Knowing Namaste

by TJ Davis | May 13th, 2010 | Yoga

Often heard in yoga classrooms throughout the country, the greeting “Namaste” is sometimes performed without more than a cursory understanding of its meaning and significance. One common, and very literal, translation from Sanskrit is “I bow to you”, which may be more aptly described as “my soul bows to your soul”. Even beyond this linguistic interpretation, Namaste is deeply meaningful and profoundly significant on an intensely spiritual level.

To fully comprehend the connotations of Namaste, one must not only look at the etymology of the term for literal meaning, but also at its mystical relevance. First, it is important to note that Namaste is more than a spoken greeting; it is accompanied by a gesture which signifies acquiescence. With palms pressed together, fingers pointing upward, thumb-side placed proximal to the heart, and head bowed, Namaste is a posture of reverence and submission. The conjunctive utterance of the term with the gesture distinguishes Namaste as much more than a mere greeting between two individuals. It is an act of submission in acknowledgment of the sameness or oneness of the divine light within each individual. It is in all ways a relinquishment of ego and a spiritual and mental expression of unconditional acceptance, devotion and respect in the knowledge that each participating individual houses and reflects the light of the Supreme Spirit.

In contrast, the Namaste greeting has been compared with the Western tradition of shaking hands. The handshake is a physical gesture which denotes (or perhaps belies) the equality of the individuals making contact. Namaste does not assume equality between the greeter and the greeted. It is a universal greeting that can be used among men, as well as between the mortal and the divine. Although the handshake has been loaned an aura of respect – having become synonymous with a bond of integrity – the gesture itself can never exemplify the spiritual respect that Namaste exudes.

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