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Has Namaste Lost its Meaning?

Posted by Alice Jennings on 10/24/2013

You find yourself in your favorite hatha class of the week. The ending to this class is almost always the same: savasana, a closing "Aum" and then the sometimes-awkward "Namaste". The teacher instructs us to follow her lead, ending the closing prayer with a sheepishly quiet "namaste" and a quick seated bow to the floor. Uh, oh! The rest of the class is following suit. What to do? Repeat "namaste" and give an awkward bow right back.

 

"I know they're all faking!" I thought. I felt like a fish out of water. Apprehensive about all major religions, I'd like to know the meaning of any prayer I would be expected to dictate before I show up and with blind faith, repeating sacred words before understanding their full meaning. The word 'namaste' has its root in (no big surprise here) sanskrit. Like the Hawaiian word "aloha", namaste is both a greeting and a salutation. Okay, so far so good. Dig a little deeper to find out more. Namaste literally translates into "I bow to you". It's a sign of respect that the teacher gives her students and vice/versa. My favorite embodiment of 'namaste' is the mantra, "We live but in a sliver of time. The light within me recognizes and respects the light, the divine, within you."

 

As well as a verbal salutation, it can be conveyed nonverbally by placing the hands together and pointed up, a soft smile and a nod.

 

Here's where it gets weird: my desk is located about 6 feet away from our customer service department. As with any customer service department, most callers are angry and some are downright rude and mean to my colleagues. What really kills me is when these customers, most yoga teachers or studio owners, give my work buddies an earful then end the disastrous conversation with "namaste." Really? You bow to and respect them? Or is it just easier to cut corners and save face with an empty offering of "namaste"?

 

This latter application I find somewhat blasphemous. 'Namaste' is a holy and divine word and should be used as such. Not as a simple sign-off note ... but in the studio, at the end of a great practice. Not because you are trying to save face after going spaz to the max on someone. This degrades sacred Hindu texts and buddhist language that dates back to B.C.E.

 

"Namaste" is a positive and powerful word, and should be used as one. "I love you" are powerful words, as well, and I wouldn't end every phone conversation with those three words nor would I end nasty phone calls with "namaste".

 

By: Alice Jennings (G+)