When I first started practicing yoga in group classes, I was puzzled by the way classes ended with palms together, bowing the head and saying the word "namaste". I mean, I understood the head to the heart part but, huh? Nama-what? At first, I wasn't sure what was going on, so I kept my head bowed but stayed silent, nervously glancing from under my bangs to see what else may be happening that I wasn't aware of. After attending classes for a while, I decided that nothing mysterious was going on, but I still didn't really know what this "namaste" business was about so I would half-heartedly repeat it after the teacher at the close of the practice.
Curiously, in class, no one ever seemed to address the meaning of this peculiar expression, so one afternoon following a particularly transformative practice I drove home and took matters in my own hands... I Googled it! What I found was a variety of definitions, most of which seemed to say; "I bow to you", "reverence to you" or "the light in me honors the light in you". It was all starting to make sense.
Once I had become aware of what Namaste signified, the gesture began to be less mysterious and much more meaningful and beautiful to me.
In the years since my first exposure to "namaste", I have learned that the significance of this gesture extends far beyond even the simplest definition of "I bow to you". Namaste is a humbling gesture. It has a deep spiritual significance that seeks to reduce our own ego in the presence of another person. I've learned that one of the most beautiful ways we can honor someone is to look them in the eye and really see them. Not the clothes they wear or the labels they cling to. Not their profession or status. Not the car they drive or the house they live in, but to really see their essence and to know that their essence is the same as mine. There is no separation.
The gesture of placing our palms together in front of the heart is called “anjali mudra” which means to honor or celebrate. A mudra is an energetic "seal" or circuit that guides the flow of energy and reflexes to the brain. Anjali mudra helps us to listen and to focus inwardly - both physically and mentally. It connects us with our higher self and when we practice it, we practice honoring and celebrating not only our higher self, but the higher self that resides within all living beings (the light in me honors the light in you).
Anjali mudra also signifies the opposition in all things which actually shows us how to find balance, like a child's swing that moves up and down but eventually comes to rest in the center. Yoga has taught me that for a yogi, the center is the heart. As we move through an asana practice, we are moving and breathing which helps our energy to become balanced. Stretching our muscles creates the space for this to occur, as does deep, steady breathing. We remind ourselves of this search for balance by bringing our hands together in front of our heart, and when we do this periodically throughout our practice, it becomes a reminder to remember why we have come to our mat and what yoga means to us.
Namaste represents yoga... two seemingly opposing forces (masculine/feminine, inner/outer, light/dark, me/you) being joined together. The word yoga means to “yolk” (to join). It ultimately seeks to unite all opposites and dissolve any illusion of separateness that may exist. Anytime we weave inhale into exhale, or experience the turning of night into day with no definitive break in between, we are experiencing the presence of yoga.
The work we do on our yoga mat is merely a preparation for the real practice of yoga, which takes place the moment we roll up our mat and walk out into the world. We practice yoga each time we look into the eyes of another and see them, if only for a split second, and acknowledge on a deep level that we are the same.
Practice looking people in the eye when you encounter them or speak with them: the cashier at the grocery store, your neighbor, a co-worker. This helps to soften the barriers we often place between us and serves as a reminder to honor and celebrate not only your higher self, but also the higher self that resides within all living beings.
Until next time... namaste!