I have been asked several times in the past few months why I don't say Namaste at the end of class and also why I don't use Sanskrit terms or names for postures. The answer is, mostly, clarity.
I don't speak Sanskrit, and none of the students that I've come across speak Sanskrit either. Most of us in the US speak English, so it feels natural to me to speak English when I teach. There is somewhat of a tradition in yoga to use the Sanskrit names of postures. At its best, it offers a sacredness and gravity to the practice, at its worst it creates elitism and confusion.
I have never been one for following traditions out of deference. I prefer to test each lesson and practice in the context of modern civilization and my own life. I find that yoga is easier to understand, practice and teach when I use common language. It allows me to relate to the practices instead of revere them, and as a teacher I encourage my students to do the same. We practice yoga because it benefits us, not because it is traditional.
Namaste (literally translated as "I bow to you") is a respectful greeting that can be interpreted as anything from "salutations" to recognition of the divine in another person. It is a Sanskrit word, and my dislike for its confusion is the same as above. But the cultural and spiritual implications of the word also trouble me and keep me from using it.
I am not Hindu. The meaning that we give namaste in yoga is a distinctly Hindu one, something along the lines of "I bow to the divine in you" or "I see the same divine light in you as I see in myself." While I think these are beautiful and powerful phrases, they assume a certain level of Hinduism that I don't take lightly.
The path of yoga gradually reveals to us the underlying nature of reality, in which the "Divine" is universally present in all people, beings and things. But even that explanation takes on Hindu terminology and a Hindu relationship to God. Personally, I have not progressed far enough on the path of yoga to make this statement unequivocally and with integrity. I can understand it in theory, but that is a far cry from the first-hand experience and understanding I prefer before adopting language and teaching into my life.
The idea behind Namaste is a beautiful one, at least the way it has been generally appropriated in western yoga. A recognition of effort and goodness in others. I prefer to say these things clearly, concisely and in my own language. I gladly offer respect, gratitude, honor and joy when I feel them. I simply use those words.
4/18/2016 06:05:15 am
Thank you so much for this simple and honest approach. I completely share your point of view and I think many yogis and students blindly follow traditions we don´t completely understand without questioning. One point in using sanskrit names for asana postures, is for it to be a "lingua franca" for international practise. However, sanskrit is not "the universal language of the soul", so why should we use it for affirmations and to give resonance in our minds and bodies during meditation? Our minds and bodies would probably resonate more with words they understand.
3/15/2020 06:37:03 pm
Just stop doing yoga. Do yourself a favour
1/17/2017 08:56:40 pm
The divine in me bows to the divine in you... Namaste
9/21/2017 04:26:59 am
Thanks for this. I end my classes by wishing people "peace", and it's interesting that the participants whisper "namasté" anyway. It's like we're conditioned that classes must end that way. (Namasté as a group closing also has a bit of grammatical weirdness - its usage is primarily a 1:1 "hello".) There's a bit of irony here for me - I'm of Indian heritage, and am the only teacher who doesn't say namasté. Everyone who isn't, does. :-)
6/7/2018 02:36:14 pm
12/16/2018 05:10:53 am
I totally get where he is coming from here. I read it as not wanting to disrespect the practice of yoga...to be authentic rather.
1/15/2019 12:28:04 pm
Wow - another one who brings terms such as 'Christian prejudice' into a conversation, regardless of the subject matter. Let me guess, you also drop the term 'white privilege' at every chance you get, don't you? All in a way to chastise others from your lonely, dark little place, whether the occasion calls for it or not. The trouble with your rant is you completely missed the point of the post. By doing so, not only have you shown your true colors - a miscreant that sprinkles hate wherever you see fit - you also are embarrassing yourself on a public forum. I have a feeling you embarrass yourself quite a bit. Get some help - perhaps with a few grammar lessons - and come back soon. Not.
6/25/2019 07:21:21 am
well well well.. who do we have here?? a grammar nazi? When your pea-sized brain cannot muster an argument, guess what? Our grammar nazi says descend into grammar lessons. LOL.
6/19/2018 08:15:12 pm
May you open the gift of your life everyday.
9/16/2019 09:50:43 am
As a yoga teacher who is not Hindu, I find Sanskrit (which is also not Hindu) to be a very powerful and beautiful language. I agree that keeping yoga accessible to students who haven't a clue about Sanskrit is important, and using terminology to make asana and pranayama accessible is critical for a good class. But did you know that the Sanskrit words have a vibrational quality associated with the energy of the pose? The more I learn about Sanskrit, the more I appreciate it. It is not Hindu anymore than Latin is Catholic. It is the language of an ancient map designed to connect us to our higher self (which is the true essence of yoga). Ultimately, all faiths and belief systems lead to the same place. I do believe we are all connected with the one divine energy and I have no issues saying Namaste or using Sanskrit. It is a term to honor another. I honor and appreciate my students and their journey. I don't think it's necessary to use Namaste if it doesn't resonate, but sharing your message of honor or gratitude with your students is important at the end of class. Just my two cents.
Leave a Reply.
This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga