The idealized modern yoga class is taught by a 20’s something former gymnast with a penchant for upbeat music, heated rooms, and revealing clothing. After effortlessly modeling even the most insane of yoga postures, she anoints you with scented oil while you lie in a sweaty mess, and breathlessly whispers “namaste” with eyes lowered and hands folded reverently in prayer as she ends the session.
I am however, not that teacher, and Adamantine® Yoga is not that style. We do not play music, heat the room, or encourage scantily-clad practitioners. And believe it or not, we don’t even say namaste.
Yes, it’s true. We do not embrace certain aspects of modern American yoga culture that have become so seemingly ubiquitous that they are no longer even questioned. And you can blame this one squarely on me.
The traditional Indian greeting of namaste simply never felt right when I uttered it. It seemed intuitively inauthentic, and each and every time I closed a class with its use, I felt like a giant cheese ball.
What did feel right was to sincerely thank people for their presence and for the courage they demonstrated during practice. I didn’t need to import a foreign word to do that. I simply said, “thank you”, and I meant it.
In India, when a person greets another with namaste, the greeting is accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards while closely positioned in front of the chest.
Although most modern yoga teachers would have you believe that the word namaste means something along the lines of “the light in me honors the light in you” or “my inner divinity recognizes the inner divinity in you”, literally translated, it simply means “I bow to you.” It’s as commonly used in India as “hello” is in America, and it has much of the same significance.
But modern American yoga is not Indian yoga. It never has been and it never will be. It doesn’t have to borrow so heavily from a foreign culture in order to offer value, but unfortunately that’s the message so many yoga teachers and styles are propagating to a largely uniformed, but very intrigued general public.
Western teachers have essentially adopted a word and given it a new and more benevolent meaning, which may or may not have anything to do with its origin. With its Hindu iconography, Sanskrit nomenclature, and tendency for culture-envy, modern yoga already has a barrier of pretension that alienates all but the most open-minded of new practitioners. So I question the benefit of adding even this simple word.
The way I see it yoga is and always has been a remarkably malleable discipline that is fully capable of adapting to its new, western home. There is a core that cannot be altered, but it’s rooted in breath and movement (not language), both of which are universal to the human experience, and not by any means proprietary to Indian culture or religious beliefs.
It’s time we take ownership over our experience as western yogis. It’s time we practice an authentic, western form of yoga that honors its origin without trampling on its cultural roots.