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As the world is changing from a global pandemic and we are learning the asanas and language of yoga we must also be aware of the historical and social roots of the culture yoga comes from.

The use of Namaste has been changing over the years and with the pandemic it has become the non-contact greeting of choice for politicians, world leaders and royality to greeting your neighbours with a small sign of respect. Yogis use the word as an opening or closing in yoga practice and it has many different meanings to the global yoga community. Giving the word ‘Namaste’ translation and meaning beyond the literal translation can have many benefits beyond knowing what your yoga teacher is showing you and understanding whether you should choose to use it, or not, can aid your own journey within, to grow by understanding the culture yoga comes from and also gain insight into the roots of this transformative global practice.


In seeing the rise of this in greeting through the pandemic, we can take there to be a variety of meanings from a simple ‘bow to you’ greeting, to as spiritual meaning as you like to use in your practice.

One need not be a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a yoga teacher to say Namaste. Namaste can be as religious or secular as the speaker desires. What matters most, I believe, is the intention behind the word namaste. When you bow to another, the question to consider is this: Do you truly recognize them as a fellow human being worthy of dignity, bonded in shared suffering and a shared capacity for transcendence? 

In South Asia, Namaste is mostly heard in Hindi-speaking areas. There are hundreds of other languages spoken in the region and it is generally used as a way of greeting Hindi speaking elders. In its export of yoga to the west, Namaste has become a term of respect & reverence used to mark the end of yoga class and bow to our yoga teachers in thanks. There are so many other translations of Namaste, just like the translations of the Asanas, you can use these words as a guide to bring the meaning home to you or give you ideas for alternatives if you feel uncomfortable with using the word and want to give your own meaning. When you make the word and essence of Namaste personal to you it really brings another element to your practice and a deeper understanding into the origins of yoga practices.


Have you thought about what it means? Do you feel a connection each time you put your hands together at your heart centre? Let’s explore the meanings together…



Although the pronunciation of Namaste differs slightly throughout different parts of India, the first two syllables should be pronounced with more of an "uh" sound than an "ah" sound as it is often misspoken in the West. Therefore, Namaste should be read as "Num-uh-stay". Namaste is usually spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. This gesture is called añjali mudrā; the standing posture incorporating it is pranamasana.

Spoken widely throughout India and the sub-continent as a non-contact form of respectfully greeting and honouring the opposite person or group, Namaste or namaskar is used as a respectful form of greeting, acknowledging and welcoming a relative, guest or stranger. In some contexts, Namaste is used by one person to express gratitude for assistance offered or given, and to thank the other person for his or her generous kindness and is used at any time of day as well as in Sanskrit and more sacred practices, where it’s meaning can take on a whole different and more personal story…



Namaste is an ancient Sanskrit word with Hindu roots that dates all the way back to the Vedic period. Hinduism is a living, breathing way of life practised by millions of people around the world. It’s an expression that has been used for literally thousands of years and while Namaste has many different translations and uses, it is above all an expression of respect.  While the word Namaste originated long ago in the East, it has slowly become a common expression in the West thanks to the rising popularity of spiritual practices and we are seeing much more of it in western society and since the virus pandemic, with the greeting becoming a gesture of respect in replacing the handshake.

The Sanskrit origins of the word are ' Namah' meaning a 'bow', and ' te' meaning 'you.' Put them together and this is a salutation literally meaning 'I bow to you.'



In yoga and meditation practice Namasté represents the idea that all are one. It affirms that beneath the outer trappings that make you appear different from others, we are all made of the same stuff. We are more the same than we are different. Recognising this fact, the most used translation of Namaste in yoga practice is ‘The divine in me bows to the divine in you’ - bringing about the essence of oneness, and an understanding of the true nature of reality. These are very much growing concepts in global culture, the world is becoming ever smaller and as cultures mix together and translate to each other, these different meanings arise.

As a human being, it is in your nature to forget this truth—that every person, thought, feeling, and experience is a perfect expression of the one Divine awareness. When a being does forget (by feeling separate, less than, better than, or identifying with any external, impermanent aspect of being more so than its true nature), it suffers. The teachings say that your spiritual practice is the art and act of simply remembering who you are.

Yoga can be more than the physical practice, we know that when the connection to the more spiritual side happens, it can open a whole new world to the practitioner. It’s no suprise that people worldwide are flocking to the practices of yoga and meditation, we live in such a stressful and intense world, more than ever, those communities of support are not found in the church or our neighbourhoods.



In that sense, Namaste can mean more than a greeting or bow of thanks to your teacher. It can be an honour to yourself of the time you are about to spend on the mat or signal to yourself and those around you. It can help you to connect your meditation or mindfulness practice with your asana practice, by using meanings from your meditations instead of the traditional use of Namaste.

By looking at your practice and what it means to you and what you would like to reflect upon in asana class you can choose to find a meaning, like the ideas below and repeat them to yourself instead. Perhaps you don’t feel comfortable saying Namaste for a variety of reasons, you can look to other interpretations instead.

More interpretations:

  • The light in me, bows to the light in you.

  • I bow to the place in you that is love, light, and joy.

  • When you and I bow to our true nature, we are one.

  • My soul recognises your soul.

  • We are the same, we are one.

  • The universe resides in me and you.

  • I honor the place in you that is the same as it is in me.


While Namaste is a popular expression that many yogis use frequently, you should not feel obligated to use it if doing so makes you uncomfortable.

We encourage self-education, based on lectures Ram Dass gave in 1970 & 1972), Ram Dass states, “In India when people meet and part, instead of saying hello or goodbye, they say something to each other...which reminds us of who we are. They say, “I honor the Atman within you, I honor the light which is within you,” meaning, I look into you for that place where we are, behind all of our individual differences. And the word they use is Namaste. Na-ma-sta. It means “I honor the light within you”, so may I close by saying to all of you, Namaste.”


A lifelong study. A unity of mind, body and spirit, of all things, all things being universal and finding the divine within us all. These are ideas that are becoming very popular now globally, as culture is changing quickly and religions, our way of life are evolving too and that is not a bad thing. We are on the edge of an ongoing evolution of spirituality. Old forms will drop away (or will be found to be inappropriate) through what appears to be a developmental or evolutionary process, so right now it is thought of as a greeting that recognises the divine spirit in the other person, and implicitly also reconnects the ‘Self’ to the divine that is their own essence. Where I grew up in Hong Kong, it is a melting pot of cultures, languages and religions, just like the rest of the world is slowly becoming, we often used Namaste out of the traditional yoga setting, as well as saying ‘Hello’, ‘Neih hou’ or ‘Namaste’ with a bow to show respect, this is used very much in the work place and meetings.

So may we greet each other, know the meaning and say, ‘The light in me, honours the light in you’.


And in yoga class, when I bow my head in reverence and respect to my teacher and fellow yogis, I am saying,

I honor the place in you
Where the entire universe resides.
I honor the place in you
Of love, of light, of truth, of peace.

I honor the place in you
Where if you are in that place in you and
I am in that place in me,
There is only one of us.

That Namaste definition comes from the excellent book, Polishing the Mirror, by Ram Dass.

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