Behind the sanskrit and the evolution of yoga and anything else you can think of, namaste is a salutation. Translated literally, it means, “I bow to you.”
Before us Westerners started ending our classes with it, this was simply a way to respectfully greet someone. Ironically, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a yoga class in India that uses namaste in such a fashion (that is, unless that class is trying to cater to Westerners).
But that’s the beauty of language. Words evolve from their literal connotation. Words take form over time until they look nothing like their predecessors.
For us shameless Westerners, in our funky-pattern leggings and brightly-colored yoga mats, namaste means a slew of things. One of the most common ones we see is, “I bow to the light within you” — or, “The light within me bows to the light within you.”
This has since spun off into a slew of other variations — everything from “The good within me honors the good within you” to “The nerd in me salutes the nerd in you” — all coming back to the template of, “The X within me acknowledges the X within you.”
In some ways, Namaste became like Avatar‘s, “I see you.”
(Yeah, remember Avatar?)
In light of a very turbulent and outright frightening week, the yoga community has stepped forward in ways that make my heart swell. I don’t know a single yoga teacher who hasn’t talked about using their classes to help people feel better. My Facebook newsfeed was flooded with stories of classes where everyone came together in love to feel a little more connected and a little more at peace.
And that’s why we do what we do. In some way, every single yoga instructor is out there because they want to help heal what’s been divided. That’s what yoga means, at its most literal translation: to yolk together, to unite.
But the reality is that we can’t hold our mala beads and bow to the light that is within all of us and call it a day right there. We need to go back to “namaste” — back to its newly evolved form, where we see, “The weird within me salutes the weird within you,” or “The nasty woman in my honors the nasty woman in you,” — and keep going.
To reference Avatar one more time, we need to actually starting seeing people. This week has been proof that we’ve all been insulating ourselves to things that run contradictory to our own values and beliefs. All of us. And we could easily go down a path of deeper divide and a deeper sense of hatred.
But what happens if we step away from the yoga mat, change out of our funky leggings, and just go:
The angry person in me recognizes the angry person in you.
The frustration in me acknowledges the frustration in you.
The hurt in me sees the hurt in you.
The dark, ugly parts of me bow to the dark, ugly parts of you.
Sometimes “coming together in love” has the hidden subtext of “to the direct exclusion of anyone who can’t sing kumbaya right now.” This doesn’t mean we stop fighting tooth and nail to keep oppression and bigotry from controlling our world — this just means we stop fighting each other when we’re on the same team, so we can join forces when the power-hungry see an opportunity to exploit that divide to their own benefit.
This doesn’t mean we stop vigorously debating and standing up for what we feel is right. This means we take a step back and realize that so many people on the other side want the same things. This means that maybe evolution can occur if we drop the destructive narratives — if we stop painting liberals as elitist & smug and conservatives as ignorant & hateful — and actually ask the other side for their story.
The yoga world is seen as this forcefully-peaceful cash-grab (and its constituents seen as perpetually sunshiny and grossly naive). But this beautiful tradition that started as a deeply complex philosophical system and has evolved into the mind-body approach that it is today is not about forcing smiles when we want to cry. It’s definitely not about the brightly-color yoga mat or the funky-leggings or the mala beads. It’s about recognizing the unity that is inherent — and recognizing the suffering that happens when we choose to keep things separate.
Because we all have that light. That inner passion. That glimmer of good that rests in every single person, no matter how irredeemable their past actions were. And we are only putting ourselves in the dark if we choose to ignore that.