Namasté - can I use it?
Updated: Aug 9, 2021
Lately, there have been articles circulating describing whether or not ending a class with ‘Namasté’ could be considered cultural appropriation. I took some time to think and discuss with a few trusted colleagues before adding my perspective.
The simple definition of ' Namasté is to bow/offer reverence/salutations(Namaḥ) to you (té).
The usage of Namasté in Vedic context is to honor divinity in every context. Namaḥ is often found in Vedic chants and mantras offering reverence to the sacred divine.
In modern Indian society, the Hindi language usage of Namasté is reverence combined with greetings. I don't use Namasté very often, but when I do use it, it is to show respect to elders, revered persons, guests, or my teachers. I am discovering that usage is varied throughout the Indian sub-continent.
Here's my take on the whole discussion, and it's the part I feel western yoga teachers are missing. The crux of the issue for me is what I have experienced in talking about this issue and about cultural appropriation in general - and that is, FRAGILITY. For those who don't know, fragility is the resistance and defensiveness on the part of westerners when confronted by people of color (BIPOC) around issues of racial inequality, injustice and harm.
There is so much fragility in the responses I have come across such as, "well, yoga is for everyone so I can do whatever I want" or "here are all the reasons why I can continue to use it" or " people are too sensitive these days, why is everything offensive?" or "yoga has come to the west and it is evolving so it is free for everybody to use" I have seen this attitude among students, teachers and even scholars wanting to defend their right to continue doing what they are doing.
That kind attitude is dismissive towards BIPOC . It is my hope that when people of color come forward to say "hey this is something that is harmful" that Westerners will pause and listen to what we are saying. Not listening creates harm (Himsā).
The defense of wanting to continue doing what you are doing and not listen to another person's pain is steeped in fragility. When we extend this attitude one step further, we get the cultural appropriation we see in the wellness community - namaste merchandise, namaSLAY slogans, namaSTAY IN BED T-shirts, and disrespectful memes etc. A once sacred word has been watered down in meaning to sell stuff, and that causes harm.
It is the *mindset* of not listening and/or defending and/or dismissing of BIPOC that is so troubling. that mindset causes harm because it is oppressive and dominating. My hope is that yoga practitioners listen to us when we speak up about what causes harm to our communities without resisting and instead have an openness to learn from us.
So, should you use Namasté to close your class or practice? Better than giving an absolute yes or no, consider inquiring into your usage of namasté. Do you use it because that's how class has always closed, or because you've heard others use it, or because usage makes you sound more authentic? The inquiry process will bring more depth and understanding around why you choose to include it. . Consider asking yourself:
* "what does it mean?"
* "why is it significant to me?
* "what do I, and my students get out of it?"
Namasté is being misused as a signal for yoga and wellness and has become a catch phrase here in the west - that's harmful. Remember, this is the sacred language of a people, and we value our traditions. We feel pain in its misuse. The request here is for awareness and inquiry. We aren't telling you not to use it but to examine the word and its meaning and if you do use it - use it with respect. Sacred words are part of our culture and we are asking westerners to listen to us in our request to honor the practice and the culture. For me, when I see Namasté used incorrectly it makes my heart ache, and even my body shake - that's a big part of the harm.
I recommend practitioners and teachers who want to use Namasté to make the following commitment:
1. Learn the definition of the word
2. Pronounce it correctly because the vibration is important in Sanskrit
3. Do not take it out of context or change the meaning.
May an openness to learn guide these conversations. Om tat sat.