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Namaste - Not just a greeting - What does it really mean?

Updated on November 9, 2012

In the United States we greet each other very casually, usually with a “How are you” and a handshake, even in a formal or professional setting. The intention with a casual greeting in the United States, as opposed to a meaningful or formal greeting that other cultures practice, such as bowing, or kissing each cheek, is to project equality due to our countries diversity. Other cultures and countries have some unique ways of greeting others and a few are worth mentioning. For example, the Maori people of New Zealand greet each other by touching or rubbing noses. This process of greeting is called "Hongi," which means, "Sharing of breath." (I love that). As you might know, in Japan, people bow to each other in greeting. But bowing is taken seriously in Japan and how you bow can be interpreted many ways. Generally, the longer and deeper the bow, the stronger the emotion and respect expressed. And one of my favorites is from South African Swaziland, where they greet each other saying Sawubona, which means “I see you.”

Using the word Namaste is an ancient form of greeting in India. The word has its origin in the Sanskrit words of ‘Namah’ which means bow, salutation, and paying obeisance, and ‘The’, which means ‘to you’. The greeting is usually accompanied by pressing the hands together and holding them near the heart. The whole act communicates to the world, “You and I are one. I salute and worship the God within you.”

I know that when we do things habitually, they begin to lose their meaning and importance, like the way we say “God Bless You” after a sneeze, which was originally a meaningful blessing towards those troubled with the plague in the 1st century. I think it is unfortunate that we lose the intent of this beautiful phrase that we say to our friends and loved ones after a sneeze, so therefore, I make sure I say it very intentionally when I offer this blessing to others.

I was first introduced to the greeting, Namaste, many years ago, when my yoga instructor ended the class with this gesture of respect. I remember feeling a little awkward repeating back the greeting like the rest of the class did. Since then, I have had thousands of Namaste’s greet me, and now, I treat the greeting and the gestures that accompany the greeting with great reverence and seriousness.

Traditionally, when you greet or leave someone in the Hindu tradition, additionally to speaking the words Namaste, you bring your hands together at your heart, and as you greet or depart, you bow to them. Including the bowing down of the head is a gracious form of extending friendship in love, respect and humility towards another. But, that’s not all – it goes even further. To the Hindus, the real meeting between people includes a meeting of their minds. When they greet one another with Namaste, it also means, ‘may our minds meet’. Wow!

It seems like a small thing, but now when I greet someone in Yoga class or in other appropriate settings, when I say “Namaste”, I consciously intend the meaning out to the ones I am greeting. This always makes me feel good and I also feel the good intentions of those that are greeting me similarly. I sometimes wonder, if we made a small change like this in our culture, to greet others with a small gesture and intention of respect, connection and warmth - what would are world look like then?


Joleen Halloran is the author of Finding Home - Breaking Free from Limits under the pseudo name of Joleen Bridges. This book represents over 10 years of research and inspiration in personal and spiritual empowerment and provides readers with a pathway to overcome limits and discover authentic divine qualities in their lives and to live a life of unbounded freedom. .

Beyond Joleen's professional life, she is an avid reader and researcher of books and other materials related to her profession, but also to her special passion, which is metaphysical and spirituality topics. You can find out more about Joleen's book at her books website, Additional articles of a spiritual and inspirational nature can be found at the book's website as well. The book is available for purchase at Amazon and at a discounted price directly from the books website.


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    • Guckenberger profile image

      Alexander James Guckenberger 10 days ago from Maryland, United States of America

      AUM Namah The Joleen.

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image

      Dr Pran Rangan 21 months ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      You have elaborated well on the real meaning of Namaste along with other styles of greetings. You have clarified its real meaning - “You and I are one. I salute and worship the God within you.”

      Thanks for sharing a nice hub.

    • profile image

      Ward13 3 years ago

      Actually, the handshake we use in the United States originates from the ancient Greek and Roman greeting of grasping arms to show trust (if you were that close you could not draw your sword on someone). All greetings have meaning and are rooted in tradition.

    • joleenbridges profile image

      Joleen 5 years ago from Lee's Summit

      Thank you Doodlehead! Namaste!

    • Doodlehead profile image

      Doodlehead 5 years ago from Northern California

      Great article. I "yoga" and every time the instructor said Namaste I sort of wondered about it but it seems so respectful the way they say it and pretty cool to be able to say it back.

      I think this article will hit the top of the charts.