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.

Other Answers

2 thoughts on “The Meaning of Namaste

  1. Beautifully said! I too re-encountered God through yoga and meditation after blocking spirituality from my life after an over-bearing religious upbringing. I so appreciate your connection to the verse from the Bible here also – there is so much support for common ground when you look at the core fundamental message of the scriptures vis a vis yoga!

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