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.'”
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,