January 30, 2014

The Namaste Cliché.

At the end of every yoga class I’ve ever taught, I press my palms together in front of my heart center, say “Namaste,” and bow to my fellow practitioners.

This three-syllable word, along with final relaxation in corpse pose (savasana), is the one constant I carry with me whenever and wherever I teach or practice yoga. It is a ritual of respect, a nod to the Indian and Sanskrit roots of yoga and a way of expressing my appreciation to the attendees of the class.

I often say things just before the namaste, such as “thank you for sharing your practice with me today” or “let’s close class by taking three breaths (or oms) together, feeling a sense of gratitude for our bodies, our minds, each other, the space to practice, the yoga teachings—and life in general.”

With a gazillion people now practicing yoga the world over, “namaste” has entered the mainstream American vernacular and, sadly, it has become a cliché.

But I still say it anyway. Only in the context of yoga class or sometimes written at the end of an email or letter.

I do not say namaste at any other time. Not to the cashier at Whole Foods. Not when I answer the phone or the door, a la Maggie Gyllenhaal’s New-Agey character in the movie Away We Go.

After class the other day, one attendee—a delightful young “millennial” woman—confessed that she always thinks of a funny video she saw in which they say, “Namaste,” as in “nah, imma stay” when she hears the word.

Now I will always think that, too. It’s hard not to chuckle.

The most ubiquitous translation of the word goes something like, “the divine light in me bows to the divine light in you.”

It is a sacred word loaded with compassion, gentleness and kindness.

I love how they say it in north India with the emphasis on the second syllable. Na-MA-ste. Also, there it’s used all the time as a hello-how-are-you greeting or goodbye-take-care salutation.

I cannot explain why I say “namaste” more eloquently than fellow elephant blogger, Tracey Jansen:

Namaste is not something I say because it’s cool or expected or just the thing yoga teachers say. Before I say it with and to my class, I draw my thumbs to my forehead and then bow and bring my hands to my heart. I sit up, open my eyes and what I see back is priceless.

A group of yogis, having been led through a powerful physical practice and then allowed to rest and have the practice land. The faces that look back at me are beautiful, eyes full of light and love. It is, by far, my favorite part of teaching.

So, will I quit saying it just because mainstream pop culture has turned it into a huge cliche? Nah, imma stay with it!


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Olga Kruglova/Flickr, 9gag, elephant archives

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