I always close my classes with “Namaste” and bow to my students. It’s a very common way to seal a yoga class, so I usually don’t think there’s anything concerning about it.
Until recently. You see, I teach most of my classes at a gym. As such, the physical aspect of yoga is the only aspect that is included in the branding of the class. That means that I generally don’t ask students to set an intention, chant, or talk about the yamas or niyamas as such.
However, because closing the class without saying namaste doesn’t ring true for me and many experienced yoga students who come, I always include it.
But one day recently, I got a new student. Not that there is anything strange in that, as I have had several brand new yoga students come to my classes, but this was different. I couldn’t get a read on her. When I closed the class with my usual closing statement and “Namaste,” I got the feeling that she wasn’t totally comfortable with saying it.
What Does “Namaste” Mean?
In sanskrit, “Namaste” is actually a compound word. Nama = bow; As = I; Te = you. So it literally means, “I bow to you.” In Nepal and in India, it is used as a greeting, much as we would say “hello.”
Another definition some use for Namaste is, “I bow to the Divine in you. ” This comes from the type of yoga that views it as a religion. However, I realize that not everyone subscribes to the religious connotation here that humans are divine or have divinity within them.
So I use a less religious way to define “Namaste” as the recognition of the oneness of our souls. It means that my spirit recognizes yours; the light in me honors the light in you.
When I say “Namaste” to seal a class, I always bring my hands together in Anjali mudra (which means an “offering seal”) and bow to my students as an act of respect. I am not more or better than them, we have the same value as humans.
Do I Have to Say Namaste?
Generally, saying “namaste,” is a sign of respect. But as I stated before, some people may be uncomfortable with saying it. Some people may tell you that if you don’t say it, you are disrespecting the teacher and the space and the other students.
I disagree with that sentiment.
In my opinion, and in my class, you are never required to say “Namaste,” chant “Om,” or any other aspect of yoga that does not resonate with you.
There is saying that states, “your vibe attracts your tribe.” Usually that is something that teachers learn which tells them to be true to themselves. The students who appreciate you will be attracted to that authenticity.
On the other hand, it also means that if you are looking for a place to practice yoga, you should search for the vibe that attracts you. If a space is too spiritual for you, don’t practice there. If a class is too much about asana and not enough of the rest of yoga, don’t practice there.
I realized, somewhere along the way, I should have made it clear in my classes that no one is ever required to say “Namaste,” but I didn’t.
You do not have to bow if you don’t want to. Yoga is a personal journey, and as such, does not have to conform to someone else’s idea of what it should be.
As long as you are respectful of those with whom you share the space, and respect their choice to bow and/or say “Namaste,” you are not doing anything wrong.
However, now that you know what it really means, you can make a more informed decision.