Yoga has become a popular fitness trend in the developed world. People enjoy yoga as they feel it combines regular exercise, flexibility and meditation all in one session. One popular tradition that is seen in modern yoga is how instructors (yogi) will say “Namaste” at the start and end of a session.
What does namaste mean? Some people think it means “goodbye” in Hindi, while some people ascribe deeper meaning to the word such as “love and peace to all” or “the divine in me bows to the divine in you”. All in all, it has become somewhat of a catchphrase in the yoga world.
In reality, namaste is simply a greeting. It can be used either when you meet someone or say goodbye, but the important point is that it is a very formal greeting. It is more often used in formal settings such as important meetings. The word comes from the Sanskrit roots namas, meaning “bow” or “to pay homage to”, and te, essentially meaning “to you”. Therefore, a literal translation of namaste would be “I pay homage to you”.
Interestingly, namaste has never been an important part of traditional yoga. Yoga in India generally come from religious traditions. Since Hinduism is a polytheistic religion involving many gods, each yoga lineage would have a specific greeting praising their respective gods. This is in contrast to namaste, which puts more importance on the individual person than the god. So ironically, namaste somewhat contradicts the traditional philosophy of yoga.
Unfortunately, the worst part is that most people do not even pronounce the word correctly, saying “NA-ma-stay” instead of the correct “nuh-MAS-the” (“t” is pronounced as “th” in Hindi) with the emphasis on the middle syllable.
It is unclear when the trend of saying namaste in modern yoga came from, but it is certainly a product of the Western appropriation of the practice. Perhaps it was introduced to add a more spiritual, faux-profound flavour to exercising.
Nevertheless, to quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride:
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”