One often sees bumper stickers featuring this word. If one is familiar with the practice of yoga, one also knows that each session ends with the bringing of one's hands together as depicted in the above photograph and uttering this word: first the instructor expresses this to the students, then they in turn express it back to him or her. In a nutshell, it means, "The light within me recognizes and honors the light within you." (See the bottom of this post for an extended definition of namaste and the practices associated with it.)
I had a great yoga session on Thursday with a new instructor who I really liked. I learned a tremendous amount about the actual practice of yoga, but I also came away from the class with a couple of new realizations.
First, sparked by a reading she did at the end of class as we sat with our eyes closed and our hands over our heart center, I came to see "Namaste" in a new light. Paula pointed out that, before extending namaste to someone else, one should extend it to oneself. In other words, we recognize and honor the light within *ourselves,* recognizing who we are and what lies within us. Thus enlightened, we then extend a recognition of the same to someone else.
Second realization: Paula talked a lot about "awareness." A term commonly used to express a similar concept is "mindfulness." But the way Paula used the term "awareness" gave me a new insight. "Yoga is awareness," she said. As we practice, we become aware of what our body is going or not doing. We focus on the pose, what we should be doing with our inner thighs and way; what we should be doing with our feet and why; what we should be doing with our tailbone and why; etc.
This concept of awareness resonated with me because I have seen and felt the results of letting my mind wander during a yoga class. I get into a pose, and the next thing I know, I've relaxed a foot that should be engaged, or I've otherwise slipped out of the pose as a result of lack of concentration. Sometimes my mind has wandered so much that I miss the instructor's call for a new pose or a variation on the pose I'm already in.
It has been a new adventure for me these past months as I have become aware of my body in a way never before experienced. I have a new respect for my body, a new "intune-ment." As a result, I have felt a growing desire to treat it with respect, particularly with regards to what I take into my body. I have also seen the need and felt the desire to be more aware in all areas of my life.
And this brings me back to "Namaste." One of areas of practice I am trying to bring my mind back to is to be aware of both my own inner light and that of others.
I learned a lot from this explanation of Namaste, found here:
The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra. The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another. Nama means bow, as means I, and te means you. Therefore, namaste literally means "bow me you" or "I bow to you."
To perform Namaste, we place the hands together at the heart charka, close the eyes, and bow the head. It can also be done by placing the hands together in front of the third eye, bowing the head, and then bringing the hands down to the heart. This is an especially deep form of respect. Although in the West the word "namaste" is usually spoken in conjunction with the gesture, in India, it is understood that the gesture itself signifies Namaste, and therefore, it is unnecessary to say the word while bowing.
We bring the hands together at the heart chakra to increase the flow of Divine love. Bowing the head and closing the eyes helps the mind surrender to the Divine in the heart. One can do Namaste to oneself as a meditation technique to go deeper inside the heart chakra; when done with someone else, it is also a beautiful, albeit quick, meditation.
For a teacher and student, Namaste allows two individuals to come together energetically to a place of connection and timelessness, free from the bonds of ego-connection. If it is done with deep feeling in the heart and with the mind surrendered, a deep union of spirits can blossom.
Ideally, Namaste should be done both at the beginning and at the end of class. Usually, it is done at the end of class because the mind is less active and the energy in the room is more peaceful. The teacher initiates Namaste as a symbol of gratitude and respect toward her students and her own teachers and in return invites the students to connect with their lineage, thereby allowing the truth to flow—the truth that we are all one when we live from the heart.