The term “Namaste” in the practice of yoga has come under fire in recent years. Some say it has been overused and has lost its original meaning. Others say it is culturally appropriating a Sanskrit greeting. Many seem to forget its original intention. Few seem to be able to point at why or when it became so integrated into the world of yoga, or by whom…
I read one article years ago in Yoga Journal by Aadil Palkhivala that suggested B.K.S Iyengar himself might have started the practice – but, interestingly, I can no longer find that article online. He also said that Iyengar ended his classes by simply saying, “That is all.” Sometimes, you may also hear the words, “Hari Om, Tat Sat” at the end of a talk or meditation such as a Yoga Nidra practice, which loosely translates as “That is Truth.” I am not a Sanskrit expert, although I’ve studied it as part of my yoga therapy training, and I am a life-long learner, continuing to expand my own understanding of this practice that has been a way of life for me for 30 years. I have learned so much more about how to use Sanskrit terms and meanings accurately from my teacher, Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani.
I think it’s important for people practicing any tradition that is not of or from their own culture to honor the seeds and roots of that tradition. However, it is also important not to fall into the trap of listening to what anybody says about what is right and wrong about yoga. Sadly, there are many who are using social justice and “cultural appropriation” fears for monetary gain and selling it as the newest “trend” in yoga.
Yoga is a living tradition, rooted in Sanatana Dharma – in Indian culture, and specifically in Hinduism. I have explored this question of whether or not to use the term “Namaste” myself, as I grew up hearing it from my own teachers – usually at the beginning of class, but also sometimes at the end. The best advice I have read comes from Indu Aurora: https://www.yogsadhna.com/library/for_your_soul/do_you_namaste_11
And, more generally from my own teacher, Dr. Ananda. You can find his talk on cultural misappropriation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvIOT2xdt9o You can also download his e-book on cultural misappropriation, endorsed by the Indian Yoga Association: https://www.academia.edu/49330746/Yoga_and_Cultural_Misappropriation
I have almost completed the Yoga Step-by-Step course with Dr. Ananda, in the lineage of his father, Swami Dr. Gitananada and the Rishi culture tradition. In the second Module of the course, there are postures that explain the Namaskar terms, rooted in ancient tradition. I think it’s important to note that even for many Indians, the connotation of these terms and ancient meanings has been lost.
According to Swami Gitananada, “The Indian greeting has always been a recognition of God in the person one meets. The Sanskrit “Namaskara”, literally means, “I see God working through you”. The modern greeting made acceptable by the late Swami Dayananda Saraswathi was “Namaste”, or “I witness God or the Primal Essence (name) in you.” In the south of India we greet with “Vanakkam” which has the same connotation.”
The prayer hands gesture, called Namaskara Mudra or Anjali Mudra when lifted above the head is used to indicate the highest greeting – to greet one’s teacher or guru or an icon of a God or Goddess.
The Surya Namaskar sequence of yoga postures, or “Sun Salutations” involve a series of movements that are traditionally done in the early morning, outside, facing the rising sun that honor the Sun’s power, connect with it, and honor our own personal Sun within. (That is a simplistic definition – there is much meaning in each and every movement of the Surya Namaskar, and there are also many different versions of this sequence of postures - but that is a blog post for another day).
I hope this information and the links I’ve provided help you to understand this word a little bit better and to use it appropriately or not at all. I hope the links provided encourage you to explore more, keep learning and always expand your horizons. The Yoga path is a continual path of growth, respect and compassion. Be blessed and be a blessing. *Photo by Lana Foley Photography