Learn the Meaning of Namasté

woman in namaste hands

Namasté (nah-mah-stay). You hear this word at the end of every yoga class, but do you know what it means?

As in so many traditions in yoga, an opportunity exists to dig deeper into the intention and meaning behind what you say, what you do, and how you move through this world. After all, if you’re truly living “yoga,” you are more focused on the “how” and “why” of your poses than on the outer form. 

When you bow your head and say namasté at the end of a yoga practice, you have the chance to do more than simply mark the ending of the session. In fact, a spiritual revelation is on the other side of a truly felt namasté and so, in the spirit of higher learning, take a look at the deeper explanation of this oft-heard, but commonly over-simplified piece of yogic wisdom. 

Definition of Namasté

If the spiritual traditions of yoga could be encapsulated in one word, it might be namasté. This Sanskrit word brings about the essence of oneness, and an understanding of the true nature of reality. 

At the base level, namasté is a salutation of respect and reverence. A traditional Indian greeting, it literally translates to “I bow to you” (namah or namas, meaning bow, te meaning you). 

In India, the gesture of Anjali Mudra (prayer position of the hands) not only accompanies the word, but is synonymous with its meaning. People passing on the street, family members greeting one another, children acknowledging their elders, and strangers meeting for the first time all join their palms together and bow their heads in respect of one another.

How to Perform the Namasté Greeting

Western yogis have adopted the custom of closing their yoga classes with a bow of namasté. On the surface level, it is a way for the teacher and students to thank one another for time well-spent, and to close the sacred container of the yoga practice. The palms and all ten fingers touch one another, with the thumbs joining in front of the heart space or brow. It is common for the teacher to say it first, and the students to repeat it back.

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A List of Translations 

One of the most common translations of namasté is “The divine light in me bows to the divine light within you.” However, a simple Internet search provides many beautiful meanings and translations of namasté, such as:

  • I honor the place in you where the entire universe dwells.
  • I bow to the place in you that is love, light, and joy.
  • When you and I bow to our true nature, we are one.
  • My soul recognizes your soul.
  • We are the same, we are one.
  • I honor the place in you that is the same as it is in me.

The Spiritual Teaching of Namasté

It is always helpful to find a concise phrase that captures a spiritual teaching. However, there is more to namasté than what can fit on the side of a coffee mug. 

Namasté represents the idea that all are one. It affirms that beneath the outer trappings that make you appear different from others, you are made of the same stuff. You are more the same than you are different. 

Tantrik philosophy teaches that everything that exists is one Divine consciousness that longs to experience itself in different forms. As a human being, it is in your nature to forget this truth—that every person, thought, feeling, and experience is a perfect expression of the one Divine awareness. When a being does forget (by feeling separate, less than, better than, or identifying with any external, impermanent aspect of being more so than its true nature), it suffers. The teachings say that your spiritual practice is the art and act of simply remembering who you are. 

Seeing Others

By saying namasté (and meaning it), you are saying that you see others for what you actually are. It’s an affirmation of the choice to identify with God-consciousness, rather than the ego, which would have you believe that you are somehow superior or inferior to any other being on this planet. It is an active choice to take the spiritual lessons derived from the yoga practice or meditation, and take it into the laboratory of life. What would life be like if you saw others as perfectly whole? What if you saw yourself this way? A namasté between two yogis is a pact made to honor the highest, truest, most authentic parts of themselves, and let their limitations fall away. 

In his translation of the 1,000-year-old spiritual text The Recognition Sutras, Tantrik scholar Christopher Wallis describes how this understanding might affect your approach to life:

Once you become aware of the true nature of reality, everything you do becomes an act of reverence. Simply living your ordinary daily life with full awareness becomes a complete practice of meditation, a perfect form of worship, an offering to all beings and to Being itself. Tantra teaches that because there is only One in the universe, all actions are in truth the Divine exploring itself, reverencing itself, worshipping itself.

Sanskrit is a truly magical language because its words represent concepts that don’t have English equivalents. Because no single word in English can summarize the meaning of namasté, the process of unpacking it can be a spiritual quest of the heart. It is one thing to conceptually understand this philosophy, but it is another to feel it in your bones. To know this teaching as a truth is both the aim and the way. 

Find a meaning of this salutation that speaks to your heart—to plant that meaning as a seed into your center, that every time you join your palms together, you nourish the seed and savor its nectar. 

Namasté.


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About the Author

Karson McGinley

Yoga Teacher and Life Coach
Karson McGinley is the owner of Happy-U Yoga in San Diego, California. A teacher for over a decade, Karson works to bridge the gap between the ancient wisdom of yoga and the modern science of human flourishing through her classes, bi-weekly article contributions to The Chopra Center, and leading the Happy-U Yoga & Positive Psychology Teacher Training program. Karson teaches Hatha, Vinyasa, and Anusara Elements™ classes, inspired by the teachings of Classical and Tantric yogic philosophy, positive psychology, and metaphysical texts like A Course in Miracles . By sharing spiritual themes, scientific research, and anecdotal...Read more