Namasté: Cultivating the Inner Light of Awareness
by Sheila Ewers
If you have ever attended a yoga class, you’ve probably heard the greeting, “Namasté.” It has become commonplace in spiritual circles as a salutation to indicate hello and goodbye, but its meaning, like most other Sanskrit words, is nuanced. The expression points to the true meaning of yoga itself as a practice of unifying the outer world of form and function with the inner world of soul and spirit. Perhaps said even more accurately: it is about understanding that an inner light of consciousness animates all living things.
As we move into the darkest time of year, the month of December, remembering to connect to this light can create greater peace both on and off of the yoga mat.
The word namasté comes from the combination of two roots: “namah,” meaning “salutation,” and “te,” meaning “to you.” In the West, many people place hands to heart, combining the greeting with the gesture known as anjali mudra, or prayer hands—a sign of respect for the sacred. In Eastern cultures, the hand gesture alone often indicates the greeting. Some of the more widely known interpretations of namasté include:
“The Divine in me honors the Divine in you”
“The light in me sees and recognizes the light in you”
“When you and I bow to our true nature, we are one”
Regardless of the poetic interpretation one adopts, to realize its meaning requires us to first align with our inner light of awareness. But for many, that inner light is more difficult to access in the darker months of the year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost 20% of the U.S. population suffers from increased symptoms of depression ranging from mild to severe during the winter months. While yoga may not be a panacea, and medical intervention may sometimes be necessary, the ancients believed that within us resides all the light we need to maintain equanimity and contentment.
The teachings of yoga propose that consciousness itself divides into a duality: taking shape as the manifest and unmanifest world. The manifest world consists of all that we can perceive through the senses, while the unmanifest cannot be seen or proven. The manifest world is sometimes known as the seen, and the unmanifest light of awareness as the seer. The seen shifts and changes constantly, while the seer remains constant, infinite and changeless. The practices of yoga align us more fully with the seer, the pure light of consciousness, and as we view the world from that light, our entanglement with the ever-shifting landscape of the outer world loosens its grip.
On the Mat: Practice Connecting to Your Inner Light of Awareness
When one moves through yoga asana on the mat, the outer form of the body changes. Physical challenges, resistance, and unsteadiness may emerge, but over time, one can begin to observe these changes without judgment. Eventually, one might view every experience on the mat from a place of non-judgmental awareness, or “witness consciousness.” This ability to witness one’s experience can feel like turning on a lamp in a dark room. Suddenly what seemed impossible to see becomes clear.
As you practice, you might notice formerly unconscious patterns of holding and tension, or subtle thoughts of judgment and comparison, which begin to dissolve in the observation. Perhaps just as importantly, the seer itself becomes illuminated—even as it fully participates in experience, it also observes it.
To practice this, stay connected to the more subtle aspects of your experience. Notice all of the sensations throughout your body. Notice changes in your breath that reflect stress or effort. Notice the thoughts in your mind and emotions that emerge along the way. Notice yourself observing it all and notice if somewhere in the midst of everything else, you can detect the bliss of what remains changeless within.
Now, as winter settles in, and the outer light wanes, as all of nature begins to recede into dark places to regenerate and renew, remind yourself that you too are invited by nature into a time of contemplation and renewal. Perhaps it can be a time to polish your inner lamp and allow your light to shine ever more brightly so that you can always greet the world with a heartfelt
“Namasté,”—and acknowledge your own light and the oneness between yourself and all that you encounter.
Founder of Johns Creek Yoga and Duluth Yoga Center, Sheila Ewers leads yoga and yoga teacher training classes and hosts retreats locally and internationally. She has been published online in Elephant Journal and Writers Resist. Reach her at [email protected]