I honestly don’t remember who first told me that “Namaste” meant, “The light within me sees and honors the light within you,” but I know it was not an Indian person; it was a white, American person, as most of my yoga teachers have been. I am a white, American yoga teacher who has told my students the exact same thing because that’s what I was taught. I’m sure my teachers were taught the same, but in this game of telephone, no one bothered to actually ask a person of the South Asian Diaspora. What?! Over the last year or so (I am late to the game), I’ve been learning from some Indian teachers and other teachers of color, whom I – believe it or not – found on Instagram. Social media isn’t always evil! I was lucky enough to learn from Susanna Barkataki’s “Honor, Don’t Appropriate, Yoga Summit”, and I recently enrolled in Constanza Eliana Chinea’s web series, “Embody Inclusivity” and joined the Facebook group of the same name. I learned a lot through the series and the threads on Facebook and then felt compelled to act.
My favorite interview of the series was with Jesal Parikh and Tejal Patel, creators of the “Yoga is Dead” Podcast. In the interview, Tejal spoke about the use of “Namaste” at the end of yoga classes in the west and the fact that “Namaste” is a greeting, not a closing, and it’s been widely appropriated in the US. A LOT of yoga has been whitewashed in America, and I think it’s so important to honor the Indian roots of the practice. When a dominant culture is cherry picking words from a marginalized one and using them without even knowing their meaning (not to mention without having to experience the racism directed at the people actually OF that culture) it’s hurtful to actual people of that marginalized culture. It’s so incredibly easy for me to make this small change and avoid hurting someone while also making my classes more inclusive to more people in the process. In the end, that’s great for business!
I’ve also read Susanna Barkataki’s thoughts on ending class with Namaste, and she even compiled a free list of 60 alternatives to use to end class. I’m starting to experiment with some of these. I know it may create some confusion at first. In the Embody Inclusivity Facebook group, Jesal commented, “I got that confusion when I stopped saying, ‘Namaste’, and I found that there are a couple strategies for diffusing it. You can try end with ‘om shanti shanti shanti, peace peace peace,’ or sometimes what I do is just say thank you and then afterwards just start chatting with people asking them about how they experienced the class. After a few times with a group, it stops being an issue.” So I’m trying this and finding my way. There is always so much to learn as we practice yoga, and we’re never done. As teachers and practitioners of yoga, we are forever students.