Namaste. You know the word. You’ve heard it before. You almost always think “yoga” when you hear the word, Namaste. But, what does it mean, actually?
In a very literal sense, Namaste means, “I bow to you”. It is a form of namaskar, which in many parts of India and other surrounding areas, is used as a greeting and farewell, a salutation and valediction and means, “I bow to your form”. The difference between Namaste and namaskar are mainly in etymology and geography. For the most part, they are interchangeable; however, there is a subtle difference.
First, before delving into the difference, it is important to understand the first part, “I bow”. In yoga (and in many cultures, religions, stories, etc.), we recognize that we are all connected to one another. We understand that, at the core, we are all the same substance with perhaps, unique patterns. No matter your particular spiritual beliefs, we acknowledge that we all have goodness and that we are living, breathing offspring of a creative universe. So, we bow out of respect to one another and out of reverence to the agent of creation; the beauty of all that is surrounding us, from the speck of dirt to the brilliance of the furthest star.
The difference then between namaskar and Namaste, is that we are saying “I bow to you” when we say Namaste (the ‘te’ changes the conjugation to ‘you’). It is not just a person’s form as a human that deserves respect and adoration; it is their soul or being, what makes them exclusively them. We see and accept that person just as they are in this present moment. Others have said it as the light we see in the other person. The light in me sees the light in you. We are in this together, united as one formation, yet distinct as an individual.
The power of Namaste is incredible as we are giving our deepest regards and we are exposing our vulnerability, if you will. In every kids’ yoga class I teach, we talk about how important it is to treat each other with love and consideration-it is part of teaching karma. One of the ways to offer ourselves selflessly is to greet each other and recognize each other in truth. This is Namaste. Kids feel a great sense of pride and esteem when they learn about Namaste. Good thing too-at the end of each class, we always press our hands together, at heart level (after all, our heart houses feelings!) and bow to each person, saying Namaste. Not only do they get a kick out of saying Namaste really fast as they bow to everyone rapidly, they begin to truly see the light in their fellow humans.