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Open Apology for Contributing to the Bastardization of Namaste

Sep 28, 2022

Open Apology for Contributing to the Bastardization of Namaste

Namaste: My soul honors your soul. I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides. I honor the light, love, truth, beauty & peace within you. Because it is also within me. In sharing these things, we are united. We are the same. We are one.

Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D

Namaste is a Hindi word that has meaning to those in India, the Nepalese, and Indian diaspora.  The word, literally translated, means greetings to you.  Among Hindi speakers, this word, and gesture, has meaning. 

However, in the US, the word has been bastardized, completely taken out of context, and thrown around to mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean in the moment. Sometimes the speaker uses it religiously, or with a heavy undertone.  Other times its drivel.  No matter what people think it means, it usually completely wrong.

The first part of the word, “namaha” is a Sanskrit verb that meant “to bend.” Over time, as with so many words, this meaning changed to “greetings.”  The end of the word, “te”, means “to you.”  The word, literally translated, means “greetings to you” and is mostly use as a salutation to a divinity.  Therefore the word is typically spoken with reverence, a slight bow, hands pressed together, palms touching, thumbs close to the chest; a gesture called añjali mudrā.

What got me thinking about Namaste:

Recently I ended a class with the usual savasana, guided breathing and meditation, and, as the class was coming back to the center of their mats, I put my hands together at heart center, bowed to these beautiful souls, and uttered “Namaste.”  One of my students asked me what Namaste means.  I gave her a rough translation.

“It means, basically, that my soul sees, honors, and respects, your soul.”

She was content with this answer, finished rolling up her mat and left.  Sadly, I wasn’t content with this answer.  I’ve heard the above so many times, but do I really know what it means. 

As a white woman, do I have any right to utter these words so flippantly to my students?  Not that I have ever used this word disrespectfully, but I’m sure there has been a class that I ended using this sacred word while thinking of the groceries I need to get, or errands I need to run.

I did some reading, and research, to see if I was wrong.

Turns out, I wam.

I am sorry. Now I know better. I will be better.

Jenni Hackworth

This is why I will never say namaste to a class again.

To Hindus, “Namaste” isn’t just a word, or a greeting.  It is an important phrase with a key focus on religion.  Of all the religious greetings that have been misused, and bastardized, Namaste is used incorrectly so often that many Hindus actually cringe when a white person utters it reverently.

…and don’t even get me started on the complete abuse of the word, in American phrases.  Phrases that I won’t even write out here because they are considered offensive.

I have found, through my research, that most yoga classes do not end with Namaste.  In fact, this is an appropriation of yogic culture by westerners.  The Hindis I spoke with said this is something that Americans do that shows their ignorance to other cultures.

Therefore, I will no longer use the word “Namaste” at the end of class.  Instead I will clasp my hands together at heart center, and thank all of you beautiful souls who took time out of your day to come join me for yoga.

And to any Hindis that may be reading this, I am sorry.  Now I know better.  I will be better.

Blessings my friends.

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