation is to bring
the joined palms overhead, where the Crown, or Sahasrara Charkra
lies. Both variations indicate an even deeper respect for
the Divine. Once again, something simple - a gesture, in this
case - gives the concept of peace a depth and breath that
means much more than the lack of war and animosity,
Ironically, while Westerners are increasingly
becoming familiar with Namaste, in India it is slowly disappearing.
Nowadays young people in India tend to use more Western styles
of greeting and saying good-bye, such as the more casual 'Hi!'
and 'See ya!' The traditional Namaste - and the similar Namaskar
- remain popular with the older folks, or in a situation of
hierarchy, such as social rank or age. But they're also falling
by the wayside in business, Many Westerners, meanwhile, are
just starting to scratch the surface of Namaste, and they
like what they've discovered.
Even though most of us don't often explore
the wealth of meaning in Namaste, it nevertheless seems to
strike a chord. There's something about the word and the hand
position that brings out something special in people. Since
its intent is to promote peace and unity on a high spiritual
level, Namaste eloquently expresses the best that Yoga has