What does namaste mean in yoga?
The word namaste (nah-MAH-stay) is everywhere nowadays… bumper stickers on cars…word decor on yoga studio walls…and even on yoga pants and shirts.
Have you taken a moment to learn what the phrase actually means though?
Namaste is such a special word and gesture that is essential to learn about as a yogi, whether you practice yoga alone or in the company of others.
Become familiar with namaste and discover the translations, mudra (hand gesture), and when to say or gesture namaste during yoga.
You’ll feel a sense of connectedness with your inner-self, those around you, as well as take your yoga practice to a deeper level.
What’s the Meaning of Namaste?
The exact translation of namaste from the Hindu language, Sanskrit, is “I bow to you”. Broken down into syllables, ‘nama’ means bow, ‘as’ means I, and ‘te’ means you.
However, if that phrase doesn’t entirely resonate with you, there are many other interpretations of namaste, such as “We are the same, we are one” or “I bow to the place in you that is love, light, and joy”.
In basic terms, gesturing or verbalizing namaste means that you respect the other person, see them as an equal, neither more superior nor inferior, and that you trust the love in their heart.
Say and gesture namaste as a greeting and symbol of compassion.
How Namaste Make You Feel?
The one thing that just might be deeper than the meaning of namaste is the feeling. Yogis regularly report that sensations occur when they say namaste to themselves and others.
Some explain it as a brief meditation that gives off a strong sense of connection with another person’s soul, or one’s own soul.
Feelings of happiness and tranquility follow after the gesturing and speaking of namaste.
The reason for this occurring is the intense focus a yogi puts on the meaning when closing their eyes and performing namaste.
These benefits will most likely not happen when one says namaste absentmindedly.
Once you learn how to do namaste, and start using it to greet others or to spiritually connect with yourself, be sure to stay mindful during this brief meditation. This will provide you with a plethora of benefits.
How to Do the Namaste Hand Gesture
The hand gesture for namaste is called Añjali Mudrā (AHN-juh-lee MOO-druh), and translated as “prayer hand gesture”.
To do this, you could be standing if, for instance, you greet another yogi you know on the street, or sitting if you are on your yoga mat and beginning or ending your yoga practice.
Either way, you’ll complete the gesture by bringing the palms of your hands together, touching the chest at the heart, all fingers will point up, and elbows can relax.
There’s no need to lift the elbows or push your palms together. It should be a light touch. Bow your head as you hold the hand gesture.
You can also take an inhale and bring the palms of the hands together at the third eye chakra, located at the center of the forehead, then slowly bring the hands down to the heart on an exhale and bow.
This is a deep form of respect, often done by a yoga student to their teacher or guru. Whichever way you choose, ultimately bring the hands back to the heart center to stimulate the heart chakra and increase the flow of Divine love.
When you bow the head and close your eyes, you surrender to the Divine in the heart, experiencing a meditative state.
When to Use Namaste in Yoga
Yogis in Western culture will often say namaste and create the gesture in everyday life as a greeting to another yogi.
For example, when you see a friend at the market or if you bump into a yogi from your classes when talking down the street, it is common to gesture and say namaste.
In Eastern culture, yogis will do this as well, but often only do the gesture, since the word namaste is already assumed.
Since yoga is still relatively new in countries like USA and Canada, it is wise to do both, since not everyone may be familiar with the gesture alone.
It can also be said and gestured during yoga classes. During public classes, students and teachers may do this at the beginning of class as a way to acknowledge each other and be friendly.
It may otherwise, or also be done after a practice to say thank you to one another for being present and focused during this shared yoga practice.
Yoga poses sometimes even have Anjali Mudra incorporated into it (See the section below for popular yoga poses that include the namaste hand gesture).
If a yoga student is taking a private class with a teacher or asks a question after a public class, it is appropriate that they do the namaste gesture representing deep respect, which we discussed in the previous section.
In modern times, yogis have also written namaste in emails.
For example, rather than writing the word, ‘sincerely’, and your name at the end of your email, you might replace sincerely with namaste when communicating with another yogi or, to hint to a new acquaintance that you are a yogi.
There are various situations where you can say, gesture, and write namaste. As long as the intention is compassionate, the timing will be appropriate.
6 Yoga Poses With Anjali Mudra
You will also see Anjali Mudra done while practicing various poses. If you are somewhat familiar with yoga, you may have seen some of these poses done with Anjali Mudra.
This is a beautiful pose to breathe into between active poses. Try it outdoors and feel the breeze on your face, as you send love to your heart.
Begin in your natural, standing position with your arms by your side. Lengthen your spine, roll your shoulders up and back, then tilt your pelvis inward.
Shift the weight in your feet to your heels, and then bring your hands to the heart — Anjali Mudra. Slowly inhale and exhale through the nostrils, gradually coming into a meditative state. Enjoy this experience.
This is a comfortable pose to try with Anjali Mudra during meditation. If you are used to sitting in a back-supporting chair and start to develop back pain, try practicing this pose against a wall during a longer meditation.
Come into a cross-legged, comfortable position. Lengthen the spine, roll the shoulders up and back, then tilt the pelvis in.
Option 1: Bring the hands to the heart —Anjali Mudra.
Option 2: Warm up the shoulders and wrists, and then bring the fingertips together at the lower curve of the back. Start to push the shoulders back and bring the palms of the hands together —Reverse Anjali Mudra.
Breathe into the pose until you’re ready to come out of it or transition to another pose.
Once you master balancing poses, it’s very easy to come into a meditative state during almost any distraction. Tree pose is a beginner-friendly balancing pose, useful for yogis of all experience levels.
Start in Mountain Pose (first pose listed) with your hands in Anjali Mudra. Start to shift your body’s weight into the left foot to ground it onto the mat.
Slowly lift the right foot, and decide to put it on the inside of the left ankle, the inside of the left calf or the inside of the left thigh.
Once you find your balance, choose to keep your hands to the heart or gently raise the arms above you, keeping the palms clasped together.
When you’re in your preferred Tree Pose, gaze straight ahead, or at the ground at something inanimate to help keep your balance. Breathe into this pose and enjoy the meditative state.
When you’re ready to come out of the pose, slowly release the right foot, and place it on the ground.
Due to the bowing involved in pyramid pose, doing Anjali Mudra with pyramid pose is an appropriate time to express gratitude for the people and aspects of life that you love.
Begin in a standing position. Inhale the arms overhead, and then fold the torso forward on the exhale. Step the left leg back three feet, and turn out the left foot 45 degrees.
Option 1: Bring the hands to the heart in Anjali Mudra and continue to bow forward and feel the stretch in the back of the calves. Breathe here into a meditative state. When done, alternate legs.
Option 2: Warm up the shoulders and then bring the fingertips together at the lower curve of the back. Slowly push the shoulders back to allow the palms of the hands to come together —Reverse Anjali Mudra.
Continue to bow forward, feel the stretch in the legs, shoulders, and wrist. Breathe through this sensation. When done, alternate legs.
*If the front leg can’t completely straighten, a slight bend in the knee is perfectly fine.
After mastering tree pose, you may want to try warrior III for a new challenge. Since this pose also takes core strength, it is a great test of discipline and devotion.
Start in a standing position, and then bring the left foot back about three steps. On an inhale, bring the arms up in the air by the ears.
In one movement, slowly exhale the breath while bringing the left leg up to hip height and bringing the arms and torso down hip height.
Once you’re properly balancing on your right leg and the rest of your body is horizontal, bring the hands to the heart. Take a couple breaths here and meditate. Look down or straight ahead at something inanimate to keep your balance.
When you’re ready to come out of the pose, slowly drop the back foot, and inhale the arms up. Let the back foot come forward next to the other foot.
Lastly, garland pose is also known as a yogi squat. Practice this pose to open up the hips and become comfortable in this meditative and healthy posture.
Not only great for meditation, but this pose also benefits digestion, and is incredibly healing.
Start in a standing position, and then widen the stance of your legs more than hip-width apart. Point the toes out 45 degrees, and then slowly come down into a squat.
If the heels lift off the ground, roll a blanket underneath your feet. Bring the hands to the heart in Anjali Mudra. The elbows will touch the inside of the knees.
Push the elbows on the inner part of the knees to open up the hips even more. Find your comfortable Garland Pose, close your eyes, and meditate.
When you’re ready to come out of the pose, slowly straighten the legs, stand up, and turn the feet straight ahead.
Give Namaste the Respect it Deserves
I want to complete this article with an important message to you. Give namaste the respect it deserves.
“Nama’stay in bed” or “Namaslay this class” on a t-shirt might sound cute or creative, but truthfully, it is not respectful towards the Hindi religion and culture, in which namaste originates from.
Imagine if a person, born in another country, came to America and gave you the middle finger. You would be shocked, and may be confused!
Then, what if they explained that they were just pointing at your cool outfit?
Maybe you would laugh and forgive them, but wouldn’t a part of you wish that they learned more about American culture before accidentally performing such a rude gesture?
After all, you could do the thumbs up sign, which means “good job” in America. In another country, you could be gesturing “Up yours!”
Also, depending on the person you offend, you could get in serious trouble or even a dangerous situation if you don’t research beforehand!
Taking the time to learn the proper pronunciation and usage, and then honoring that also keeps the practice of yoga from being watered down to a simple, physical exercise regimen in Western culture.
There are already so many American yoga classes that forgo the meditation, chanting, and dancing involved in Eastern yoga practices.
Can we not at least preserve saying and gesturing namaste to show the original yogis in India that we admire their tradition?
They were kind enough to travel to America and share their unique, and healing culture. We should be mature and reciprocate that kindness, leaving the word and gesture, Namaste, as is.
Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself having an artistic mind, and creativity is a beautiful aspect of life.
There is plenty of room for creativity in yoga, whether that’s creating new pose sequences, designing outfits, or writing new songs.
However, it’s best to keep the integrity of the practice and stay away from mockery. Give namaste the respect it deserves.