The Powerful Yet Simple Meaning of Namaste Around the World

Woman from India in traditional attire with head bowed and hands in Namaste position.

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Namaste is a lovely way to respectfully greet others and is in common daily use in India, Nepal, and Pakistan. However, Namaste is also a Sanskrit word we hear in the practice of yoga. Although millions use this word regularly, it is also a bit of an enigma with a long ancient history. So, let’s explore the meaning of Namaste!

To start, it’s an ancient Sanskrit word which means I bow to you. So, in short, it’s a respectful greeting. Also, in yoga classes, the teacher says it to their students at the beginning and end of the class.

Additionally, for many, including yoga practitioners, it takes on a deeper, spiritual practice wherein the spoken word, “Namaste”, recognizes and honors the “divine” that lives in everyone.

It is also interesting to note that in the Eastern cultural use of this saying, they pronounce it “num-us-teh” while people from Western cultures pronounce it “nahm-ahs-tay.

History of Namaste

“Namaste means that whatever is precious and beautiful in me honors whatever is precious and beautiful in you.”
― Debasish Mridha

The history of Namaste goes hand in hand with the ancient history of the India, Pakistan, and Nepal region along with the ancient Vedic Sanskrit language. The ancient Sanskrit language dates back 3,500 years and many refer to it as “the mother of all languages.

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The use of Namaste is part of this tradition and gives honor to elders, parents, deities, or in today’s modern world – other people. In short, it is a sign of respect.

Vedic Sanskrit to Classical Sanskrit

Today’s Classical Sanskrit is one of 22 official languages. Moreover, it remains the ceremonial language of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

Interestingly, there was a time when Sanskrit was thought not to be a separate language but rather it was a sign of refinement and higher education as it was spoken only by the Brahmin (priest) caste.

Because Sanskrit is a very ancient language it almost seems mystical because no single Western word easily defines the meaning of Namaste. It is when we take a closer look that we recognize how important it is to feel it in our hearts as a divine connection between each other.

If you want to take this saying to heart and be as authentic as possible, search for your own personal meaning to make it an even more enduring and useful spiritual practice.

How to Use Namaste

For many, Namaste implies that “The divine in me recognizes the divine in you.” However, you might want to use something else in place of the word “divine” that better describes your personal belief system. Here are a few possibilities of what it might mean to you.

  1. God
  2. Universe
  3. Light
  4. Omnipresence
  5. Soul

Also, in place of the word “recognizes”, you might use one of the following words:

  1. Acknowledges
  2. Recognizes
  3. Appreciates
  4. Praises
  5. Reveres

The following is a brief list of ways to use the word Namaste in your life. Use these lists to create your own special meaning.

  1. The light within me honors the light within you.
  2. My soul honors your soul.
  3. My spirit reveres your spirit.
  4. I honor the truth within you because it is also within me.
  5. The light of oneness within me acknowledges the light of oneness within you.
  6. The omnipresence in me praises the omnipresence in you.

As you can see, when anyone speaks the word “Namaste”, the individuals who greet each other might come from diverse backgrounds but are still able to give respect without offense, regardless of their belief system. That is one of the very cool things about Namaste – which is, it depicts a universal meaning that potentially appeals to anyone from any lifestyle.

Additionally, over the millenniums, many words in our modern world take on new meanings and thereby swerve in and out of distinct definitions and purposes. This word, when spoken in a spiritual sense, is one such example even though the basic definition stays the same.

Hands, Heart Chakra, and Third Eye Chakra

In the Hindu culture and more recently, in our Western world, we speak this greeting aloud but also use the hands. Specifically, this symbolic gesture is the physical action of palms pressed together with fingers that point upward while held in front of the heart chakra with eyes closed and the head in a bowing position.

In addition, it some do it with the hands in front of the third eye chakra. Then, they bring the hands downward to the heart which energizes both the third eye and the heart chakra.

We are all aware of the physical aspects of the human heart, but do you know that the heart has a memory and is the most powerful generator of electromagnetic energy in the human body?

“In the past few years, our own science has made a radical, revolutionary discovery that changes everything about the way we think of ourselves and the world. What they found is that when we create heart-based feelings of gratitude, appreciation, care-literally, using the muscle of the heart to create these feelings-what we’re actually doing is generating a magnetic field inside our bodies that is part of the magnetic field of the Earth that undergoes the change.” —Gregg Bradon, The Magnetic Field of the Heart

This is the tremendous energy from the heart that transfers between a yoga teacher and their student when they practice Namaste with Pranamasana or Mudras.

Pranamasana and Mudras

This symbolic gesture is the “Pranamasana” and is wordless yet carries a silent meaning. Along with Namaste, yoga instructors use this pose at the beginning and end of a yoga session. Taken from Sanskrit, “pranam” means life, soul, or pay respect and “asana” means seat. In yoga practice, Pranamasana helps bring tranquility to the mind and body through focus and deep breathing. Tip o’ the Hat to What is Pranamasana?

An interesting ‘silent’ point is that in Western culture, “Namaste” is spoken aloud while the hands are held together but in India, the gesture alone implies the greeting, so it is not necessary to speak the word.

In addition, this gesture is one of the seven “Mudras” (hand positions) as in the gesture of “Anjali Mudra” which is the hands held together in an upright position. You may refer to the Mudras as a form of yoga for the hands.  Mudras affect the flow of “Prana” which is life force energy. In this practice, each finger depicts a natural element of earth, water, fire, wind, and space.

Namaste vs Namaskar

Both are Sanskrit words that are in modern use, however, “Namaste” is more widely known around the world.

Naturally, there are many opinions about the use of these words primarily because there are only subtle differences. So, let us drill down to the details for a better understanding of the differences and uses of these two words.

➳ Namaste • Meaning and Use

Namah = not me (humble), so I salute, bow, or offer salutation
As = to be or to exist
Te = to you
Namah + As + Te = salutation to you

This is an example of Namaste in a sentence:

“In response Nehru closed his palms in front of his chest. This traditional Hindu namasthe (greeting) is as much a part of his public manner as was the V sign for Churchill.”
—TIME, 16 August 1948 VIA How Namaste Entered the English Language

➳ Namaskar • Meaning and Use

Namah = not me (humble), so I salute, bow, or offer salutation
As = to be or to exist
Kaara or Kar = doer or creator
Namah + As + Kar = salutation giving, or I give salutation

This is an example of Namaskar in a sentence:

“One by one they filed past, some doing namaskar (hands placed together in an attitude of prayer), others bowing low and touching the ground with their foreheads.”
—U.N. World, April 1948 VIA How Namaste Entered the English Language

But Namaskar is not in wide usage in English, in fact, the Oxford English Dictionary records Namaste as a noun but also as a verb which interprets as “to give a Namaste to”. So, for most in the modern Western world, the two words are interchangeable with Namaste being the predominate word in use today.

Namaste in the Yoga Classroom

➳ Namaste Connects Student and Teacher

An important purpose of the practice of Namaste in a yoga class is to bring teacher and student together. This happens when their energy connects timelessly to free the teacher and student from an undesirable ego-connection.

Moreover, with placement of the hands over the heart, strong feelings and reverence combine for a deep bond between the two spirits. This connection initiates with a spring of positive energy that flows through the heart chakras from one to the other.

Additionally, this positive energy flows between all those present which is even more powerful. This is one of the underlying reasons why people like to do yoga in a group setting. With all that positive energy flowing through the room, it makes for an immensely powerful yoga session.

This same practice holds true with yoga meditation in a group setting. The more people who practice yoga exercises or yoga meditation at one time, the deeper and more profound is the experience.

Some yoga instructors practice Namaste at the beginning and end of class, however it is usually always at the end of class. The theory behind this is the at the end of the class, the mind is less active, and the ambiance of the room is more peaceful.

Therefore, the intention is to connect teacher and students to allow the flow of truth between them which is accessible only when we live from our hearts.

Crystal McCreary, certified yoga instructor in New York City says that Namaste strengthens the relationship with their students and makes them feel like they are a part of the practice.

“…A feeling of being included, an experience of their needs being considered and valued, as if their experience and their humanity is respected, and that the studio staff is committed to offering them a nourishing experience of yoga.”

She went on to say,

“Offering more intimate greetings are clues to finding deeper, more sacred human connectedness because truly seeing someone has the capacity to bring forth a richer shared connection.”

➳ We Are One

For most practitioners of yoga, it is a held belief that all are one. A socially significant aspect of Namaste is that it implies that our commonalities outweigh the differences between us.

For instance, a particularly wonderful awareness we gain through yoga is that we are a part of one divine consciousness. Moreover, that divine purpose is to appear in different manifestations.

Conversely, Western culture implies that we are separate. That causes feelings of less than or better than, which only serves to bring suffering into our lives.

The purpose of Namaste is then to choose to connect through divine consciousness rather than through ego. The issue with ego is that it tries to convince us that we are better than those around us. Through the practice of Yoga and the use of Namaste, students learn to see each other as perfectly divine beings.

This allows Yogis to connect with the highest of honor and through their own authentic existence. Christopher Wallis, Tantrik scholar describes this practice, and approach to life.

“Once you become aware of the true nature of reality, everything you do becomes an act of reverence. Simply living your ordinary daily life with full awareness becomes a complete practice of meditation, a perfect form of worship, an offering to all beings and to Being itself. Tantra teaches that because there is only One in the universe, all actions are in truth the Divine exploring itself, reverencing itself, worshiping itself.”

Conclusion

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Susan Daniels

Susan Daniels

As someone who is on my own journey of healing, I know how important it is to seek out guidance and understanding. This website is for just that – an inclusive resource for anyone, regardless of their background, who wants to embark on a lifestyle journey of healing and personal growth.

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