You Had Me at Namaste

It’s a very simple scene.

Me: Shopping for some curtain rods in Bed, Bath and Beyond over the weekend.

Two Women: One pushing a shopping cart alongside the other. 

Woman #1: “What does namaste mean?”

Woman #2: “I think it’s something like ‘the light in me honors the light in you.'”

*Long Pause*

Two Women: Laughing insecurely and hysterically.

Here’s why this scene knotted my insides. And here’s what namaste means and why it’s not really a laughing matter…

 

 

When I studied yoga in India, I found it fascinating that people would greet one another with the phrase “Hari Om.” The direct translation of this Sanskrit is broken into two parts: Hari relates to the Hindu God Vishnu who is considered “a remover of sins or bad karma,” and Om is considered a sacred syllable that encompasses the entirety of creation from start to finish. As yoga teachers-in-training we were told simply that the phrase loosely means “remember God.” And so, every asana practice (physical poses of yoga) began and ended with this phrase, reminding students from all around the globe and of various belief systems that the divine exists within the physical.

“God” doesn’t seem like a topic that has to do with fitness and wellness but that’s actually a false notion. One of the six branches of wellness is spiritual wellness. It’s as fundamental to our overall well-being as physical and emotional wellness. Just as important as our careers. As essential to our vitality as having a healthy network of friends and family to lean on. In my opinion, even though I consider myself a Christian and could preach on the merits of Christ, not every person has to share similar beliefs to access higher spiritual energy and fulfillment. By keeping our spiritual dimensions awake – whatever they are – we pave the way for better health and improved healing, patience, gratitude and joy.

 

 

When I heard the two women shopping at Bed, Bath & Beyond, laughing at the meaning of “namaste,” a part of my heart broke for them. The fact that they scoffed at a word that means spiritual and mutual respect for other humans and the places within ourselves that are deeper, truer, and purer than the surface, is upsetting to me. Not because I was offended by these women but because I see how much more one can gain in health when these deeper layers within can be unearthed. Looked at without fear and insecurity. These women both appeared to be suffering from various physical ailments and I wondered if they opened themselves up to being vulnerable with a higher power if their health might begin to move in a new direction.

Other rough translations and interpretations of the word “namaste” include:

“I honor and appreciate you”

“The divine in me honors the divine in you”

“I bow to you in respect”

“We are equals”

“Whatever is beautiful in me honors whatever is precious and beautiful in you”

 

In Western cultures, namaste has become synonymous with a feeling of relief at the conclusion of yoga class, a feeling of appreciation for the teacher or gratitude for the brief span of time carved out from life’s busyness to exercise and stretch. The word has become so popular and, at times, generic, that word-play t-shirts are now sold with phrases like “Namaste in bed today” and “You had me at Namaste.” It’s cool that the phrase is becoming less obscure but, as we all know, anything that becomes mainstream can lose a bit of its origins. And namaste’s origins start and end with something intangible and within. The invisible lines that connect us. That level the playing field of our bodily struggles, making us all the same.

 

 

Let’s not forget these lessons in our haste or quest for higher physical beauty and fitness.

Namaste to you.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Advertisements

One thought on “You Had Me at Namaste

  1. wellnesswinz Post author

    One of my readers emailed me this (see below). I wanted to share her inquiry and my response in case anyone has similar questions or interests on this topic:

    WELLNESSWINZ READER QUESTION:

    “I tried leaving a message on the blog but it requested a login, so I’ll email you instead ; )

    Very interesting article, I had no idea what either of those words meant and could have easily been one of those women in the store laughing but only out of ignorance. I personally have only taken a handful of Yoga classes and was always a bit confused about the words used, no one ever explained what they meant so thank you for that. As a Christian myself I have been told that practicing Yoga is a form of another religion with different beliefs not just exercise, how do you see that?

    Thanks Maggie. I always enjoy your writing.”

    RESPONSE:

    “You’re right that some Christians believe yoga to be like practicing another religion. It’s a tricky thing because it both is and isn’t. The people who engage in “true” yoga as it was intended to be practiced (including all 8 disciplines of Ashtanga yoga) are aiming to achieve Samadhi (i.e., enlightenment or “convergence with the one supreme consciousness”). Many mantras, meditations and Sanskrit terms incorporated into yoga have been coined around Hindu gods, Hindu belief systems and mythology. The way that most people in the western world practice yoga is in its physical discipline or “asanas,” and thereby remove the spiritual element. Many people simply view it as great exercise (which of course, it is!). The physical practice of yoga was never intended to be separate from the spiritual, though – in fact, Surynamaskara (i.e., sun salutations) is originally practiced with a song saluting the Hindu sun god between rounds of the flow series.

    It definitely took me aback when I traveled to India to study yoga because I felt the pull of my Christian roots and beliefs tugging in the opposite direction of a lot of what I was being taught. When I embarked on the experience, I was too young and naive to take into account the fact that there would be more to “yoga” than the physical practice and some breath work. But, as I opened my mind and stopped judgments (which is what Christians are told to do in order to be like Christ!), I found a beautiful, respectful and spiritual culture that I could learn a LOT from. Ironically, even though it diverged from my belief system, I became strengthened in my faith through the experience and understood for the first time just how connected we are as humans trying to worship God in the best ways we know how. I truly credit this experience for expanding and deepening my faith, something I couldn’t have imagined at first when I started practicing yoga in a yoga hall filled with pictures of Hindu gods, fearing for my “sinfulness.” That melted away as I understood that God was with these people too, understanding their hearts and intention.

    Hope you find this information as interesting as I did at the time, but I understand everyone’s faith journey is unique so I get if it’s foreign or obscure sounding. Totally fair!”

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s