About a year ago, I had received an Instagram message from Namascray (you know, “the crazy in me honors the crazy in you,”) asking me to be a brand ambassador. I’m sure they send out a hundred of these per week, but in the moment, I felt like Sally Fields accepting her Oscar, “You like me! You REALLY like me!” After the initial five second self-esteem boost wore off, my mouth began to turn downward. Someone thinks I should be an ambassador for honoring crazy? I didn’t know whether to be honored or insulted. I get that it’s a joke. And frankly, us yogis probably do need to lighten up, but somehow this play on, ‘Namaste’ seemed somewhat…disrespectful.
Although, my yoga practice began around 2002 with the help of a DVD player, I always tried to have at least SOME reverence for the practice. No matter how resistant I was to “all things foreign sounding” at that age, Namaste seemed like a word of magic or maybe prayer. This word was supposed to mean the light in me saw and acknowledged the light in each and every other person. Since that time, no matter how much my practice changed, whether I was in a studio or at home, ‘Namaste’ was there. It was a word that was supposed to unite all people whether they agreed there was light in each of them or not. I’ve namaste’d my heart out for years until stumbling across a little NPR article.
I felt disenchanted that my one piece of my magical yoga practice was just the Hindi word for… “Hello.” Yes, literally the Sanskrit word means, “I bow to you,” but there isn’t really much about our lights, or our divinity in there anywhere. That’s something Americans added in at some point, I guess. We took a word that in any other context is a simple greeting, and we made it into this BIG word that’s supposed to encompass the entire notion of Consciousness. We do like efficiency in this country.
I wondered if the English greeting, “hello” had some esoteric meaning. What if we already had a greeting that was rooted in acknowledgment of our inner-beings? Maybe it comes from the world holy, or the Greek word helios, (the Sun.) After some research, it appears, hello is just a variation of some syllables we English speakers have strung together to get someone’s attention. In Old English, it was a shipman’s cry to incite effort, and as early as the 14th century it was a verb to, “pursue someone with shouts.” I guess hello wasn’t the uniting salutation I wanted it to be, but it is an example of how language is fluid. Definitions change. The context in which language is used matters. I’ve talked to a few yoga teachers who feel that an American yoga class is a new context. It can mean hello to millions of people, but if you are in a yoga class in the Western hemisphere, we are talking about our inner-lights bowing to each other. That’s the great thing about language. The only thing that gives a word meaning is enough people agreeing on said meaning.
Despite the fluidity of language, Namaste has lost its shine for me. I didn’t feel good saying it anymore. I guess a side benefit of all of this is that my panties collectively unbunched at all humorous namaste variations: NamasCRAY, NamaSLAY, or NamaSTAYINBED. When I questioned myself about the reasons why I still used the word at the end of class, all I could come up with was: “Everyone else does it, I was taught to do it, and I’m expected to do it too.” What am I? A teenager justifying their inability to turn down booze at a house party? My reasons which amounted to, “everyone else is doing it,” wasn’t reason enough to keep saying it, especially if the act itself left me feeling fraudulent.
About two months ago, I stopped saying namaste at the end of class. To my surprise, people kept saying it back at me anyway, which was fine with me. It’s the equivalent of wishing me a Happy Hanukkah. I don’t celebrate it personally, but I’m glad you took the time to wish me well. I was worried that a namaste-less yoga class was going to cause the sky to fall, but I’m finding it hasn’t changed much. If anyone has even noticed its absence, they haven’t mentioned it. I do find myself searching for a new way to end class. Despite my best intentions, there’s an unconscious pull to find another foreign word with magical meaning. Maybe Om Shanti or another mantra. For now, I’m just saying the most respectful and loving thing I can think to say that I know I can speak sincerely: