If you've ever attended a yoga class, you know that every practice ends with the instructor putting their hands together in prayer position in front of their chest or their third eye (between your two eyes) and saying Namaste. These days, you'll see Namaste pop up on workout tanks and internet memes like "Namaste in bed," but the original Sanskrit term holds much deeper meaning.
What does Namaste mean?
In English, Namaste translates to "I bow to you" or "The divine in me honors the divine in you." But it's not meant to have a religious sentiment as it sounds. The meaning of Namaste is a mantra of peace and equality to live by on and off the mat. Here, some yoga instructors share what Namaste means to their practice and how they impart its positive message to their students.
What does Namaste mean in yoga?
It’s a greeting for your soul
In India or other areas where Sanskrit is spoken, Namaste is a greeting in everyday life to simply address someone, but in yoga, it's a more profound gesture of respect toward another person. Francesca de Luca, a certified yoga teacher in Rome, Italy, says that when you say Namaste, you connect to your divine soul. "From that 'sacred space,' you bow to the divine in the person in front of you," she says.
“When we talk about the divine, we aren't referring to something religious, but to the most pure or elevated part of ourselves—to our inner light, to our spirit,” de Luca explains.
Crystal McCreary, a certified yoga instructor in New York City, says that saying Namaste can be another way to bring more authenticity to yoga and help people feel more welcome in class and in the community. “Namaste can often be misused as a greeting, particularly if the practitioner who is actually saying it perpetuates a harmful, culturally appropriative yogic environment that does not honor where yoga comes from,” McCreary says.
It connects people to the yoga community
Every yoga class ends in Savasana, aka corpse pose, but Namaste is the true closer. For many instructors, Namaste allows them to connect to all of their students, whether they're beginners or advanced, and offer a gesture of deep understanding toward them. “For me in a yoga class, embracing the practice of Namaste is about doing my best to take my yoga students in when I greet, teach, and say goodbye to them. I try to fully see them,” McCreary says.
McCreary says that Namaste is a way to strengthen an instructor's relationship with their students and make them feel like they're 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 adds. Namaste—when used genuinely—serves as a way to acknowledge that each student is just as valued in the practice as the instructor.
It establishes equality among everyone in the practice
When an instructor says Namaste at the end of class, students usually repeat it back. Morgan Perry, certified yoga instructor and founder of Yoga Unwined, says that during class, the teacher is the leader in the room. But when students echo Namaste back to the instructor at the end of class, it puts everyone on the same level.
"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,” McCreary says.
A main principle of Namaste is to create an atmosphere of equality regardless of the type of yoga, whether it’s a solo practice or a huge group doing a Bikram yoga session. Jeremy Robinson, a certified Acro yoga instructor, holistic health coach, and owner of Austin Holistic Fitness, believes in the importance of using Namaste to cultivate a relationship of trust and friendship among yoga partners.
"Saying Namaste at the end of an Acro yoga practice is the equivalent of saying 'I support you and thank you for supporting me,'” Robinson says. Robinson also says it adds a strong sense of self-respect, which is an essential part of building a trusting relationship in Acro yoga or any type of yoga. “Take care of yourself emotionally, physically, and spiritually, and bring that self-love into a friendship and partnership in Acro,” he says.
How to live Namaste principles outside of class
It allows yogis to open up to each other
Because Namaste is a greeting that connects people, it can also be an invitation to begin socializing after class has ended. In certain settings, it can be the perfect jumping off point for great conversation.
“Yoga Unwined adds a social component to yoga, so if you think of Namaste as a greeting or acknowledgment of others, this is something that happens in our classes organically between students," Perry says. "In our classes, the last half hour is very social. The wine tasting is interactive and then students get to chat with each other after class," Perry adds. When you keep in mind the true meaning of Namaste, you acknowledge that you have this yoga practice in common with other people, so it ultimately helps you open yourself up to others.
It helps you respect others
Recognizing the “divine” in others is the first step toward bringing Namaste into practice outside the mat. “When we relate to other people, we shouldn't judge them from their appearance or their position within society. We should always try to see the good in them, their light, their beautiful soul,” de Luca stresses. This idea also involves being open to others’ views and perspectives, no matter where they’re coming from. McCreary makes a point to greet each of her students as a way to makes them feel safe and at ease immediately. “Part of doing that means that I greet them with a smile and joy, and in a way that implies both ‘I see you’ and ‘I love you,’” she says.
Implementing more Namaste into your everyday life starts with simple gestures. “Everyone can start with very small things, like listening more from the heart when someone talks to us. Connect to their soul beyond the words they use or pause for a moment instead of reacting quickly to bad situations. Just to have the time to breathe,” McCreary says. Namaste is all about enriching any environment with compassion. “Every classroom community, but a yoga classroom in particular, should be a place where—at the minimum—we aim to practice greeting, seeing, and listening to the fullness of one another’s humanity, whether we say Namaste or not.”