The politics of “namaste”

Now that yoga is becoming more mainstream, it is finding itself in the debate to whether it is an offshoot of Hinduism, or simply another form of exercise. Yoga has now found itself to the far reaches of Georgia USA, where parents are up in arms about the non-exercise portions of the practice. Bullard Elementary School in Cobb County, Georgia has banned the word “namaste” from being used in yoga lessons at the school stemming from complaints from parents.

Even within the Yoga community, the word “namaste” has been challenged, with opponents saying it is some form of cultural misappropriation for non Hindus to use the word. Others in the yoga community don’t use it simply because they have felt it has become cliché.

To give simple definition, this word means “I bow to you.” More elaborate new agey definitions include “the God within me bows to the God within you.” However, I understand that many mainstream Indian Hindu residents use “namaste” or “namaskar” as another way of simply saying “hello.”

Very much like the word “aloha” in Hawai’i where I live, this word has different meanings for different contexts (hello, goodbye, and love). But aloha, like namaste has some element of reverence beyond merely “hi” and “bye.”

I always end my classes with the phrase “Thank you very much for doing Yoga. Peace within. Namaste.” That is in reverence to my very first Yoga teacher Daws, who used that phrase at the end of his classes. For me, it is the closest thing to diksha I have received. I worked intensely with Daws for many years prior to coming to the Iyengar tradition, so that is what I take from his teachings into my classes.

The short of it is, people should not be up in arms about a word that conveys exhaled greeting for fear that it may turn their sons or daughters to some mysterious foreign faith, or whether it is misused out of cultural context, or because it is overused.

Last time I checked, I have not converted anyone to Hinduism from my teachings, people in the West still eat Chapati-s and Dahl and are not completely disgracing the Indian subcontinent, and people are still saying hello, goodbye, and I love you even though everyone has been saying it for thousands of years.

It is time for naysayers to lose their tremendous sense of self importance and ignorance, and clearly see objects for what they truly are. Namaste!


9 thoughts on “The politics of “namaste”

  1. k8macdo

    Those “new-agey” poetic translations suggested might also mask our discomfort with bowing to another, something that we need to do, in my opinion! We need to serve in order to be whole! (The recent Holy Thursday image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples resonates with me in this Easter season!) A Hinu friend once told me he thought of namaste as meaning “not me, but you”. I love this! If we all serve then everyone is looked after. : )
    Hari Om

    Liked by 3 people

  2. accidental goddess

    I first understood that “namaste” was part of the Indian vernacular when I saw the 2001 movie “Monsoon Wedding”. When the families met, they greeted each other in this respectful way. Until then, I had only heard it in yoga class, so it both surprised me and normalized the term. Since then, I am more comfortable using it.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. So...

    Here in India, usually we end up using Namaste with the elders. Amongst our friends and family, it’s the standard ‘Hi’. At the institute, there is no Namaste before or after class. We begin with a ‘settle down’ 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. babycrow

    It seems to me (very much the beginner in Sanskrit) that many very normal words are endowed with all sorts of extra (new age, if you like) meanings within a western yoga context. It helps us develop a sense of reverence for the practice perhaps? My teacher bows to us with a namaste at the close of the class. This shows me this is important for him, so I return it and try to feel a sense in my heart of what I would like to convey to him in gratitude for his teaching. Doesn’t matter if it’s proper, traditional, new agey, cultural appropriation or whatever… I think it’s the right way for me to respond to his offering

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Shoba

    Hi and namasthe to all. Let me give u another twist to namasthe.. According to yoga, our body has several energy points.. By doing the namasthe way… (Palms together on the chest )it activates the most important energy point or chakra called the surya chakra..which is why people wished each other the namasthe way since pretty long ago..thus integrating yoga in our daily lives for good..



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