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The meaning of Namaste - Why and When to use it

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

At the end of one of my yoga classes recently, I was approached by a student. She asked why I do not end the class with ‘Namaste’, as she is used to say this at the end of the practice with other yoga teachers. I explained that it was part of a different culture and that I preferred to end my classes by thanking the participants for coming to class and practice with me. I have to make full disclosure here: I had been using it previously to end my classes, and then stopped about 12-18 months ago.

As I was going through some Facebook posts recently, I came across a discussion on using Namaste to end the class. That gave me some food for thoughts. So, I started to research. What was the current thinking? What were the different points of view and more importantly their bases?

What does Namaste mean?

Namaste and its common variants ‘namaskar,’ ‘namaskaara’ or ‘namaskaram’, is one of the five forms of formal traditional greeting mentioned in the Vedas.[1] (For completeness here, the Vedas is a body of ancient text originating in India, written in Sanskrit, that codified texts, hymns, poems, spiritual literature and knowledge that had been spoken prior to this written codification).

In Sanskrit, ‘namah + te’, ie namaste literally means “I bow to you”. There are many other translations that infer a concept behind the word that it is not easily translatable in English.

When is it appropriate to say it?

In India, Namaste is a greeting – so the first question is whether it is appropriate to say at the end of the class? According to Susanna Barkataki, author of Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to deepen Your Yoga Practice, Namaste or Namaskar is said when meeting and greeting an elder.

My understanding is that Namaste is slightly more informal than Namaskar, which is instead used to acknowledge, address and greet someone more powerful or highly respected. So, I asked myself if Desikachar or Iyengar used it and if so, how and when. I then resolved to watch and check Conversations with Rajiv Mehrotra when he interviewed TKV Desikachar and KSB Iyengar. TKV Desikachar used Namaskar at the end of one interview, bringing his hands together in Anjali Mudra.

woman with hands in prayer position, anjali mudra

I have no experience of how Iyengar used to end his sessions; however, according to Insight Timer, he used to say ‘that’s enough for today' and that other lineages end the class with three OMs and a mantra[2]. Thinking about it, this is what the majority of the teachers I have practiced with in the past used to do, with one exception: George. George used to end his classes with: “In my thoughts, in my speech, in my heart, we are One.” Some other teachers end their class by Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

Why do we say Namaste?

That is a good and legitimate question to ask. The truth is that I don’t know; I could not tell you why I used it previously, and I probably did not pronounce it correctly either! I have no idea how, why or when the practice of ending the yoga class with ‘Namaste’ started originally in the West – I could not find any information – given that Namaste does not mean ‘good bye’, as we have seen previously.

After some reflection and research, my personal preference is not to use it – there is simply no need. It would neither enhance my teaching, nor make it more authentic. I should like to emphasize that I am not passing any judgment on those who continue to be comfortable in ending their class by saying Namaste.

For my part, I like to end the class by bringing the palms together in Anjali Mudra and either thank my students for practising with me or say "Inviting clear thoughts, a clear speech and a loving heart full of compassion and kindness for ourselves and for others." as I bring the thumbs to the eyebrow centre, lips and heart centre.


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