What will it be – a Handshake or Namasté in the 2020-21? Pick the non-contact gesture, Namasté to prevent the spread of the deadly virus. Click on the link below to read more about the varieties of greeting that exist around the world.
Typically, a greeting is an act of communication where humans show respect to each other in a formal or informal manner. Thanks to the yoga community, the word Namasté, which comes from India is now a popular greeting throughout the western world.
In India, people fold their hands together and say “Namasté or Namaskār” to greet each other. This gesture is made by one’s hands touching but not coming in direct contact with the person being greeted. Another common custom is to bend down and touch a person’s feet out of respect, especially of an elder in the household.
The Saṃskṛtham word Namaskār, नमस्कार, is made up of two words, नम: namaha, salutation, कार: kāraha, action, to mean the act of salutation. ‘Namasté’, नमस्ते can also be split into two words – नम: ‘namaha’ and ते ‘té‘, which means ‘the divine in me, salutes to the divine in you’, hinting for the ego within each one to take a backseat and greet another with respect and kindness.
T. Krishnamacharya, the yogi guru puts it beautifully. “This gesture signifies the potential for an intention to progress to greatest spiritual awakening. When done properly the palms are not flat against each other; the knuckles at the base of the fingers are bent a little, creating space between the palms and fingers of the two hands resembling a flower yet to open, symbolizing the opening of our hearts.”
As a Mudra
Namasté is essentially a mudra, a seal or a gesture. “In the Saṃskṛtham and yoga tradition, a mudra can be described as psychic, emotional, devotional and aesthetic gesture or attitude. Yogis use mudras as attitudes of energy flow, intended to link individual pranic force with the universal or cosmic force.” (Svāmi Satyānanda Sarasvati)
“The Kularnava Tantra, traces the word mudra to the root mudh meaning delight or pleasure and dravay, the causal form of the (verb root) dru which means to draw forth. Mudras are a combination of subtle physical movements which alter mood, attitude and perception and which deepen awareness and concentration. A mudra may involve the whole body in combination of āsana, prāṇāyāma, bandha and visualization techniques or it may be a simple hand position.” (Svāmi Satyānanda Sarasvati)
Namasté, as a simple hand position is called Anjali Mudra. Anjali in Saṃskṛtham means, ‘to offer’ or ‘to salute, ‘to pay homage’ and mudra means ‘seal or gesture’. This gesture symbolizes that we are honoring each other and celebrating the present moment with an attitude of humility. A simple gesture of Anjali mudra can convey the right emotions without any words, i.e., the utterance of Namasté need not be accompanied with this mudra.
While Namasté is widely known as a greeting, as Anjali Mudra it offers much more within the practices of yoga.
The word ‘Anjali’ derived from ‘anj’, means ‘to honor, salute or rejoice’. Anjali refers to the hollow space of the palms formed by bringing the hands together implying a ‘divine offering’, such as flowers or water, or ‘a gesture of veneration’ as in to donate or to receive something, usually in ritualistic or spiritual setting. The thumbs may cross over each other or point towards the heart.
The joining together of the palms and fingers connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This symbolizes yogic union – a link to all beings as divine – which acknowledges the divinity of both the greeter and receiver. This mudra done with the right emotion invokes the deepest respect that a person may feel towards another, regardless of age, gender, race or religion.
Anjali mudra is described as a posture in the Nātya Śāstra, a classical Indian dance text, where the two hands are folded together in obeisance. It further states that for prayers inside a temple, the Anjali mudra should be placed near one’s head or above (perhaps as total surrender), while meeting someone venerable it is placed in front of one’s face or chin (as respect or honor), and for friends near one’s chest. (Source: Wikipedia)
Anjali Mudra when used as greeting is placed in front of the ribcage with the thumbs directed towards heart. The idea is tap into Anāhatha Chakra to access the loving or devotional energy located in the heart. This chakra is considered as the spiritual center that houses the essence of the Divine, Ātman or Puruša. Anjali Mudra is performed with the head bowed and eyes closed or focused at the finger tips. This promotes the attitude of heart – of openness and renunciation of the ego, even if it is just for that moment. The gesture may also be placed at the Ājña Chakra (space between the eyebrows) with thumb tips resting between the eyebrows or on the crown of the head, at Sasrāra Chakra.
Anjali Mudra is performed at the beginning of a yoga class as a ‘centering pose’. It allows each of us, teacher and student, to invite ourselves to the mat. This gesture provides time to gather our rambling thoughts and remind ourselves to witness our own practice. This mudra has the potential to ease mental stress and anxiety and supports us in achieving focus and finding inner poise. This gesture also helps to create and seal good intentions and allows each of us to put our best foot forward to complete the practice safely and gratefully.
Anjali Mudra is a big part of āsana practice. The pose Praṇāmāsana प्रणामासन consists of standing with the hands in Anjali Mudra. It can be done in poses like Aśva Sanchalāsana, equestrian pose Éka Pādāsana, one leg standing pose, Vrkśāsana, tree and other poses where the hands can be placed together with reverence. When this mudra is done as viparīta, reverse, (between the shoulder blades in the back), it promotes flexibility in the hands, wrists, fingers and arms.
Anjali Mudra during āsana fosters understanding of why we are doing what we are doing; prods us to approach each movement with the right intention and mindfulness and not just follow instructions on autopilot. Hence, taking an Anjali Mudra pause between āsanas or in vinyāsa, i.e., through a sequence of poses, brings the attention back to our intention encouraging mindfulness. Within certain āsanas, this gesture helps to fix the gaze, Drišti, to turn inward; a reminder to keep an inner attitude of peace and poise during our practice.
Anjali Mudra used at end of yoga class inspires gratitude, respect for the inner and outer teacher, and for being able to step on the mat. It brings us back to the present moment and to our intention that was set at the start of the practice. It allows us to reflect and receive the highest benefits of that day’s practice on the mat. It reminds us to take the peace and harmony of our practice off the yoga mat and into the busyness of our daily life. As we leave the mat, we sincerely hope that our understanding expands, enabling us to see the world and our place in it with gratitude and joy.
Many translations of Namasté exist. This one is simple and reflective.
“The Divine Light in me bows to the Divine Light in you”.
The following version resonates with me the most.
I honor the place in you where the entire universe dwells.
I honor the place in you that is of peace, love, light , joy and truth.
When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are One. The Spirit in me rejoices the Spirit in you.
Sarasvati, Satyānanda Svāmi. 1999. Āsana Prānāyāma, Mudra, Bandha. Bihar School of Yoga., Munger, Bihar, India.
Hirschi. Gertrud. 1998. Mudras: Yoga in your Hands.