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I Don't Say Namaste

at the end of yoga class anymore.

  • Originally Posted July 2020

Over 13 years, thousands of yoga classes later, I am not just questioning what I have been taught, I am making a change. Let me start by admitting I was an asshole. Not because I said "Namaste" at the end of yoga classes I both taught and participated in, but because I ignored this information once before.

We may be unintentionally unkind, wrong, or insensitive, it happens in all areas of life, but once we know we must act accordingly. Long ago I had a private student, at an old studio I worked at, who is an Indian woman. She would come to the studio and greet me with 'Namaste', hands in prayer at her heart with a gentle bow. At the end of our lessons I would conclude as usual with the same gesture, she would not respond.

Finally at the end of one class she told me (in different words) that 'Namaste' is just a greeting that is used in Indian culture, it's not yoga. I took it in, didn't really understand, and kept saying it anyway. I wish I could apologize to her but since it was another studio, I don't have her contact information. Bottom line: I was wrong and I want to correct this so that you can make your own decision. 

Now, this is not the first time since that information was presented to me that I have questioned my relationship to yoga in this way, in using mudras, sanskrit, meditation techniques, and the word 'namaste' specifically. This is all a part of a much bigger conversation about cultural appropriation and yoga. In short (very short) if something is directly yoga, that's one thing, if it exists independently in the cultures that created yoga, that's another. Now this is all my opinion, interpretation compiled from research but not the answer.

For a simple example, malas are a meditation tool (japa yoga) but we shouldn't be wearing them as a fashion statement. I used to reason with myself (read: bargained, made excuses) that I know what Namaste means and all of my teachers used it and some even explicitly told me I should conclude class a certain way and say namaste because it is 'authentic'. At the time I respected these people deeply and thought their word was the truth. It is not yoga though. It is pretending I am part of that culture, of which I am not. A few days ago I found this post on Instagram. Some key highlights:

  • It is not appropriation to use namaste in your classes if done right. But it is wrong to say “namaste bitch”, “namaste AF”, “namaslay”, ‘namastay for wine’, and a whole host of other ridiculous spin offs.

  • Namaste is first & foremost an Indian way of greeting, often used to revere the highest members of society like priests, elders, etc. 

  • Use it only if you feel it’s authentic to you.

Because of my past experiences, my students who become my teachers, I will no longer be saying Namaste at the end of class. I am not Indian and as Aru said I did not grow up saying it so it doesn't make sense to for me. You may make your own decision, but keep learning, keep reading and listening...1% better every day.  

How do I end my classes now? I found a meaningful way for me to conclude my classes that aligns with my teachings and our studio's mission. I am often focused on how our mat yoga practice can translate into our 'real world' experience. I now invite participants to set an intention for the rest of their day, as they did mindfully at the start of their practice. I close practice by saying "Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. May you go in peace, peace, peace" as an offering of peace to the world. Finally, "May it be so for the benefit of all". My hope and intention teaching is that your intentions are fulfilled so that you can show up in this world as your best self so that we all benefit.


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