Fitness Magazine

Why We Say "Namaste" in Yoga Classes and Some Alternatives

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

West Meets East by Arvind Ramanathan

Richard Rosen emailed me after he read my post "Namaste" and the Anjali Mudra, in which I discussed among other things, how to use and pronounce “namaste” as well as what it meant, based partly on information on got from his book Yoga FAQ. He started out by saying I was correct in the way I recommended pronouncing “namaste.” Whew! That was a relief. 

You’re correct about the pronunciation being more like nuh-muh-stay. That’s because the first two a’s are short and so pronounced like “uh” (say the “a”’s in “America”). And yes, final “e” is pronounced like the “ay” in “stay” (say the “a” in “gate”). 

Then he went on to answer the question that I was left with after reading his section on “namaste” in his book, which was why do some teachers say this in yoga classes? I liked his explanation so I asked him if I could share it with you. Here’s what he wrote:

It’s really not much of a mystery why we end classes with namaste. Like much of what we do in modern Western yoga, the Sanskrit reassures us that we’re actually practicing yoga, when in fact many classes are simply exercise workouts (though there's nothing wrong with that) with only the most tenuous connections to the tradition. Similarly that’s why many classes begin and end with OM, or the Patanjali invocation, or why many modern asanas, like the splits (aka Hanumanasana), are given Sanskrit names. These things tend to “yoga-cize” the class, while at most we’re practicing what should properly be called Modern Western Exercise-influenced Asana. 

I think that if your class includes only asanas (and not meditation, breath practices, and/or philosophy) the idea of reminding people that they are taking a yoga class and not just doing a simple workout is compelling one. But Richard then surprised me by making some recommendations for other ways to end a yoga class:

I think it’s probably best to end the class with a simple “Thanks for coming, I really appreciate your presence,” or if you have a passable Porky Pig imitation, “T-T-T-That’s all, folks.” If you want to use Sanskrit, which is a complicated but beautiful language, and that acknowledges (as we should) yoga’s Indian origins, I recommend, “shanti, shanti, shanti-hee,” which in English can be rendered as the “peace which passeth understanding.”

A reason why you might want to consider an alternative to "namaste" is that some people from India living in the West find the practice of saying "namaste" at the end of a yoga class rather funny. For example, a reader directed me to this NPR article A Ga. School Bans The Greeting 'Namaste.' Do They Know What It Means?, which I recommend reading. The author, Deepak Singh, described how he used the word growing up to mean "hello" and said that when he hears Westerners use the word he finds it "funny and cute":

I got the feeling that they didn't think of it just as a greeting, but it had a spiritual connotation — a Hindu mantra, a divine chant, a yoga salutation. Using namaste in India never made me feel spiritual in any way. Even in the yoga classes I took in India, the teachers never uttered a namaste.

And my friend Arvind Ramanathan—who created the original cartoon for us above—goes on to say:

People say Namaste when they just meet you, and not usually not while leaving. It would be like an English speaker going to some class in India where the teacher ends the class by saying 'greetings' or' hello'. That would be so odd Ha Ha.

Thank you for reading this blog, y’all! I really appreciate your presence.

Shanti shanti shanti

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