Updated: Nov 14, 2020
Do you say it to end a yoga class?
Namaste has become a signifier of the end of a yoga class. It has a beautiful meaning. Literally translated, as shared by a Sanskrit scholar:
“namas (i.e., namah) = reverence, adoration, salutation, bowing
te (short for tubhyam) is the dative case for the second person pronoun = to you
namas-te is the thus reverence/salutations to you (i.e., the person you are greeting).
as does not = “I”, in fact it is the verb = “to be”
More, if there was an as in the word, because of the rules of sandhi, the term would then have to be namāste, which it is not.
There is thus, no “I” in namaste”
I find this beautiful, as I often do when studying the intricacies and layers of Sanskrit’s meaning, because the I or ego is completely absent. To me, this enlivens how in namaste, the energy, or essence of revering, bowing and adoring is all there is.
Namaste is a state or way of being. And perhaps as diaphanous and aspirational a goal as yoga itself.
So, should you use namaste to end class?
Let's explore with open minds and hearts.
Recently, I recorded some of my many thoughts about this along with my colleague Rina Deshpande for Yoga Journal. Rina and I share our thoughts here.
The video has over 44,000 views and hundreds of comments. I'd love to invite you into the conversation and I’ve got a challenge for you at the end of this letter!
I aim here, as I often do, to not give absolute answers but to ask you questions to inspire the yogic practice of Vichāra - critical thinking.
In my own personal experience living in India or with my elders and family here in the U.S., "Namaste" or "Namaskar" is said when I meet and greet an elder. Not when I leave.
It honestly feels rather formal. So it feels strange to say it at the end of class for me personally. Though I certainly have done it. I usually don't now.
Why not? I notice that it's become a signifier, a glamorizing of Eastern culture. To use "Namaste" telegraphs our positionality as a teacher. Something like using the exoticism of a foreign word connotes "I, the wise yoga teacher, am now importing some wisdom to you." Or sometimes, when we want to signal "class is over, y'all can go" ... in so many spiritual-sounding words... it's an easy way to get you out the door.
Also, though I’ve often been corrected by popular western yoga teachers, it's actually pronounced more like"na-muh-steh," with the emphasis on the second syllable, by my Indian family and teachers.
Not ”nam-ah-staaay” with the emphasis on the third syllable, like we often here sing-songed at the end of yoga classes.
Namaste dates back to Old Sanskrit, the language of Yoga, Ayurveda and the Vedas were spoken and written in.
Namaste has become a signifier of the end of a yoga class. It has a beautiful meaning. Literally practiced and translated, it means "bow to you" and is a greeting of respect.
So should you say it to end your yoga class? I have some inquiry questions for you.
Consider that the alternative to appropriation is often creativity.
So I invite and challenge both myself and you to get creative.
Why do you say namaste, if you say it?
Are you honoring the culture and pronouncing it correctly?
Are you attached to it? If so, why?
Is there another way to convey the same resonance, beauty, wisdom?
Now let me be clear. You don't have to change anything.
This is an invitation to explore how you might creatively convey the feeling + message you wish to in your voice!
As we are exploring, the alternative to cultural appropriation can often be creativity.
Keep in mind that just because we benefit from something, doesn't make it ours to do what we want with!
So let's explore and get curious and creative! I’ve started a creative process – and I gathered my own and many wonderful suggestions into a PDF document with 60+ alternatives to ending a class. I hope you'll find this useful and inspiring.
Together, they create a beautiful bouquet of wishes for the closing of a class.
And with that, here’s to our lovely alternatives you so creatively imagine.
I’d love to hear what you think, and if you have new thoughts on closing class. Keep the ideas coming and the practice deepening!
Remember, this is a no judgment zone. That's how brainstorming works!
Let the creativity flow...and explore alternatives to Namaste here.
Susanna Barkataki has created a free Namaste Masterclass for you to explore honoring the roots of yoga even deeper.
She is the author of Embrace Yoga's Roots Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice and a yoga unity and diversity activist. She's obsessed with tactics for social change and has been practicing the traditions of her ancestors her whole life and educating around yoga and social justice for 2 decades.