Why I Don’t Say Namaste.

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Okay, I do say it sometimes…

I’ll say it in response at the end of a yoga class if it feels appropriate. And I’ll say it ironically.

But…I don’t really like to say it. The last time I mentioned this, it upset some of our readers. I get it. I get what it means, and it’s wonderful to honor the light in each other. If we set aside the fact that it’s become overused in the yoga community to the point of becoming a cliche…those breathy, half-closed eyes where we knowingly bow at each other with hands joined at heart…forgive me if you manage to always do it with meaning, but sometimes, it does bring my lunch up in my throat a little.

Here’s the thing:

Light is one small part of who we are.

When we feel that connection with another human being, that spark, that (sorry, Waylon, I know you hate this term) resonance with another person, part of it is that we recognize the light we share in common.

If we only look at the parts of each other that are “light,” we miss so much. If we only have the notes of the music and not the rests—it’s just noise. If we only look at each other’s light, we aren’t being genuine. We miss crucial things about each other. If we pick and choose instead of opening up to the ever shifting kaleidoscope of the human experience, we miss it. We miss being present. We miss connecting with each other’s shadows.

If all we acknowledge is the light, it feels artificial. It is artificial. It’s like sitting under a giant halogen lamp all the time instead of having the sunlight that shifts and changes with the clouds.

If we truly wish to bow to each other, to connect with each other, the first step is admitting that there is darkness within us as well.

We cannot fully accept each other—or ourselves—until we accept that fact. I am equal parts shadow and light, and if that were not the case, I wouldn’t be living this precious human life. All of us have all of it. The person you look at as evil or depraved has within him—somewhere—that basic human light that you say “namaste” to. The person you revere as enlightened has his share of darkness as well.

It isn’t something to run from. It isn’t something we should hide from each other. If our true desire is more peace in the world and loving kindness towards each other, we cannot get there until we look at our darkness. If I want you to know me, and all I show you is parts of me that are polished and perfect, happy and light—you will never really know me. If I want to love you, but I don’t want to know your fear, your anger, your shame…it won’t happen.

We all love to share that quote about “cracks being what lets the light in.” We talk about embracing how we are magnificent, and letting go of our fear of being brilliant. It’s true, and I’m glad to recognize it. Recognizing the light in each other is a beautiful thing.

Without accepting and acknowledging each other’s shadows, it’s an incomplete thing.

“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”~ Pema Chodron

The point isn’t to wallow or feel overwhelmed with the parts that aren’t all happy and shiny. The point is to look at them, to sit with them, because they are part of who we are. It’s like taking a child’s wounded hand, turning it over and taking a look. Sometimes just the acknowledgement of each other’s brokenness is a profound step towards healing.

Maybe instead of all the “namaste” it’s time we say, it’s okay.

I see your shadows and they’re a lot like mine.

I see you. I see you, and it’s okay.

I will hold your hand, and we’ll help each other find our way in the dark.


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anonymous Oct 6, 2014 3:24pm

I’m very happy that I found this article about “namaste”

Although it has made things even more confusing to me. Since nobody knows of the first person to use the action of namaste, we dont know its true origin. because we didnt invent it, its far older than all of us combined. So this leads to my new concern. i was taught that”namaste” should never be spoken out loud because “namaste” is an action not a word that was intended to be spoken. Its similar to me SAYING “im waving my hand at you to say hello” opposed to simply just waving hello. I was taught that SAYING namaste is lazy. because where i come from, we dont SAY “namaste” we SHOW namaste,by looking into each others eyes and joining hands at the heart level. it almost disrespectful to SAY it because it was never intended to be spoken out loud. its something you SHOW. its like telling someone you love them when you dont. saying namaste is like..well…saying namaste..theres no meaning unless you look into ones eyes and SHOW namaste. and yeah..it gets on my nerves a bit because its origin is my home country.

anonymous Aug 24, 2014 1:59pm

I have never viewed "namaste" like this. To me, it has always been more of a complete package.. not a light vs dark… but a bowing to a wholeness that makes up everything that is human.

anonymous Feb 3, 2014 4:39am

I always notice when the yoga instructor gives it the influx ion of an English expression, such as "Namast-AY!" ("Have-a-nice-DAY!") or (monotone & with finality) "NAmaste." ("that's all for now.") I do love the ubiquitousness of the word now, though – it shows somewhat of an elevated level of awareness int he masses. Thanks for such a thoughtful article!

anonymous Feb 2, 2014 9:55pm

I think it is a bullshit cop-out to not say namaste and not om. Taking out the parts we are uncomfortable with is part of the degradation of yoga that is such a disservice to the spirituality of the practice. So maybe just try to connect with the light and the universe instead of constantly wallowing in the mire.

anonymous Oct 7, 2013 6:04am

I loved the gist of this article — have an article that speaks to some of the themes in it <3 https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=424409164… — I find Namaste overused to the point that is becoming a cliche, and spirituality more generally being conflated with being 'happy, peaceful, joyful, serene' – they are just shades of the human experience… the goal is to accept all in any case 🙂 Great post x

anonymous May 24, 2013 3:19pm

I'm experiencing the dark night of the soul….but I wouldn't have been able to find it without the happy shiny yoga first….now comes the real work.

anonymous Feb 18, 2013 12:23pm

I think it is funny that you have now created your own meaning for the word. This is not how it occurs for everyone but nice of you to put it out there so that we can analyse our own meaning again.

anonymous Dec 31, 2012 7:32am

At Old Yoga Chick, I'm there with you. When I say Namaste I am acknowledging all that cloaks the Atman and bowing to that nucleus that keeps the spark alive.

anonymous Dec 27, 2012 9:47am

[…] filing this with “Namaste,” “Blessings,” and “May your days be filled with shri.” I’m done with the tireless yogic […]

anonymous Oct 11, 2012 4:37pm

[…] on Facebook, I shared a link to an article that appeared on my news feed: “Why I Don’t Say Namaste,” published in the Elephant Journal, an online magazine devoted to all things yoga, and written by […]

anonymous Oct 10, 2012 1:46am

[…] on Facebook, I shared a link to an article that appeared on my news feed: “Why I Don’t Say Namaste,” published in the Elephant Journal, an online magazine devoted to all things yoga, and written by […]

anonymous Oct 8, 2012 11:44am

No matter how the context that it is used when someone says it to me, I always tried my best to put forth the right intention. By doing that, I know that I am doing my part to work on all the stuff that i need to work on within myself. As certain, as we all have a darkness with shades of grey that eventually turn to light, only the light we see first is the unchanging reality. Honor that first, and its easier to look past the darkness that could potentially breed negativity and a lost sense of oneness. ~ Namaste <3 <3 <3

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 15, 2012 6:21pm

    I hear you, and love that you do it with intention. Personally, I believe that light is only one part, and that negativity isn't something to be avoided or shunned, but acknowledged. We must honor all of it. Namaste to you—the dark and the light.

anonymous Oct 8, 2012 11:44am

I enjoyed reading this post. You definately offered insight to the usage of Namaste in the Yoga Community. I have to agree with you that Namaste sometimes is loosely used and not taken in the context its meant to be used. I have always felt that saying Namaste was a very sincere way of honoring the divine in everyone you meet. Granted everyone has a darkness, besides the light and in that contrast exists the beauty of who we all are. But to me, its important to understand that we must identify with that light first. By doing that, we resist the urge to identify people with only their dark half. The dark half, is just the stuff that we all have to work on. And if we make the mistake of not seeing the light first, we chance placing judgement on someone for who they appear to be, and not who they really are.

anonymous Oct 8, 2012 10:32am

What a video, Sigur Ros … the theme is relevant to this post, and appreciated …

anonymous Oct 8, 2012 10:31am

Don't run into this in my Pilates classes. No namaste … occasionally the mudra that is associated with it.

Have to say, no comment as to if I miss it or not.

The shadow is there, friends and countrymen. As is just plain-old, same-old acknowledgement — like a martial arts sensei saying/bowing with "Greetings and Welcome " at start of class, and "Thank You" at the end …


Originally learned "Namaste" with an add-on in My Early Yoga Classes

anonymous Oct 8, 2012 1:29am

Thanks for the post but in my opinion you’re over analysing and over thinking. If people say Namaste pretentiously and without meaning your gut usually knows this, in which case I say Namaste back & send them love hoping it will play some part in dissolving their pretentiousness. If it is said genuinely it is a beautiful thing. I was born and still live in an inner city that has its fair share of poverty and problems so for ‘Namaste’ to be thrown into that mix – well it makes my world a much nicer place & ling may it continue xxx

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 8, 2012 4:59am

    As far as the word itself, you may be right, but I do believe the over-emphasis on positivity in the yoga & spirituality community is a big problem. "Namaste" is just the example I chose to illustrate it. Thanks for your thoughts!

anonymous Oct 7, 2012 9:37pm

Kate, I enjoyed your thoughts on the common usage of the word, Namaste. Oftentimes, "namaste" does come off sounding a bit worn out, hollow and trite. However, until we find a better word to replace it with, I'll keep saying it with as much meaning as I can muster. Namaste! 🙂

anonymous Oct 7, 2012 3:56am

The whole Namaste thing is very much overused and misunderstood as well. If you are in India….even there it gets used for business, commercial use, etc…..Step on a plane and one of the attendants will surely even put their hands in prayer.

Like everything it means what you put into it at that time and your 'true' intention. Before teachers swallow it up they need to evaluate if it is something that truly resonates with them or something they 'think' they should be doing to make it more authentic.

Funny as I learned yoga in the context of India and its culture and from Indian teachers. Because of this I start and end class with a chant. It would feel naked not to do so. But I have rarely said namaste unless it was appropriate to the context. re: I taught a class of meditation or gave a mini-talk and as closure I said it. I never use it as an everyday thing….

But I also know confuses many students who are not familiar with the background or the culture background of yoga itself.

I also noticed my own teacher in India stopped putting his hands in prayer or using it. As yoga seems to have spiraled out of control I am not sure if he also felt it was getting overused. From discussions I have had with him….some chants were changed because the students were not able to understand it.

This is a good point….and something valuable that many teachers of yoga may need to think over as they teach or BEFORE they teach. All in all it is good to become conscious of what you are saying and why!

anonymous Oct 6, 2012 10:21am

Thank you, Kate. YES. That's why I get such a hearty laugh out of the vernacular truth-humor, "Namaste, Mother Fucker." LOVE. (How can there be light without dark?)

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 6, 2012 12:03pm

    Yes! Agreed, Kim. There can't be light without dark too. xo

anonymous Oct 6, 2012 3:58am

Very similarly to Kev Ollier I have always taken it to mean 'the God in me salutes the God in you' – which means obviously! that I love and accept you unconditionally. If you CAN do that, if you have grown enough through all of the limbs of yoga so that you are capable of loving and accepting unconditionally then say it. Too many, to my mind, teach yoga when they know not what it truly is. And to correct Kate, the being who is enlightened has no share of darkness.

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 6, 2012 6:21am

    Yes, as Ben Ralston mentions above, the original meaning was to honor the divine in each other—which is both light and dark. I completely disagree with your idea that the being who is enlightened has no share of darkness, or perhaps I should say, that the human experience will always include both. Moments of enlightenment let us have a true love and acceptance for all of it.

anonymous Oct 6, 2012 3:18am

I'm surprised that people think that is the meaning because saying Namaste (as far as I'm concerned) has nothing to do with it meaning 'the light within me, bows to the light within you' etc and I think that is just a new agey, misty talking, lovey hugging, warping of its true meaning –
which I thought was simply (if it is indeed simple) – 'the being playing at being me says Hi there to the being playing at being you' which encompasses all the light and all the dark and no doubt the 50 shades of grey in-between plus some yellow.
By refusing to say Namaste is no different egotistically than saying it to say it. If I said Namaste to you not saying it , it would simply be 'the being playing at being me says Hi there by way of the word Namaste to the being playing at being you who doesn't want to say Namaste'.
But if one needs balance, at the end of the next yoga class just say Namaste Muthafucker :)) http://kevollier.com/

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 6, 2012 6:18am

    Hmm, well, my point was more a rejection of how namaste is being used than the true meaning of the word. I love your take on it, but the new-age mistiness bums me out. Namaste Muthafucka! (And thanks for your thoughts!)

anonymous Oct 5, 2012 10:58pm

AWESOME read! So much of the new-age movement is about honouring the light, working with the light yadda yadda that we’ve completely forgotten the laws of duality and oppositves. For the light to exist we need darkness, and that exists within each of us.

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 6, 2012 6:19am

    Thanks Tanya! I agree, we need to honor all of it.

anonymous Oct 5, 2012 5:22pm

I would have to disagree with this article, as I think it goes against the teachings of the yoga sutras. Sutra 2.17 says, drashtri drishyayoh samyogah heya hetuh, which essentially means " Pain is created when we identify our True Selves with what we see and have" The article says that Light is one small part of who we are, and the yoga sutras teach that the light (purusha…that which does not change) is your essence. Everything else is prakriti (matter…that which is always in flux…i.e your physical body, your job, your emotions, your shadow side, etc.) When we identify with prakriti, (believing that we are our shadow side, as the article suggests) this creates pain. The state of mind called yoga is understanding the difference between purusha and prakriti. If we truly see the light in ourselves and in others, then absolutely nothing is missed.

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 6, 2012 6:41am

    I guess I am also adding in the Buddhist perspective that we look at each moment for what it is. Each moment is enough, and not preparation for anything else. Some moments in our human life are incredibly dark. To ignore that and only focus on the light is a form of spiritual bypassing, and ignoring rather than accepting the reality of what is. This is the part that concerns me, is not that people choose to look at the good, but that some people use this as a way of escaping or avoiding things that are difficult.

    It would be much more beneficial to bow to the yin and the yang than to bow to the light and avoid/ignore the darkness.

    I do value what you added too, though. If we identify solely with our shadow side, we will wallow in pain, and that is not a good place for anyone to be. To heal any painful parts, though, we need to first acknowledge that they are there. "What gives light must endure burning." ~ Victor Frankl

    anonymous Oct 7, 2012 9:39pm

    Spot on. If you acknowledge the shadow, the dark, you are 'believing' in it. Try acknowledging the light in people more often, do it until you believe it, feel it, sense it and experience it. And then you will realize shadow and darkness is no more, as your attention has given it no power to exist.

anonymous Oct 5, 2012 9:30am

I've never heard anyone question the 'Namaste.' Kate brings many great points to light in this article. it's a comfort knowing we can bow to the yin and the yang, and while we're at it, the bright and the dark. Love this.

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 5, 2012 9:36am

    Thanks Yogabeast…love that handle. I want to be a yogabeast! (I'm more like a yoga cuddly bunny 😉

anonymous Oct 5, 2012 7:18am

Maybe it's just a UK thing, but whenever I think of Namaste I'm remembering to recognise the light that we share because it's so easy to forget about it! The darkess and seperateness of ourselves is obvious, it's the light and the connection we can easily forget about.

Are you, my atlantic brothers and sisters, living in a world where the light is so obvious we have to remember point out the dark?

It occurs to me it's deep in our national psyches – when someone asks 'how are you?' in the UK, we tend to answer 'not bad', 'could be worse' or 'mustn't grumble' whereas you guys are 'awesome', 'fabulous', and 'amazing'. Telling, isn't it?

It's balance that we seek (as many previous posters have alluded to) and satya!

Recognising the light, dark, sun and drizzle in you all 🙂

Always interesting. Thanks!

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 5, 2012 7:34am

    I think you are on to something about cultural differences. I think there has been a trend within spiritual communities in the US, to focus on positivity to a fault. Positivity is wonderful, and I believe in being grateful for everything. But that means everything, not just pretending "it's all good," but looking at the dark and the light in all (and the drizzle! Love the UK!). Thanks Mandy!

anonymous Oct 5, 2012 6:10am

I disagree but feel people should do what is comfortable for them. To me Namaste is acknowledging the everything you just work towards in your yoga which usually means confronting the dark places and pushing light into them.

    anonymous Oct 5, 2012 6:11am

    *edit light and breath into them

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 5, 2012 7:32am

    Right on, and I know there are many people who are completely genuine about it. And, as you say, acknowledging everything.

anonymous Oct 5, 2012 6:08am

I only say when I'm sure the person hearing it knows what it means (I'm with Ben Ralston on that one) and in a context where such an expression is appropriate – which is very rarely.

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 5, 2012 6:18am

    Yes, I agree. Thanks!

    anonymous Oct 8, 2012 10:25am

    I explain what it means before I say it at the end of my classes.

anonymous Oct 5, 2012 5:56am

I stopped saying it and the end of my classes. It is cliché and peeps do just roll it off the tongue without a thought to it's true meaning…

Like Jaaaaysus!! You don't tell someone you love them at the end of a class do you? But the expression has the same weight as far as I'm concerned.

    anonymous Oct 5, 2012 5:58am

    It's nice just to say thank you at the end of class… and actually mean it.

      Kate Bartolotta Oct 5, 2012 6:11am

      I'd rather say a genuine thank you—or I love you! Love you, Tobye!

anonymous Oct 5, 2012 5:55am

I have no trouble with saying Namaste but I was taught by Indian Swamis thirty years ago a yoga that is different than both the Gym Yoga and New Age Yoga of today. Like Ben said Hatha Yoga comes from Tantra which acknowledges dark and light. I have noticed several entries lately about American Yoga being fake in a 'feel good' way. That is important to think about but to me, American Yoga needs to grow up and get past it's airy fairy honeymoon phase and into a more mature place where we see the deeper layers. We have just scratched the surface and now it's time to do the hard work. That takes more than a 200 hr teacher training program. And more than asana. You have to spend time sitting. That is why teachers like Pema can speak to this in a way asana gymnasts never will.

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 5, 2012 6:13am

    Exactly. And there are many wonderful genuine teachers in the West (famous and not-so-famous…doesn't matter…) but in general…yes. If we are acknowledging seeing the divine—light and dark—wonderful. If it's just more "yay let's only talk about the good stuff!" I'll pass.

anonymous Oct 5, 2012 5:49am

I do mean it as with anything else I say when I say it regardless of the cliche aspect. I think the darkness in people and the world are a given and more attention to the light is a necessary and good thing. I think it's the opposite outside of the yoga world where not nearly enough attention is given to the light and goodness in people. Many people aren't even aware of their own light.

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 5, 2012 6:15am

    That's true, Denise, many people aren't. But I also believe that in order to really see your own light (and in others) it can't be a cover up or way of NOT looking at the dark. We can look at each other and ourselves and see and accept all of it.

anonymous Oct 4, 2012 10:30pm

Love this. I've been increasingly uncomfortable with this being a rote closing at the end of class, but I wasn't quite sure why. Thanks for articulating it so clearly.

anonymous Oct 4, 2012 9:34pm

Love this Kate.

anonymous Oct 4, 2012 8:03pm

Great post, Kate. "Namaste" has been overused and abused into clichedom and worse until the juice has been wrung out. But then it's part and parcel of the standardization of Yoga that has wrenched it from its sacred roots. Thanks for shedding some much needed light on the need for more dark.

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 5, 2012 6:15am

    Thanks Val! Hope you are well.

anonymous Oct 4, 2012 6:22pm

Hi Kate: you said "If our true desire is more peace in the world and loving kindness towards each other, we cannot get there until we look at our darkness."

This reminds me of the famous Carl Jung quote: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

And yes, not only making our shadow conscious, but also coming to love it…rather than hide it in a shame closet while hanging out in the bright and shiny spiritual ego.

anonymous Oct 4, 2012 5:21pm

Ah yes, you know how much I love that Pema Chodron quote! It is so important to face our shadow side, and the shadows of others, and accept them. And Sigur Ros never ceases to take my breath away, thanks. ~Flynn

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 5, 2012 6:18am

    Thanks Flynn! Yes, Sigur Ros always amazes me too 🙂

anonymous Oct 4, 2012 12:34pm

Ironically, the real meaning of Namaste is exactly what you describe towards the end – "I see you…"
The western interpretation "I bow to the divine in you" is a total mis-interpretation, based on our dualistic conception of what is divine.

In Hinduism 'divine' is also dark (Siva, Kali, etc).
So Namaste – literally, I salute you, or I bow to you – means simply I see you, all of you, light and dark. It's really all about honesty in my opinion, and how beautiful is that?!
But we've been conditioned in the West to really *not* see each other (or know ourselves), so that many people fall back on a foreign language to express what they don't quite feel comfortable expressing in their mother-tongue.

I also never say Namaste. Doesn't feel comfortable to me. Only use Sanskrit to teach, and then only to demonstrate meaning behind practice.

    Kate Bartolotta Oct 4, 2012 1:32pm

    Thanks Ben. I assumed that the Westernization of the phrase had a lot to do with that. The divine is the dark and the light…and truly seeing each other.

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Kate Bartolotta

Kate Bartolotta is a wellness cheerleader, yogini storyteller, and self-care maven.
She also writes for Huffington Post, Yoga International, Mantra Yoga+ Health, a beauty full mind, The Good Men Project, The Green Divas, The Body Project, Project Eve, Thought Catalog and Soulseeds.
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