What Is the Meaning of Namaste and Why Do We Say It in Yoga?

Namaste is a Sanskrit word comprised of the root words “namah” and “te.” Namah is commonly translated to mean “to bow” while the root te means “to you.”

This is why Namaste is commonly translated as “the light in me bows to the same light within you.” Often, you will hear this in a yoga class. Namaste is typically used at the end of class to seal the practice. Some teachers will also open their class with it.

Why We Say Namaste in Yoga

Most teachers will invoke this sacred word at some point during their class. I have a particular teacher who uses Namaste in a beautiful way.

When class begins, the instructor greets us by saying “Namaste.” Then, she asks us to turn to one another, look each other in the eyes, repeat the salutation to one another and bow to the recognition that the light in me sees and honors the light in you.

Traditionally, the salutation “Namaste” is accompanied by a bow with palms pressed together at heart center. These gestures are a physical acknowledgment and honoring of our humanity and our divinity that connects us all.

When we say “Namaste,” we are also bowing to the divine teacher within ourselves. This is often referred to as the “Guru” within. The root Gu means “darkness,” while ru means “light.” Hence, we’re bowing to and embracing the light and the darkness that exists within us all.

In many yoga disciplines, we ‘namaskar’ to the sun in the series of poses referred to as Sun Salutations. Typically Namaste is said at the end of class to both seal in the practice, and also to continue our practice once we step off the mat.

Want to learn more about Sun Salutations and why they’re so important to our practice? Read 5 Important Reasons to Never Skip Sun Salutations


Apply Namaste to Your Life

More than ever, we need to practice Namaste when we’re off our mats and in the world. Reports of hate-fueled attacks, racist taunts, and assaults on places of prayer are prevalent in news outlets and social media accounts.

These harms are called ‘himsa’ in Sanskrit; the opposite of which is Ahimsa, or no harm, and is one the foundational tenets of the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Ahimsa is one of the Niyamas, or codes to live by. Want to learn more about the Yamas and Niyamas and how they impact your life on and off the mat? Read all about the Yamas and Niyamas

The next time we feel an unkind word or thought, let’s instead ask ourselves if we’d rather choose a thought, word and action that roots us to the truth of our humanity.

“Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions
Watch your actions, they become habits
Watch your habits, they become your character
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
-Lao Tsu

Lao Tsu was onto something: our actions are fueled by our words. The use of affirming words such as Namaste plant seeds for resisting the harmful reactions and tendencies that divide us.

The next time you say “Namaste” in yoga class, allow that feeling of connectedness to wash over you. Allow Namaste to remind you that we are all connected, that we all possess the same light, and that together, we can shine brightly.

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Lisa Fierer

Lisa is a writer, speaker, Yoga, (SUP) StandUp Paddleboard Yoga, and Sanskrit Teacher. Catch her doing a Half Moon Pose on her Harley, training SUP Yoga teachers, giving drive-by hugs, and completing her memoir, Thirst. For more info, visit her website and follow her on social @lisafierer.


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