Ok, let's get one thing straight right out of the gate. "Namaste" literally just means "I bow to you." All of that extra fluff that you've heard yoga teachers adding about divinity and light and inner eyes and lord knows what else is exactly that - extra fluff. It is one person's interpretation of this simple phrase.
But there is no specific religious or spiritual meaning behind the word itself. Yes, it is a greeting most commonly used by Hindu people in India. But that's because it's their language. Just like "aloha" is used by Hawaiians. Or "hola" by people who speak Spanish. In fact, Muslims in India often greet their Hindu friends with "namaste," and Hindus will greet their Muslim friends with "salaam." It's a sign of respect for the culture of the person you're greeting. It does NOT necessarily mean that you, too, belong to that culture.
Ok, so if it's just a simple greeting, then what's the big deal?
Why say it all? In fact, why say *anything* at all to end class? It's not like all barre classes end with everyone saying "au revoir" or "enchante" or whatever, right? (Though admittedly, that might be kinda cool...)
There are a few reasons why I think it is important to close the practice by saying the word namaste:
1. It's a nod of respect to the roots of the practice. The yoga that I teach and that most of us in the US practice is VERY different from what was practiced by the old men in dhotis hundreds of years ago. Elsewhere on this site, I will write about my thoughts on that evolution and why I support it. But as much as I support the modern changes that have come into the practice, I believe it's important to acknowledge and show respect for the origins of the practice. Sure, I'll play Drake during my flow, but that doesn't mean that I've forgotten that yoga is an ancient spiritual tradition rooted in the writings of a Hindu sage. (Note, it was written by a Hindu sage, but isn't necessarily a Hindu religious practice. Again, a topic for another blog post.)
2. The basic meaning of the word is one of mutual respect, and I believe that is a valuable note to end your practice on. The students bow to the teacher in respect and gratitude. The teacher bows to the students and acknowledges that she/he is still a student too, and that the learning and respect go both ways. And the students are also bowing to each other, acknowledging the other members of their community, and thanking them for sharing their practice.
3. If you've ever taken a class with me, you know that I always end it by saying, "The best in me bows to the best in you: namaste." Yes, I too, like most yoga teachers out there, have ascribed a deeper meaning to the word. It's an interpretation I came up with after years of hearing many different teachers offer their own. I just think there's something so beautiful about acknowledging the fact that no matter who the person is sitting in front of you, there is something good about them. There is something that you can connect over, something that you can each appreciate about each other. These days especially, as messages of hate and discord and mistrust continue to flood from some very powerful places, I think it's all the more valuable to take a moment to acknowledge the best parts of each and every one of us. Yoga does mean "union" after all: the root of this practice is recognizing that uniquely human connection that we all share, despite our many differences.
4. But why say anything at all to end your practice? Because, quite simply, there is something very powerful about uniting our voices. Whether you're dressed in burnt orange shouting "'til Gabriel blows his horn" with thousands of other Longhorns (hook 'em!), or reciting a prayer with the rest of your congregation in church, or belting out your favorite band's latest hit in an arena filled with fellow fans - one way or another, we've all experienced that feeling. It's a simple way of connecting with those around you. And since you've chosen to come to a studio and practice with your community, I personally think it just feels right to mark the end of your practice by doing this small thing together as one.
But of course, as with all aspects of the practice, my rule is: "Take What Serves You, Leave the Rest."
So if the reasons I laid out above don't resonate with you, no worries. Just stay quiet for that last little bit. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, whatever.
This is your practice. You do you, boo.
ps: And if you do plan on saying it, I've always only ever heard my Indian relatives and family friends pronounce it "nuh-MUH-sthay" (the way I do). Not "NAHH-mahh-STAY". I'm no Sanskrit scholar, but I'm going to stick with the way I've grown up hearing it - even though the other way makes for much better puns ;-)