The Yogi: Searching for the meaning of ‘namaste’ in the grocery store

Mike Morris’s daughter Rosalia nails the Cobra pose like a pro. I wonder what “namaste” means to her?
Mike Morris’s daughter Rosalia nails the Cobra pose like a pro. I wonder what “namaste” means to her?

Where does yoga come from?

I was at the grocery store, navigating the crowds on the day before Thanksgiving. The store was jammed. The lines were long. I was shopping for corn masa, coffee and cod fillets. I left with a lot more. I took the opportunity to engage folks in conversation, from the produce section to the parking lot. I asked twenty-seven folks this question: “Where does yoga come from?”

I wasn’t intending to launch into one of my highly unscientific polls, so I had to run out to my car and get a pen and paper. I scribbled down the answers to my question, and tallied the results.

Here they are:

India: 14

The Middle East, South Asia, Nepal: 4

No thanks, No time, Not right now: 6

New York City: 1

“I love yoga, but don’t really want to talk about it”: 1

Namaste: 1

I wasn’t really looking for a “correct” answer. It was really just an excuse to chat with folks about yoga. Or about their day. Or, in one case, about what “namaste” means. Admittedly, it was probably not the best time to bust out a survey like this. It was around noon, in a busy grocery store, on the day before Thanksgiving. Folks were definitely a little rushed.

The young woman who said, “I love yoga, but don’t really want to talk about it” took me a little by surprise. She preferred to keep her yoga “to herself.” I like to talk about yoga. I like to practice yoga. I like to try new forms of yoga. I’m also aware that yoga can be an intensely personal experience. Yoga is what connects us, and also what makes us unique.

I think the man who said “New York City” was messing with me. I can’t be sure, because he sounded sincere. He was also sampling the salmon dip near the “fresh catch” section of the store. I wondered if he was telling me a fish story.

It’s the last answer on the list, “namaste,” that occupied much of my thinking for the remainder of the day. It was part of a larger conversation, one that included the phrase “yoga comes from me, to you, and back again.”

Namaste. You may have heard it before. It’s a word used often in yoga class, often at the close of class. It can also be seen on bumper stickers, t-shirts and coffee mugs. You can get a pedicure at Namaste Nails and Spa in Windham. You can visit Namaste Montessori School in Goffstown. You can buy gluten free brownie mix from Namaste Foods. If you’re interested in diving deeper into what “namaste” means, you can do what most folks do: Google it. I have.

When I started teaching, I said “namaste” at the close of all my classes. One afternoon I had a man from India in class. He asked me why I said it. I told him my interpretation was that it meant “I bow to the divine in you.” He laughed a little. He told me in the yoga classes he took growing up in India, he never heard a “namaste.” He also told me my pronunciation was a little off. I thought about it. I had read about the word’s origins, and its various translations, but I said it because I had heard other teachers say it. Since then, I’ve heard various opinions, including scholarly and religious ones. I’ve learned that there are regional differences in the use of “namaste” in India.

One of the most interesting articles I read about the subject was called “A Ga. School Bans The Greeting ‘Namaste’; Do They Know What It Means?” It was written by Deepak Singh, and it’s quite short, and very funny. Over the years, I’ve stopped saying “namaste” at the end of my classes. It didn’t seem authentic to my experience, or my teaching.

I’m writing this on the day before Thanksgiving, 2019. Tomorrow we’ll have one yoga class at the studio at 9 a.m. Tomorrow my youngest daughter will be 6 years old. Tomorrow I’ll get up early, practice in the dark, and stay home with my family for fish tacos and chocolate cake. For some, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time, surrounded by food, family and friends. For others, it can be a challenging time, an emotional time, a stressful time. My wish for you, as you read this, is that you know that you matter, and if I may be so bold, I’d like to “revisit” my use of “namaste” for a moment.

I honor the place in you

When you go to that place in you

And I go to that place in me

That we are one

See you on the mat. Or the grocery store.

(Mike Morris is the owner of Hot House NH Yoga & Pilates.)

Author: Mike Morris / For the Insider

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