Namaste Yes? Nama say No?
Updated: May 25
Pressing your palms together at your heart centre and bowing your head, a humbling gesture the world over. It signals an introspective, contemplative moment of surrender to something that is greater than us, we the gesture maker.
Add the word Namaste to that gesture and there are a few people (especially online) who will type fast and judge hard yelling "cultural appropriation", and have you accused in no time of having stolen it form India. So this brings me to the question who owns the hand gesture? Who owns the word? Who has the right to express the sentiment behind the combination of words & actions? Or owns the knowledge of our intention behind this humbling gesture?
The question that arose (that in a very adult fashion I chose not to comment or interact upon) was whether people in western yoga classes, ie any class that ate not in India or I am assuming that are not taught by an Indian person of lineage outside of India should say Namaste at the end of class?
Mmmm interesting question, one that deserved pondering research and discussion prior to answering.
No shooting from the hip for this wild kitty cat!!
In India, if you are Hindu, which is 79.8% of the Indian population this pressing of the palms at heart centre is a hand gesture also known as a mudra that specific mudra is called Anjali Mudra or Namaskar.
The Sanskrit word Anjali means "divine offering" the word Anjali is derived from "anj" meaning ‘honour or celebrate and is viewed as a gesture of reverence.
If you have adventured to India and experienced it first hand you will find your self joining millions as you press your hands together at your heart centre humbly bow your head and say Namaste.You will then witness 100s of welcoming warm post Namaste smiles!!! In India Namaste is a greeting, used when people meet it's a gesture of love and respect.
Namaste is a Sanskrit word comprised of two "root words" “namah” and “te”.
Namah, meaning bow (the verb) in a reverential salutation or adoration.
The word “te” means “to you”.
The “s” links the two words in accordance with rules in the language of Sanskrit, so that the sounds of the letters flow with one another.
Sanskrit being a vibrational language each word or combination also has an effect on our subtle body systems. The resonance of these sounds shows how and Sanskrit is precisely aligned with the practice of yoga. You could also go way down a rabbit hole here into the world of Nada Yoga (no standing splits required) an ancient Indian system that uses the chanting of Sanskrit mantra to help strengthen our immune and neurological systems and balance the energy centres of the body. Sanskrit is an amazing language to learn, a continued work in progress for many dedicated seekers of a life in yoga.
Lets break down the hand action, cause mudras are fascinating. In my studies i have learned about the Nadis that link into our energetic body, the fingers are kinda like electrical circuits and the use of mudras helps adjust our energy flow and balance our elements to accommodate healing. Each finger is believed to play a specific role within the body.Thumb – fire, Forefinger – wind, Middle finger – ether (or space) Ring finger – earth and our Little finger – water. Anjali Mudra brings all these energy points together.
From a physiological point of view, gentle steady pressure on our palms activates both sides of our brain, making the body and mind more alert and present.
Lets go large Anjali mudra crosses cultures and language barriers, uniting humans around the world who understand that this is a gesture of respect. Think Christianity, prayer hands and can we get an Amen it really kinda sounds like AUM doesn't it? (worm can opened) What about the pressing of the palms in Japan in temples and greetings as well as sign for please or "onegai” a very polite gesture, Thailand where "Wai" is a customary greeting, Burma, Laos, Judaism around the world us the gesture. What about the open hands of Islamic prayer? a different gesture for sure but still a humbling openness acknowledging a power greater that the gesture maker?
Does any one own any of these gestures??? No they do not. What they do own is the intention that sits behind them. And that my friends is completely up to the individual and not for us to judge. Just to... as we say in yoga "always have a beginners mind." Or as I say "every day is a school day"
Now to the appropriation factor in as indicated in the above mentioned Instagram post that is apparently problematic, or possibly theft!
The word Namaste has become ubiquitous at the closing of many yoga classes, but why when its is quite clearly a respectful greeting? Even in India at the completion of a yoga practice or class did my teacher bow his head as did I and we respectfully shared our Namastes, perhaps in acknowledgement of the impact that we were having on each others lives? To be fair I never thought about it at the time I was too busy being a sponge and soaking up everything that I could to be pondered and processed at another date here we are case in point all these years later.
If you go back into the history of yoga it was the guru to student relationship not the business planned guru to class ration of 1:35. So there was an intimacy and a deep respect in this student teacher exchange. I will bring up at this time that many aspects of a life in yoga especially asana or the shapes were taught to men or boys only and there are still men only establishments in India today. We have intrepid yogis to thank for sharing these practices their learnings and experiences outside of India and indeed making the practice inclusive. And for extending an open invitation to study in the country of its ancient origins.
What I want to say here is that Yoga asana the shapes that we have come to know and love and sometimes loathe are but a teeny tiny fraction of the ancient system of yoga that the 1:1 guru to student of days gone buy shared. This is where I think the issue arrises. Its about havering an appreciation of the ancients system and the culture of its origins, and a desire to know more than what we know now.
Teaching yoga in the west or outside of India, as has teaching meditation Qi Gong and other spiritual practices from around the world, have all opened a floodway for a shift in consciousness. Whether you are stepping on your yoga mat to increase flexibility or fitness, the yoga is gonna getcha.. Its just a matter of time, eventually the introspective nature of the practice will have you asking questions. Maybe not in this life time but perhaps in the next its a constant evolution.
The thing with Namaste and the Angalai mudra is that it is opening that floodway little by little too. If you are participating in he gesture and the greeting before during or after class or in India. It will eventually get you thinking and hopefully asking question wit your beginner mind. It also opens the door for a shared cultural exchange and a more intimate understanding of he cultures and traditions that we coexist amongst.
How about this; When you walk into class you are a version of you, when you leave class you are a slightly different version of that same you, a few new cells generated, a few old cells lost, some new neurological pathways formed, muscles stretched and ranges of motion explored, perhaps our minds eyes have been opened through a 1:1 student teacher connection n class.
What if saying Namaste at the end of class was the greeting to the new version of you? That post class version of you, that is not exactly the same person waking from their savansana or mediation or that commenced the sun salutation? What if we were acknowledging that new updated reprogrammed version of you and greeted them respectfully with Namaste?
I think that this version is an excellent open non judge mental culturally appropriate way to be present in that yoga moment and indeed as a spring board to take your yoga with you, out into the big wide world off the mat.
if you want to check out my other related blog "Cutural Appropriation A Can of Worms Or Just Tandoori Pizza" click on this link
Have. beautoful day and Namaste.