Last updated on November 28th, 2023.
A yoga space can be a magical place. You may enter your local studio and hear quiet and calming music being played. The lights will be low, and the aroma of incense may be wafting through the air.
A yoga studio is like a sanctuary. You forget about the hectic and noisy outside world. You let go of the tension you may be feeling from just getting out of bumper-to-bumper traffic.
You can begin to relax as you roll out your mat and get into the mindset of your yoga class. You may find your jaw unclenching and your head clearing of thoughts.
And, as the class begins, your mind and heart will begin to open.
The serenity you are feel is not due just to the environment of the studio. It’s due to the yoga being taught. And part of presenting yoga to a class involves speaking and chanting in the ancient language of Sanskrit.
When you began your yoga journey, you may not have even ever heard of Sanskrit. But it’s a powerful tool in the practice of yoga. It imparts a sound and mood that you wouldn’t experience if every aspect of yoga was taught in your native language. Using Sanskrit is like reaching a hand back to the ancient yogis who formed and passed on the meaning, tradition and philosophy of yoga thousands of years ago.
Yoga surely wouldn’t be as popular as it is today if it wasn’t for the language of Sanskrit. Keep reading to see why.
What does Namaste mean?
Namaste is a Sanskrit word spoken the world over, but especially in the Indian subcontinent. The word is used as a formal Hindu greeting with three distinct meanings. In the Hindu religion, it can be interpreted as: “bowing to you” or “I bow to the divine in you.” Or, it can simply mean, “hello.”
Whether in a religious setting or not, when a person greets another person with “Namaste,” they press the palms of their hands together and give a slight bow. Incidentally, in the Indian subcontinent, people associate the gesture of pressing the palms together and slightly bowing as meaning “Namaste,” so there is no need to even pronounce the word.
Although the meaning of Namaste slightly changes depending on who is saying it, the accompanying gesture is the same throughout the world. But, there too, the meaning of the gesture can change, depending on if you are in a secular, religious or yoga setting. Read more about the meaning of Namaste below.
We’ll discuss the meaning of Namaste in yoga and the spiritual meaning of Namaste. We’ll also give you tips to respond when someone says Namaste to you. Further, we’ll explain why we say Namaste when practicing yoga. And, lastly, we’ll discuss the history behind the word, Namaste.
So, read on and learn about a word and gesture that you probably use every time you practice yoga and get insight into yourself and your practice.
What does Namaste mean in Yoga?
First of all, let’s talk about why the 3,000-year-old language of Sanskrit is used in yoga.
Well, yogis believe that by using the language in a yoga class, we’re connected to the ancient philosophy of yoga.
Sanskrit is used for mantras and for the names of poses, and we become grounded in the yoga tradition because many of the names of poses come from the names of sages or characters in ancient myths. If you are looking to learn Sanskrit for yoga, make sure you checkout that article!
The meaning of Namaste
Let’s break down the word, Namaste:
So, at the end of a yoga class, you’ve probably experienced that moment when the yoga teacher places their palms together, gives a slight bow and quietly says, “Namaste.” We talked above about the different means of the word and its familiar gestures. And, in a yoga setting, it’s generally understood that the meaning of Namaste is: “I bow to the divine in you.”
Saying Namaste to your teacher and fellow students is a beautiful way to end a yoga class and go on with the rest of your day. The feeling will stay with you and allow your heart to stay open as you tackle your daily responsibilities.
Namaste, along with the Sanskrit names for poses, and mantras, gives a familiarity to yoga, so that if you walk into a yoga studio in a country in which you don’t speak the language, you won’t feel lost when practicing. You’ll hear many of the familiar words that are used in your local studio. So, even today, yogis and the yoga tradition are connected throughout the world. And everyone in yoga studios worldwide knows the meaning of Namaste.
What is the spiritual meaning of Namaste?
We’ve talked about the secular meaning of Namaste. But, for some, the spiritual meaning of Namaste can be: “The divine in me respectfully recognizes the divine in you.”
Scholars explain that in Hinduism, there is a divine spirit in every living thing. So, when one person greets another, they are greeting the divine spirit within that person. By bowing and bringing the palms together in greeting, they are in a way, praying to God.
Namaste is essentially an expression of reverence and humility, and is spreading throughout the world, partly due to the popularity of yoga.
How do you respond when someone says Namaste?
That’s easy. When someone approaches you, palms together, slightly bowing, and pronouncing the word, “Namaste,” the correct response is for you to respond in the same manner.
As we said above, if you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you’ve most certainly had a yoga teacher who has ended the class with, “Namaste.” But you may not have understood why.
Too, you probably were unsure of what to do in your first yoga class when you first encountered Sanskrit. The teacher would have guided students by using the Sanskrit name for at least some of the poses. There was most likely more Sanskrit spoken than just Namaste. But Namaste probably would have been used at least once.
But, ultimately, there’s no reason to feel nervous or unsure of what to say. When someone says Namaste to you and uses the typical gesture, just mimic what they are doing. You’ll look like a pro!
However, don’t forget that there is nothing wrong with not understanding or knowing what to do in a yoga class or in life. You can always ask the question to your yoga teacher as to what Namaste means. It may mean something personal and beautiful to your teacher. And they’ll love to open their heart and spread their knowledge to you!
Why do you say Namaste in yoga?
Some yogis believe that when you say Namaste in yoga, there is a transfer of positivity from one person to the other. But not only are you transferring energy, yogis also believe that when you say Namaste, you have more positive energy flowing through your body, making you feel more present and centered.
When saying Namaste in yoga, you’re surrendering your mind, fear, ego and you, and, with your palms in prayer pose at your heart, you allow truth and love to flow from your heart and through your actions.
And the bowing gesture lets you be humble. It allows you to accept everyone’s abilities and be open to advice. It also allows to you show respect to your students and peers. You will feel as if you are honoring those around you.
So, in a yoga studio setting, the teacher is humbling themself in front of their students. They’re communicating that even though they are leading the class, that they are open to learning new things, open to change, and even open to criticism.
And the same applies to yoga students. Their Namaste response to the teacher shows that the students are there to learn. They’ll keep their minds and hearts open to learn yoga and be a part of the yoga tradition. They may be just starting out in yoga or they may have been practicing yoga for years. But, they are lifelong students, eager and curious.
What is the history behind the term Namaste?
Namaste has quite a long history, and we’re not talking a couple of hundred years. We’re saying that the term has been in sue for thousands of years. And, it’s more popular than ever!
Namaste in ancient artifacts and texts
Archaeologists have found terracotta figures in the Namaste posture dated from around 3000 BCE to 2000 BCE on South Asia.
And, the word Namaste has been found in many early Hindu scriptures, sculpture, and artwork in Hindu temples.
Namaste in the Indian Subcontinent and Asia
Even though the Namaste greeting is considered to be extremely formal in the Indian Subcontinent and Asia, is it still widely recognized and used frequently. And, with the Indian diaspora, it is used throughout the world.
Namaste in the West
Westerners began to become aware of the word and the mean of Namaste in the 1940s as interest in Indian culture became more prevalent in Europe and North America.
And, by the 1960s, the yoga craze was gaining traction in the West, and Americans and Europeans began using Namaste in their yoga classes. They were introduced to Namaste as an open, loving, and humbling gesture.
As yoga is more popular than ever, expanding into schools, retirement homes and hospitals, the word will never go out style.
We know you may feel unsure learning a new pastime, like yoga. You may go into the class thinking all you’ll need to know is how to perform the various poses. You probably wouldn’t have thought about having to learn to recognize unfamiliar words.
But don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of everything in no time. When you’re starting out, the poses will not be intricate and will be easy to learn. And, the names of the poses will begin to make sense. They’ll be repeated quite a lot by your teacher so you’ll soon know automatically which pose to get into.
And now that we’ve explained the word Namaste, you’ll have no problem knowing what to do when someone says Namaste to you! Just member, if you’re new to yoga, do exactly what the other person does when they are saying Namaste to you!
As you get deeper and more interested in yoga, the discussion above of the meaning of Namaste will give you a different outlook about yoga and yourself, especially as we did a deep dive into its yogic and spiritual meanings and uses.
Also, by knowing why we say Namaste in a yoga class, you’ll gain a better understanding of your practice and the practice of those around you.
And, finally, the history of the word Namaste will link you and your practice to the ancient tradition and texts of yoga.
(To learn about other yoga symbols, check out that article!)