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What Does "Namaste" Mean?

By Marty Paule
Updated May 17, 2024
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Namaste is a salutation traditionally used by Hindus to acknowledge the divine aspect of the person being greeted. The greeting, and its variant, namaskar, has been adopted outside of India and the Hindu world, thanks to the influence of Indian spiritual practices such as the various forms of yoga. While namaste may be used as an everyday greeting in a manner similar to the use of "good day" in English, the term possesses specific spiritual significance for Hindus and Sikhs. Yoga teachers often invoke the salutation at the beginning and end of classes to help students to recognize their inherent divinity and connection with the teacher.

The greeting is derived from namas, a Sanskrit word that refers to bowing or paying tribute to another being. It denotes reverence for the other person when the suffix te — the Sanskrit second-person singular pronoun — is added. Hence, namaste literally means "bow you." More poetically, it could be interpreted to mean "I bow to the light (or divine spirit) within you." In performing the namaste greeting, the eyes are closed and the hands are brought together in a prayer-like gesture over the heart while making a bowing motion.

Used as an ordinary daily greeting on the Indian subcontinent, the word namaste itself is often omitted, since the bow and joined hands implies the salutation. When the greeting is used during yoga classes in the West, the word is usually enunciated as a means of helping students to realize the nature of divine love and recognize that the same divine power is embodied in all sentient beings. In yoga, the heart chakra is seen as the energetic center of that universal love, and, by invoking the namaste greeting, the teacher and student acknowledge their divine connection to each other and to the universe at large. During meditation, the student may also offer the greeting inwardly as a way of recognizing his or her own divine nature.

One of the purposes behind Indian spiritual practices, including various schools of yoga, is to tame and diminish the demands and foibles of the human ego. The use of the namaste greeting helps to implant a sense of humility and reverence for others and for all creation. By acknowledging the divine aspect in ourselves and in each other, it is believed that the human personality with all its fears and desires can be made subservient to our higher, more noble aspects. On an intellectual level, the invocation of namaste seeks to create a meeting of minds to achieve a greater good.

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