We often hear the word ‘namaste’ spoken at the end of yoga class. Some yoga teachers will even translate the sanskrit word for you, explaining how, “The Divine light within me honors the Divine light within you and recognizes that we are One.” This is a beautiful translation, but I have always been a little suspicious that a single word could have such a long translation into English. I also hold my hands in prayer, bow forward, and say ‘namaste’ at the end of my yoga classes, so I felt like it was time for me to do some research to determine the real definition of the word.
Finding out the literal translation of ‘namaste’ was a bit of a disappointment, to be honest. I had illusions about how saying namaste meant that I honor the divine spark inside you and I realize that the same divine spark resides inside me. I thought it was about recognizing the one, true light of consciousness that shines through us all. It turns out that ‘namah’ is actually the verb, ‘to bow.’ Whereas, ‘te’ literally translated as ‘to you.’ So, put the two together and you get, ‘I bow to you.’ This explains why namaste is typically said along with a bow, but it doesn’t explain where our convoluted western definition of namaste came from. Is it possible that we have been lying to ourselves this whole time?
I continued my research into this ancient word and I eventually found some redemption. I learned that the word ‘namaste’ was originally spoken only in instances when one is bowing in reverence to God. So, on a spiritual level, the ‘you’ that the bow is directed to is actually the Divine Self. Learning this small point helped to bring things back full circle because, with namaste, you are not just bowing to the physical person in front of you, you are bowing to the soul, or divine light, within them.
As with all spoken words, the intention behind the words is just as important as the words themselves. If you say ‘namaste’ while consciously honoring the Divine presence within, it creates a shared blessing. By placing your hands in prayer in front of your chest, you are strengthening your connection to the divine light that resides in your heart center. According to one article I read, “Namaste creates a loop of bliss to pass positive energy unto the one receiving the gesture. Heart centers and chakras are said to connect during the Divine saying.”
This is all well and good, but what about the notion that we are all ‘one.’ If I have light inside me and you have light inside you, then why is it necessarily the same light? To wrap your head around this, imagine it’s a sunny day and that sunlight is streaming in through a window. If you pull a curtain down in front of the window, it will block out all the light. Then, if you take a small pin and make hundreds of holes in the curtain, pretty soon you will have hundreds of tiny pinpricks of light. Each pinprick of light is individual and separate from every other pinprick of light. However, it’s all the same light- the source of the light remains the same, it’s just been focused into individual expressions. So, the next time you hear or say namaste, remember the source of spiritual light and take a moment to honor the way in which we are all connected.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being.