A traditional Indian greeting, the word "namaste" and its accompanying hand gesture is probably unfamiliar if you're a yogic newbie. But while it may look downright spiritual, the term is an important part of any yoga practice. As you finish your class with the traditional word and gesture, you can take the philosophies behind both yoga and its accompanying rituals with you as you leave.
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According to Yoga Journal, the actual translation for namaste breaks down to "nama," which means bow, "as," meaning I and then "te," which means you. Therefore, the direct translation of the word is "bow me you," or "I bow to you."
In yoga, namaste means much more than just "I bow to you." Instead, it acts as a recognition of mutual respect. According to "The Women's Health Big Book of Yoga," the term is related to divinity in yoga -- namely, the fact that your divinity recognizes the divinity in others. As you make the hand gesture and bow at the end of class, you're giving kudos to your instructor and the other students as you recognize each other's divinity.
The hand gesture for namaste has a specific meaning as well. When you place your hands together in a traditional prayer gesture, you place them directly in the center of the breastbone, which is considered the heart chakra. You should then close your eyes and bow the head, while saying the word "namaste." The gesture is meant to increase the flow of Divine love, as well as surrendering yourself to the Divine in the heart.
You'll find that most instructors use both the gesture and the spoken word at the end of class. Namaste can be used as a catalyst for further meditation or as a way to signal the end of class and mutual gratitude between teacher and student. By participating in the ritual, you let your instructor know that you appreciate the practice as you leave class in a peaceful state.