I have stopped saying Namaste in my classes after much internal introspection as well as external conversation.
I think a lot about the ways that I bring yoga into the world, and, in particular, how I sometimes bring the teachings forward without much discernment. Am I teaching something because my teacher taught it, or I read it somewhere, or I heard it in a training? And who am I learning from? To be honest I have not learned yoga from many teachers of color, and even fewer teachers of Indian descent. I’ve started questioning a lot of what many white yoga teachers do or say in classes, including my own.
I recently had a conversation with a person of Indian descent who said she does not like when white yoga teachers say ‘namaste’ because she noticed that white teachers make a grand gesture out of the word, and her experience with the word is more informal. I asked a friend, whose teacher is Indian, how namaste is incorporated or not into their practice. She laughed and told me they have never said namaste to each other.
I took to social media to inquire why so many white yoga teachers say it, where we learned that we should say it at the end of class, and what the general thoughts were about this word.
Here is what one person shared, who is Indian-Canadian: “Some background: In Marathi we say “namaskar”. It’s definitely used as a greeting, but we also use it as something you give/do to someone or something, especially to God.
My parents would say “Go do namaskar to that person before we leave” and I would go and touch their feet and receive their blessings. Or I would do namaskar to a picture or statue of God at home or at a temple, where I’d pray in front of them for a minute.
My parents would say “Bappa la namaskar ker”, which means “Go pray to God”. So, namaskar is also used to denote “pray” or “give respect”.
Personally, I used to think it was dumb when a person said namaste in a yoga class. But, I’ve gotten used to it and think of it as a part of American yoga-culture, like Lululemon. My brain separates the “American yoga Namaste” from the “Namaste” that someone would use in India. It’s almost like 2 different definitions for the same word.
This is the first time I’ve really thought about it. And when I think about it now, it feels wrong to use in a yoga class. It isn’t an authentic use of the word, and the whole point of yoga is to get in touch with who you really are and get your body and mind closer to that (i.e. the divine). In order to do that, you should probably steer clear of inauthenticity as much as possible.”
There were also many teachers who felt strongly connected to the meaning of the word, and how the word was a way of honoring students. The word Namaste means “I bow to you.”
I got to thinking, ‘If I want to bow to the students at Rainier Beach Yoga and I want to honor them (all of them) is Namaste the best way to do that?’ At this point, the answer for me is no.
My current ending ritual with students is an offering. I share my hope that any learnings that resonated with them continue to benefit them as well as ripple out into their relationships, communities, and the world at large. I conclude with ‘thank you’ and a physical bow.
This is what feels right in the moment, and I am committed to continuing to practice internal introspection and external conversation about this as well as all the practices of yoga that I know, do not know, and have a mistaken and/or uninformed knowledge of.
A deep bow to all who help me wake up more fully, challenge me to practice discernment and encourage me to continue refining who I am in the world.