The Yoga Blog: What Does Namaste Mean?



I once attended a meditation class and at the end, the facilitator had all of us read aloud a paragraph of Sanskrit.

I was so uncomfortable with this. I hesitated to repeat any words that I didn’t know the meaning of – I had no idea if I was pledging my life to some unknown god, or making promises that I couldn’t keep.

At the completion of a yoga class, it is tradition that a yoga instructor and students will place their hands in prayer position and say “Namaste (pronounced na-ma-stay).”

But what does that really mean? Well, I’m glad you asked…

The Definition of Namaste

Nama means bow, as means I, and te means you. Therefore, namaste literally means “bow me you” or “I bow to you.”

Namaste is an ancient Sanskrit greeting still in everyday use in India, and especially on the trail in the Nepal Himalaya.

Translated roughly, it means “I bow to the God within you”, or “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you.”

Acknowledging the Divine in Others

It’s easy for me to acknowledge and respect the students who take my class, as I watch them gather the courage to step onto their yoga mat and trust me as an instructor to safely lead them as they try uncomfortable, andsometimes challenging, positions.

I like to end my classes with the translation: “The Divine in Me honors the Divine in You. Namaste.”

However, honoring the Divine in that crabby lady at the grocery checkout or the impatient guy who cut in front of my car can sometimes take a little more effort on my part.

Those instances can occasionally create more of an emotional knee-jerk reaction, but a regular yoga practice has helped me to take pause and allow me to come more often from a position of an observer.

Acknowledging the Divine in Me

Saying Namaste also gives me the opportunity to recognize my own Divinity and my own humanity, which includes both my struggles and successes.

As Kristin Neff writes in her book Self-Compassion, “By tapping into our inner well-springs of kindness, acknowledging the shared nature of our imperfect human condition, we can start to feel more secure, accepted and alive.” She also states that self-compassion not only helps your relationship with yourself, but also with others.

In Loving-Kindness Meditation, we take a moment to send love to ourselves, which in turn helps us love others better. The practice generally consists of silent repetitions of phrases like “may I be happy” or “may I be free from suffering”, and “may I be peaceful.”


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Taking It Off the Mat

So how can one experience Namaste off our yoga mat?

1. Notice self-talk.

Do you self-deprecate? Or do you speak about yourself in kind words?

Just notice, and begin to slowly switch any negativity into a more neutral or positive tone (and that includes your internal voice).

A great way to get out of that habit is to find three positive things for every negative thing you say about yourself.

2. Let go of judgment of yourself and others.  

If you catch yourself demanding perfection of yourself, try using the mantra “Everything is for my learning, upliftment, and growth.”

Also acknowledging that everyone is on their own journey, and everyone makes mistakes, so be kind to yourself and others.

3. Begin a mindfulness practice.

This can include meditation or mindful movement such as yoga and martial arts. I invite you to try the Loving-Kindness Meditation or check our other 5-minute Meditations videos.

4. Remember that we are all connected.

Whether you are looking at the theory of Six Degrees of Separation or knowing that we are all just living and breathing human beings on this earth, just doing the best we can.

If you notice yourself feeling isolated, take time to connect with friends or family, maybe broadening your social circle. It can help mark out a specific date in a monthly calendar to call or spend time with friends.
Coming from a mindset of Namaste, acknowledging the Divinity within myself, and others, can help reduce judgment, improve self-compassion, and help to recognize the interconnectedness of all human beings.


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