Many yoga teachers will begin and finish their class by saying “namaste” to their classes, holding their hands together in front of themselves and bowing their heads. Most students will respond with the same word and gesture. Many have picked up this habit by simply following what everyone else in their yoga class does. But, what does the word and gesture mean?
What is the origin of namaste?
This word and gesture combined are meant to represent the idea and belief that our heart chakra contains a divine spark. It is meant to say that each of us has this spark, and we are acknowledging it in one another. It can be viewed as a beautiful way to say we are all equals since we all start with the same spark inside of us.
The word “namaste” itself breaks down as follows: Nama = bow, as = I, and te = you. The literal translation of this word is, therefore, “Bow me to you.”, or more succinctly, “I bow to you.”
There are right and wrong ways to perform the accompanying bow. The hands held together are not meant to represent a prayer like so many believe but are focused over the heart chakra. The hands are held here to increase the flow of our divine love. A further sign of deep respect comes from also acknowledging the third eye chakra. To do so, start with your hands in front of that chakra which is centered right above where your eyebrows would meet. Your hands would then move to your heart chakra after the bow.
Your eyes should close when bowing. This helps the mind focus on and surrender to the divine in the heart. In fact, someone could use the namaste pose as a form of extended meditation to help close the brain and focus on the spirit and the heart chakra. When approaching someone and bowing to him/her, think about that fact. This is more than just a greeting like a handshake or a wave; it is a short and brief meditation that the two of you share.
Actually saying “namaste” when bowing is a practice only followed by the western world. In India and other parts of Asia, the word is not said since it is understood what the gesture signifies. The practice continues in yoga classes to make the purpose of the bow clear and to help new yoga students feel more comfortable. Feel free to say it when you bow, but also, do not be surprised if someone else bows and does not say the word.
When used in a teacher-to-student situation, it allows the teacher to connect with all his or her students at the same time. It is his/her way to show that they are all equals in this world. We all have the same divine spark inside. So, no matter how much money we make, where we are from, or how we look, at this moment, we are all the same and are equals.