Your Personal Yogi: Thanksgiving is spiritual time for saying ‘namaste’Written by Jennifer S. White | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It is traditional to utter “namaste” at the beginning and end of a yoga class, yet it’s probably the most misunderstood ritual. Some students think this word has religious connotations and refuse to say it. Others mumble it, unsure of what they’re really speaking.
Yogis, like many others, believe that there is more to us than our physical bodies and that this elusive part of ourselves has unlimited potential. Call it what you will— soul, essence, spirit, divine — the meaning is the same. There is an important part of a human being that makes each individual person special and indefinable. It is this intangible piece of ourselves that we honor and acknowledge when we say “namaste,” which is Sanskrit for “I bow to you.”
Thanksgiving is one of the most wonderful celebrations of the year. People from all walks of life and belief systems can share this day. Its meaning is universal for Americans — taking time to be thankful for what you have. Believing that you can be anything that you want to be is almost as American as apple pie. Yet that doesn’t mean our circumstances don’t hinder us.
Life’s obstacles get in the way of actualizing who we really are and who we have the ability to be. Yoga helps us get back in touch with this deeper self and hidden potential.
For instance, when I wake up groggy and choose to hop on my yoga mat for 30 minutes rather than lounge around, I often realize that I just needed to get moving. I hop off my mat energized and ready for my day. Sometimes, though, my physical practice helps me get in touch with my fatigue. I am a sleep-deprived mom and often I am just honest-to-goodness tired. I use my mat to slow down and take a moment to nurture myself with restorative yoga poses and breath. I step off of my mat tired, but in touch with myself in a deeper way that brings freshness to my day.
Still, yoga is not solely a physical practice. Just as I use my mat to understand my fatigue, yogis use their physical practices to know and accept themselves on a very deep level — easier said than done.
When I snap at my wonderful husband because I’m exhausted, I feel disappointed in myself. I apologize, he accepts and we move on. Yet I’m determined to not snap at him in the first place. Again, easier said than done, but as a yogi I know that I can be who I want to be — and my physical practice helps me understand this.
I can physically do poses that I thought I would never be able to do. Now I believe that I can do any pose with enough practice, and why not? If these other poses are accessible to my body with practice, then why not that one as well? Feeling this unlimited potential is extremely liberating and invigorating, and this physical sense of empowerment leads to mental and emotional empowerment too.
Case in point: I’m the most impatient person you will meet. I sincerely want to be more patient. Will it happen overnight? Not likely. However, I can work toward this inner goal just as I work into poses on my mat. That irritating person I encountered the other day might make my life difficult, but this person can also test me and help me become more patient. I can honestly say that it’s easier for me to pop up into a headstand than to live my yoga in this manner off of my mat. Fortunately, I have an entire lifetime to make myself a better person.
I firmly believe that we’re here to grow and to help each other grow as well. Though this isn’t always easy, we share our journey through life with other people whether we like it or not. This connectedness to others forms the foundation for both yoga and the word “namaste.”
Yoga means yoke or unite, and this less tangible soul, spirit, essence — whatever you choose to say — is what connects or unites us to everything and everyone around us. Feeling this union to something much deeper than what we physically see is the entire purpose of yoga, and “namaste” is the word that yogis use to recognize it.
Saying “namaste” to another person simply acknowledges this divinity and potential within them. Saying it to yourself is acknowledging it within you. Whatever your beliefs, saying “namaste” is a genuine show of respect — and you don’t even have to say the actual word.
The mudra, or hand gesture, associated with “namaste” is palms touching in prayer position over the heart center. Closing your eyes and bowing your forehead towards your hands symbolizes “namaste” without any verbalization.
This Thanksgiving, as you sit down at your table filled with loved ones, pause and momentarily reflect on everything in your life that you have to be thankful for. Things might not be perfect. You might be touched with loss or struggles, but this is not your permanent state. There is always hope because inside of you is the foundation for all that you need in order to become the person that you really want to be and to have the life that you really want to live. Acknowledge your inner light and potential, and say thanks to yourself for being who you already are. namaste.
Jennifer White is a certified yoga instructor. Email her at email@example.com.