As you know 'Namaste' is a very common pose in yoga. But have you wondered what does this pose really mean? What does Namaste mean in Yoga?
In this article we will bring out the history behind this pose and the rich meaning that it has been carrying all through these years from ancient times. So, Stay tuned.
The ABC Behind Namaste
Before addressing directly this question and its answer, let's run the abc for this subject.
A Customary Hindu Gesture
“Namaste'' is a customary Hindu gesture that has spread worldwide due to many factors. Among them is the popularization of yoga practice and different Indian centers for cultural learning in western countries such as the U.S.A and west Europe.
Such fashion and interconnection are not new, but technologies like the internet, especially last decade’s social media boom, have emphasized the phenomenon and brought a new dimension to this Indian philosophy and way of life.
More people each day are interested in this millenary place, its rich pre-scientific era knowledge and wisdom. Also, how the Hindu and other nearby systems of belief and philosophies map the symbology of our world and its cosmic rhythm weaving a new wave of understanding it all.
A hand posture with our without the Word
Basically Namaste can be treated as a gesture with or without the actual word Namaste being said, but also vice-versa, by saying the words without the hand position. Which hand position? T
he position in which you press both hand palms together with the fingers pointing upwards. This causes elbows to stand out to both left and right sides of the body and the chest to be projected towards the person towards which the Namaste is intended.
This gesture is similar to the ones used in other religions or salutes around the cultural diversity of our planet. However, as we stated before, the wide spreading of yoga practice and its everyday concepts have ranked the Namaste salutation on top of other less known gestures used by cultural minorities to say and transmit roughly equal sentiments and words.
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Namaste is a salutation conveying greetings
There are many other exceptions to the use of Namaste but before checking them out and talking about them, let's repeat in other words what we have said so we can continue crystal clear with the answer to our first question without stumbling upon too many names and styles:
Namaste is a welcoming, a greeting, a way of saluting someone that stands in our presence. Namaste is not just a hand position, for that is the Añjali Mudrā which we will talk about later.
But for now: all Namaste have an Añjali Mudrā as their core element, but not all Añjali Mudrā are intended or used as a Namaste greeting. Although, bearing that this is a long and old tradition, nothing is as black and white as this temporary definition. Let’s keep going and learn more!
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The Ancient Meaning Of Namaste
Namaste is a Sanskrit word made with two words, Namah and Aastu
Namah: I bow to...
Aastu: The god in you.
In Hindu philosophy people believe that there is god within every soul. So, Namaste essentially means " I Bow to The God in You".
So, from this you can easily understand where is the salutation and greetings parts coming in which we described previously.
Also Read our post on History and Origin of Yoga
Is Namaste Then a Form of Saying Hi?
Well, you could say that, but as you know, even with just the common hello there are many alterations and differences. For example, you wouldn’t talk to an authority in such a close and personal way saying “Hi there!”.
You would probably be strict and formal and address them with a sober “Hello” or “Good day officer” in order to convey certain formality and distance because the matter is serious and not a familiar affair.
Articulation Vary according to the context
Differences in accentuation and vocal length and word articulation vary according to the social context in which the words are said (again, being more articulate with formal meetings, and less strict with informal reunions such as friends and family gatherings).
In the same way, Namaste also has many differences and variations. The most known, used and documented variations are “namaskar” and “namaskaram”.
These two, together with Namaste are found in ancient and medieval Hindu scriptures written mostly in Sanskrit although other texts in other dialects and languages have also been found containing these words and its variations.
Added to this philology work which is always updating and bringing to the table new discoveries, new dates and new theories, are the archaeological excavations from 3000 BCE and 2000 BCE.
What is an Anjali Mudra?
Añjali Mudrā is a salutation sign. Mudrā is a sign done by the hands, for example, another well known Mudrā is the one which we could use when sitting in the lotus pose known as “Padmasana”.
The Mudrā used in this context -and which is usually suggested by yoga teachers globally- is the closing of the thumb and index finger in a circle. The other three fingers are stretched and pressed together to convey the correct grip for this Mudrā.
However, in this lotus pose we could also perform a Namaste without actually saying the words Namaste. If you remember what we said before, not all Añjali Mudrā are Namaste.
So in the lotus position, in our own home practice or even with our class, doing this Mudrā of hand pressing and the height of our chest isn’t a greeting, but an exercise, where we are not directly greeting someone or something but giving strength to our muscles, carrying blood irrigation to all our body places and letting the energy flow the best way possible.
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So if Mudrā is a sign, or a seal, what does Añjali mean?
It means "divine offering", "a gesture of reverence", "benediction", "salutation", and is derived from the Sanskrit morpheme anj- meaning "to honor or celebrate”. Remember this when you do a simple Namaste to someone.
These definitions enhance the power and the history of the Namaste greeting and the level of consciousness that we can have in daily encounters with whomever it may be.
Answering our initial question, we can see the trickiness in its formulation. The question should be, what is Namaste and what place does it take in yoga discipline. For the first part we have answered, briefly but clearly the meaning of saying “hello” with a deeper consciousness for the momentous presence that inhabits our living time.
It’s not a bureaucratic procedure emptied of energy and full on nothingness. Let’s finish talking and explaining Namaste in yoga, which we now know should be called Añjali Mudrā.
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Mudrās can be done on their own or together with the yoga asanas, completing energetic circuits which benefit the mind, body and soul.
We can perform a Mudrā in the context of perhaps, sitting on the office chair, on the bus, the train or standing waiting in line or standing against a wall. Yet, performing the Mudrā in synchronicity with main body poses or asanas has multiple benefits. These include:
- Alleviation of mental stress and anxiety, as a centring position, it can help enter a meditative state or focus on a memory or an image.
- Improvement and promotion of arms, wrist, hand and finger flexibility. Very good for people who work a lot with typing on keyboards and musicians.
The asanas that can contain an Añjali Mudrā are, among others:
- Anjaneyasana (Lunge) – with arms overhead at the crown chakra.
- Hanumanasana (Monkey Pose)
- Malasana (Garland Pose)
- Matsyasana (Fish Pose) – for advanced pupils.
- Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-legged forward bend) – an advanced variant with hands behind the back. Very good for opening and projecting the chest. This helps the body learn to equilibrate the stress and weight between our chest and back instead of usually, leaning it all on our back and/or shoulders.
- Rajakapotasana (Pigeon Pose/King Pigeon Pose)
- Tadasana/Samasthiti (Mountain Pose) – a variant of the pose used during sun salutation sequences is very common.
- Utkatasana (Chair Pose, literally "fierce pose") arms overhead at the crown chakra.
- Urdhva Hastasana (upward salute/extended mountain pose) – arms overhead.
- Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) – arms overhead.
- Vrikshasana (Tree Pose) Try doing the Añjali Mudrā first at the heart chakra height, afterwards at the third eye location and finally, arms overhead in the crown chakra location.
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To conclude, Namaste in yoga is a form of salutation usually used at the beginning or end of a practice as a greeting, but also as a way of connecting to ourselves and others at a deeper state of consciousness.
When using it together with the Añjali Mudrā, energy flow and blood irrigation work together benefitting our mind, body and souls allowing us to reach a new state of inner connection to ourselves and others.
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