Namaste: Understanding The Different Meanings Behind This Popular Greeting

Author and world renowned yoga teacher, Aadil Palkhivala was interviewed by Yoga Journal on the literal definition of the word “Namaste.”

Palkhivala began studying with B.K.S. Iyengar at the age of 7. In breaking down the word, Namaste–Palkhivala notes, “Nama means bow, as means I, and te means you. Therefore, namaste literally means “bow me you” or “I bow to you.”

This is an acknowledgement from one soul to another.

namaste meaning
Yoga practitioner in childs pose. [Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

However, the use of the word “Namaste” is not always used in the most “spiritual” of ways, especially in the United States. The New Yorker reported various uses of the word “Namaste” in typical American lingo including business letters.

“Hey, girl! Namaste!” —A greeting, delivered by yogis in the entryway.

“Attention, yogis! PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE! Close this door behind you!!! Namaste!!! The Management.” —Sign on the front door.

“Attention, yogis! Please do NOT flush female-hygiene items down this toilet! Our plumbing is old and we WILL have a sewage overflow. Namaste!” —Sign in ladies’ bathroom.

“Greetings, yogis! This e-mail is to inform you that in order to meet rising costs we will be raising our fee to $35 per class at the beginning of July. As a gentle reminder, we will continue to enforce our no-show and tardy policies. Yogis who fail to arrive at least five minutes prior to class will not be admitted and will be charged the full class fee. Cancellations must be made at least twenty-four hours in advance. Yogis cancelling less than twenty-four hours in advance will be charged the full class fee plus a five-dollar service charge. Yogis who fail to show up for a reserved class without making any cancellation will be charged the full class fee plus a ten-dollar service charge. Arriving more than five minutes late for a class will be counted as a no-show without a cancellation. Please let us know if you have any questions. Happy practice! Namaste!”

Namaste As An Action

About.com tells readers “How to Namaste” in bending your arms from the elbow, palms closed together while placing your hands before your chest and bowing your head. You then utter the word “Namaste” while bowing your head.

This may be one the of the simplest interpretations of the word, “Namaste” since it is a greeting, a “Hello.” Many adept with Hindu culture or involved in the yoga community feel “Namaste” being translated to “My divine soul recognizes the divine soul in you” is a way to romanticize another culture.

namaste
Prince Harry exchanges a namaste greeting. [Photo by Ben Birchall - Pool/Getty Images]

NPR stated that Deepak Singh, a writer living in Michigan, wrote an interesting article of his experience of the word “Namaste” being used in India vs. the U.S. He mentions he finds the American way of using the term “Namaste” to be “funny and cute.”

It is also common to read the word, Namaste in social media bios, headers and used in hashtags such as #namaste.

Singh mentions taking a class in the U.S. will result in a teacher ending the class with the phrase, “Namaste.”

“That’s not the namaste I know.”

Singh mentions his parents had different uses for the word and instilled it was good manners to say “Namaste,” as it was equivalent to saying, “Hello.” He must say the word to his elders. If they did not, they would not be considered “good” children. Singh also mentions the word Namaste has reinvented itself in the U.S. over the past several years. Singh discusses his experience of going to a yoga class and hearing a teacher say the word, “Namaste” for the first time—mentioning her “Namaste” was quite different from the word he’s known. “I say, “num-us-teh” vs. the Americanized “nahm-ahs-tay.”

Singh also notes his sister used to word “Namaste” to ward off unwanted guests. When his sister was tired of having visitors, she would tell them “Namaste,” sending a clear message to an unwanted guest that it is time to go home.

“I live in America now, and when I hear someone say namaste to me in an organic grocery store, or at a yoga retreat, I find it funny and cute. It never fails to put a smile on my face. I always get the feeling that they mean something very different than I do.”

Hinduism expert agrees, “Namaste” or “Namaskar” is a way to greet one another–wherever you may be. This greeting is not simply reserved for the yoga studio, but inside the house, on the street, in public transportation, vacation and even on the telephone. “Namaste” is a customary greeting to behind and end with, a gesture and word for people of all ages, friends and strangers.

namaste
Martha Stewart in yoga session. [Photo by Fernando Leon/Getty Images for Martha Stewart)

Regardless of how “Namaste” has been used over the years and within social media—it still allows all to come together to a place of connection, oneness and timelessness. “Namaste” is a word in which a deep union between spirits can form and a way yoga practitioners can connect to their yogic lineage.

[Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images]