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Namaste, Bowing, & Prayer Hands

Updated: Feb 27

I want to share with you my experience with namaste and bowing with hands in prayer (Anjali mudra). Because these 3 heavily positive gestures tend to stir up a lot of controversy.

 When I started exploring traditional practices, closing the sessions with namaste was the norm.  As was saying “om”, and/or chanting. It seemed like a nice way to seal the session but I felt very weird saying it back or participating in any way, including bowing. But I guess just like with most things, the more you’re around it the more normal it becomes. Once I started teaching, it only felt natural to close my session saying namaste and bowing.

 For a while, I wanted to stop saying namaste because I didn’t want to offend anyone or make anyone uncomfortable. It made closing sessions awkward and open ended. Using words from other cultures is not uncommon. Language is limiting and sometimes other cultures have a word that is perfect for what we’re trying to express. So I decided to keep saying it because I love that moment to express to my students that I appreciate and respect them as equals. If one word and gesture can sum all of that up and more, I see no harm in using it to close the space where our minds had met.

 Just as a side note- a teacher doesn’t say namaste so that the student says it back. They say it because they want to say it to you. If you aren’t comfortable saying it, don’t! Everyone should do what feels authentic on an individual basis. When I was uncomfortable saying namaste, I would just say thank you.

 Coming into the practice I was of the mindset of “I bow to no one”. I felt like I was bowing down to someone - honoring them in a worship-py way or something. Having my hands in prayer didn’t help with that feeling (more on this soon). But then I realized that they’re bowing to me as well, and they did it first. I picked up a take on bowing somewhere - possibly from David Garrigues - I don’t recall - “you are bowing to the person you are becoming”. That was something I could get on board with. 

 As yoga made me a nicer person over time (still a work in progress), “I’m bowing to the person I am becoming” transitioned over to “my inner being bows to your inner being” . I don’t mind bowing to a teacher or Sensei; I appreciate them sharing their knowledge with me and saying namaste is just a really nice thing to say. We’re bowing to each other as equals. It’s a way that we show respect for one another. Because there is a teacher/student dynamic, it’s nice to part ways with the understanding that we are equals.

 Hands in prayer is awesome for so many reasons. This position is called, as mentioned above, Anjali mudra. Anjali mudra has many reflexology benefits. Hand mudras are based on pressure points within the hands. There are a large number of nerve endings in the hands, making them very sensitive. Different positions of the fingers stimulate a corresponding area of the body. It can also stretch the fingers and wrists. Joining the hands together centers our weight and awareness. It also unites left and right, yin and yang, feminine and masculine, dark and light, harmonizing our duality. The hands at our heart center brings this duality into our Anahata (heart) chakra. Bowing and touching the 3rd eye affects Ajna (3rd eye) chakra. The combined effects of uniting mudras and chakras are too numerous to list here (I’d probably lose readers trying, lol) but the effects are magical. When you are bowing towards someone, it is a gesture of sending these good vibes to the other person.

 Just a reminder, yoga is not a religion. Some aspects of practicing yoga can look like it’s tied to a religion from the outside, but it’s not. It’s a calibration system for our whole being.

 I hope this clears up any stigma that might be surrounding this topic for you.

 Keep practicing friends!


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