Many new yogis find the practice daunting and even unnerving as they venture off the street and onto the mat. If you haven't studied up on the practice and it's potential components, and you just don't know what to expect, you may feel intimidated by the things you don't know: sanskrit names for postures, what that breathing thing is all about, and maybe most of all, the chants and words stated or sung at the beginning and end of class. Here is a primer on a basic class and the meaning behind “namaste”.
Beyond the physical aspect of the postures is the intention of the movement, breath and gaze. A yoga practice without this intention is just an aerobics class. Many times teachers will open a class with a moment of quiet introspection that allows each student to pinpoint their own individual reason for being there...not just achieving a yoga-butt!...but an intention for the energy cultivated by the practice. For some students this is a time to dedicate their practice to a friend or family member in need of healing, or the world at large in need of peace. This is the moment where each student gives purpose to the endeavor they are undertaking by stepping on the mat. Some teachers bring these individual intentions together as one by having the class call out one to three “om's” (more on that in another issue). This unites the class in one purpose, made of many.
At the closing of class, it is typical to rest in Savasana, or final-resting-pose, to absorb the benefits of your physical practice. Once completed, the teacher instructs the class to sit up and take a few last breaths of intention before ending.
Finally, the teacher recites the “magic” word Namaste. This is where some folks freak out. If you don't know what it means, it feels really awkward repeating it. Simply put, Namaste means “the light and divine within me, honors and thanks the light and divine within you”. If you ask me, it's a pretty beautiful sentiment. It not only is a lovely way to say thank you to someone, but in yoga, it puts the teacher on the same level as the student. The best teachers learn from their students at least as much as they teach, so many of them really believe in the equality between a teacher and a student. Namaste expresses that in one word.
The metaphors that Namaste conjures up are numerous. I find that the expression of the divine within each of us is very important. If we all consider ourselves to be lit from within with a divine light, that means that we all share in something pretty awesome. We can't truly be separate because that light inside us all comes from the same source...whatever you choose to call it. It is a premise that transcends religious association and binds us all equally.
The next time you are in Yoga class, whether you are new to it or a practiced veteran, consider this word Namaste carefully. When the teacher says it at the end of class, reply with intention and deliberation. Know that by saying “Namaste” out loud you are embracing your own divinity and perfection, and connecting with the world at large. It can be your thread, the thread that binds you to everyone else in humanity.