The Meaning of Namaste

Do you not know that you are God’s tem­ple and that the spirit of God dwells in you?
I Corinthi­ans 3:16

Photo: hands in prayer
Anjali mudra in prepra­tion for another vinyasa

My father was a pas­tor of a Protes­tant church, thus, mak­ing me what is known as a preacher’s kid. PKs have a rep­u­ta­tion for being goodie-​​two-​​shoes who later rebel against the con­fines of church doc­trine and social prac­tice. Dur­ing my child­hood, my family’s activ­i­ties revolved around my father’s min­istry and the activ­i­ties of the church.

One of the most emo­tion­ally reward­ing expe­ri­ences I had as a child was going to the altar after my dad gave a ser­mon and called for the con­gre­ga­tion to give their souls to Christ. I longed to feel the warmth of my father’s arms around my shoul­der, pray­ing qui­etly in my ear, reas­sur­ing me of God’s love and mercy, par­don­ing my sins and bless­ing my renewed devo­tion. The altar was the only place where I felt his phys­i­cal affec­tion for me.

When I became a teenager, my father stopped pray­ing with me at the altar, and I was helped by other church elders. He prob­a­bly thought it was bet­ter to have another adult lis­ten to my con­fes­sions rather than super­im­pose his fatherly fig­ure on my rela­tion­ship with God. Need­less to say, it was a dispir­it­ing, dis­con­cert­ing expe­ri­ence for me.

Look­ing back, I had con­fused in my mind the bless­ings of a spir­i­tual rela­tion­ship with God and the emo­tional bond with my father. What a head game that is! Even­tu­ally, I ran away from home to Latin Amer­ica at the ripe age of 23. Although I never shied away from reli­gion or spir­i­tual life, I did not find a nat­ural fit for them in my life.

An encounter with the divine

With yoga, I have had an almost phys­i­cal, sen­sory rebirth of my belief — I call it an encounter with the divine within. In my first ses­sion of Sudar­shan Kriya dur­ing my Art of Liv­ing train­ing in Feb­ru­ary last year, I had an extremely mov­ing expe­ri­ence, but trans­lat­ing it into a nar­ra­tive would fail to cap­ture its magic — and make me sound like a nut. By the puri­fy­ing breath, I burned through to a glow­ing core. I have sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences sev­eral times over the past year, never quite the same, but it helped me under­stand why the altar expe­ri­ence of my child­hood was so mean­ing­ful to me, and why the shift into adult­hood was a rup­ture with a whole spir­i­tual realm of my life.

Yoga has allowed me to reopen myself to the divine. with­out inter­me­di­ary or fil­ter. The awe and inti­macy of my child­hood encounter has shifted to empow­er­ment and imme­di­acy because I no longer have to wait for any­one to show me the way. That’s one of the rea­sons that namaste, the San­skrit word that usu­ally closes a yoga class, rings so true to me: it lit­er­ally mean “I bow to you” but has acquired an expanded mean­ing in yoga/​meditation: “the light/​spirit/​guru/​divine in me hon­ors the light/​spirit/​guru/​divine in you.” I have felt the divine in me and it res­onates to the same con­di­tion in oth­ers. When I say that word and bring my anjali mudra to my heart, it is a pow­er­ful ges­ture that can fre­quently bring me close to tears.

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