Yoga classes follow sequences determined by the style of yoga practiced or by the instructor. What many of them have in common is the hands joined together; “Namaste” between instructor and student at the end of class. Those new to yoga may find the closing salutation somewhat “odd” or new to learn and say; others may say the word without thinking about it. But Namaste has a rich meaning and long history and can sum up the work of your entire yoga practice.
Definition of Namaste
Namaste is a conjoined Sanskrit word consisting of “nama” meaning bow, “as” meaning I, and “te” meaning you. Literally, it means “I bow to you.”
What Does Namaste-The Gesture Mean?
The gesture of joining the hands, palms together, over the heart is a yoga pose known as Anjali Mudra. Anjali means “offering.” A mudra is a hand gesture. The Sanskrit meaning of mudra is “seal” or “sign” and the gestures referred to as mudras are sacred symbols for some aspect of the divine or the inspiration for a feeling of reverence. Mudras are found in Indian culture in classical dance, ritual and yoga poses. They may be spontaneous hand movements in experiences of kundalini energy known as “kriyas.” Anjali Mudra connects the “offering” of spoken Namaste to an action that brings both hands together over the heart, joining the right and left hemispheres of the brain, completing the unification of yin and yang and centering the self in the light-filled core of yoga practice.
The Significance of Namaste
The significance of the Namaste is complete surrender or devotion to the divine spark in another. When offered in gratitude or in greeting, Namaste recognizes that all beings are sacred and that, as an equal, the devotee may partake of the merit and knowledge of the teacher. According to Nitin Kumar, a Sanskrit translator, and Vedic scholar, the sound of the Namaste is equivalent to a sacred chant, a mantra that aligns the speaker with the resonance of universal harmony. In Kumar’s interpretation, the spoken and gestured Namaste is a brief meditation, an opening between the individual spirit and the divine.
Alternatives for Namaste
Not every yoga class ends with Namaste. In India, the word can simply mean a casual greeting similar to saying a “hello.” Closing a shared practice with Namaste is a choice, and some teachers choose different ways to honor the connection. Chanting “Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti,” calling upon the heart of creation for peace, brings the energy of purpose to the work just completed.
In Iyengar yoga, classes end with an invocation to Patanjali, sage and author of the “Yoga Sutras.” Teachers may prefer to close with a mantra like “Om Namah Shivaya,” which honors Lord Shiva, the master of yoga and the symbol of creative energy. And others, mindful of adaptations to Western sensibilities, simply say- “Thank you,” as often as not accompanied by the Anjali Mudra that silently communicates Namaste.
Whatever way you wish to express respect and gratitude at the end of your yoga class is fine, remember that it is a shared experience offering peaceful energy signifying the light and understanding that can only be found in the heart.
Mantras and chanting have been an integral part of the practice of yoga since the tradition began thousands of years ago. This practice is a key component of Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion. Chants or mantras are inspiring and evocative for those they resonate with, but they may exclude some yogis of different religions or non-religion. In the spirit of inclusion, here are some traditional chants that don’t necessarily refer to specific deities:
Om shanti shanti shanti
This Sanskrit mantra means “peace,” a uniting idea that aligns with most philosophies, ideologies, and religious beliefs. It may be used as a personal or global intention at the beginning, middle, or end of yoga practice.
Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu
This translates to “may all beings be happy and free.” It is a powerful mantra/chant to perform at the end of practice when we may want clarity, a balanced mind/spirit, and peace upon other beings. One can follow up by setting a concrete intention to go out into the world and share the energy that’s been cultivated our yoga practice.
Om mani padme hum
One of the many interpretations of this chant is “the jewel is in the lotus,” which represents a yogi’s path to enlightenment. Much as one could peel back the hundreds of petals of a lotus flower to reach its center, as we peel away the layers of our identity (job titles, gender, wife, daughter, sister, husband, son, etc.), we discover the jewel within: our true self that has no identity.
Lam vam ram yam ham om
These sounds represent the 7 chakras. There are 7 major energy centers (aka chakras) in the human body. They run from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. In Sanskrit, chakra translates into “wheel”. These “wheels” can be thought of as vortexes that both receive & radiate energy. Emotions, physical health, & mental clarity affect how well each chakra can filter energy. This in turn dictates how pure the energy is that’s emitted from different parts of the body.
Lam: Survival (root chakra)
Vam: Pleasure (sacral chakra)
Ram: Self-Esteem (solar plexus chakra)
Yam: Love (heart chakra)
Ham: Communication (throat chakra)
Om: Wisdom and intuition (third eye chakra)
Silence: Enlightenment (crown chakra)
All six seed sounds may be chanted in sequence, or may be chanted repeatedly alone.
The Opening Ashtanga Mantra (which I use in my Ashtanga practice) is a blessing of gratitude offered to the lineage of teachers and their students who have enabled this ancient practice to survive through thousands of years so that we can experience its benefits today. The recitation of this mantra is believed to cleanse the energy of the space we have chosen to practice yoga, as well as preparing the mind, body and emotions for the forthcoming Ashtanga sequence.
Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde
Sandarshita Svatma Sukava Bodhe
Nih Sreyase Jangalikayamane
Samsara Halahala Mohashantyai
Sahasra Sirasam Svetam
I bow to the lotus feet of the Supreme Guru
which awaken insight into the happiness of pure Being,
which are the refuge, the jungle physician,
which eliminate the delusion caused by the poisonous herb of Samsara (conditioned existence).
I prostrate before the sage Patanjali
who has thousands of radiant, white heads (as the divine serpent, Ananta)
and who has, as far as his arms, assumed the form of a man
holding a conch shell (divine sound), a wheel (discus of light or infinite time) and a sword (discrimination).
There is no real implied deity here, but unlike many other chants, this one can be directed to a yogi’s deity of choice. Non-religious yogis may direct this chant to The Universe or even to their own intuition.
Try some of these chants in your next yoga practice. They can serve as a powerful way to bring clarity, focus and attention to the present moment.
Om, or Aum, is the primordial sound of the universe or the vibration of creation. Om is both a sound and a symbol rich in religious meaning and depth. It is said to be both the sound of the creation of the universe, and the sound of silence. It represents both the highest level of divinity and the path to enlightenment. The chanting of this simple mantra can change your thoughts and emotions into a cohesive and graceful pattern. Traditional yoga says that the parts of the mantra Aum have a deep resonance that guides us to our essential natures. The rhythm of the sound works on a subconscious level to permeate the body’s inner rhythms. So whether or not you focus on the intellectual and metaphysical dimensions of Om, the vibration of the mantra can alter the dimensions of your meditation and yoga practice.
Om for Meditation
Patanjali, author of the yoga sutras, writes that chanting "om" while simultaneously contemplating its meaning guides the mind to one-pointed consciousness. This focused state of mind is considered ready for meditation. Author Richard Rosen suggests that chanting "om" may be the easiest way to touch the divine within yourself. Rosen also states that the om mantra actually consists of three letters: Aum. Aum can be chanted while focusing on the vibrations through the body. The resonance of the "a" can be felt in the abdomen, the "u" in the chest and finally the "m" vibrates in the head. By focusing on the physical vibrations in your body while chanting "om," you guide your mind to focus on one thing: the sound of "OM." The sensations in the body guide you through a simple meditation.
Om in yoga practice
Many yoga classes begin with the chanting of the sound of "Om." In this setting, it represents the beginning of the yoga practice and guides the students’ awareness not only to the external practice of yoga, but also the internal experience. When chanted before a yoga class, Om can guide the student to consider the practice as a moving meditation. The Om symbol is a popular icon for many yoga practitioners; the symbol is seen on T-shirts, yoga mats, jewelry, tattoos and various artwork. In Yogic tradition, many yoga teachers begin and end their classes by chanting Om in order to create harmony and unity between the students and teacher. Many believe that chanting Om in class or in private meditation aligns their own vibration with the sacred vibration of the universe, which provides a peaceful, calming effect and puts the practitioner in an peaceful frame of mind for yoga practice.
If you've ever bееn to a yoga class that ended in Om chants, chances are you've used a mantra. Meant as a way tо increase life energy, increase personal power and calm the mind, mantras have bееn used for thousands of years as part of Hindu and Buddhist meditation. There are many mantras throughout Eastern religious texts, but you can make up your own. Thе repetition of the syllables can enhance your meditation by aurally stimulating your chakras and producing vibrations that help stir up your energies.
Thе most famous mantra is Om, the root of all mantras and the primordial vibration manifestation of Brahma. Pronounced correctly, the mouth begins in an open, round shape and gradually closes like an iris to produce the buzzing "mmmm" sound at the end. Thе open "ooohhh" sound sends a vibration into the external space, and the "mmmm" sound retains the vibrations inside. The "ooohhh" sound is usually a single count, while the "mmmm" sound is sustained as long as the breath holds out.
Om is not a shortened version of Om mani padme hum, contrary tо popular belief. Om is an ancient Hindu mantra, while Om mani padme hum is a Tibetan Buddhist mantra associated with the Dalai Lama and popularized in the U.S. during the 1970's. Om mani padme hum is an effective mantra in its own right, used as a chant for compassion, but it is not the root оf аll mantras like the original Om.
Gods and Goddesses
Mantras can also be used tо commune with a particular deity during your meditation session. Both Hindu and Buddhist mantras feature specific chants said tо connect with a particular deity/aspect. Om Namah Shivayah is the chant to Shiva, and Om Namo Narayanaya is the chant fоr Vishnu. All of the major Hindu gods and goddesses have their own mantras, so consult the Lakshmi Tantra, Parasurama Kalpa Sutra and Prapanchasara for specific chants.
Hindus also have longer mantras that are more like prayers. They are chanted in the same monotone, measured voice, but they are directed more specifically toward аn action rather than a deity. Here's an example:
Sarveśām Svastir Bhavatu / Sarveśām Sāntir Bhavatu / Sarveśām Pūrnam Bhavatu / Sarveśām Mangalam Bhavatu
May good befall all, / May there be peace for аll / May all be fit for perfection, / May all experience that which is auspicious.
In Tibetan Buddhism, Buddha is all - simply represented in different aspects rather than entirely separate deities. As such, the salutation-type mantras of Buddhism are all addressed to Buddha, but zone in more specifically on whichever aspect you are hoping to reach. Om wagishwari hum honors Buddha’s wisdom aspect, and the aforementioned Om mani padme hum honors his compassion aspect. There is a mantra for each aspect of Buddha, plus the most important figures in Buddhism, so consult your favorite Buddhist Sutra. Om tare tuttare ture svaha is a chant to the Mother оf Buddhas, and is considered one of the world’s most powerful chants, possessing tremendous purifying and healing properties.
Create Your Own
If established mantras aren’t for you, make up your own. After аll, a mantra can only bе effective if it connects with you on a very basic level. When planning your new mantra, it may be best to play around with sounds until you hit on something that produces vibrations that move you - they don’t necessarily have to be words at all. What matters is the intent and the vibration, because those are the things that affect the chakras.
Don’t make the mistake of turning mantras into wish-fulfillment. Don’t just recite your goals to yourself over and over - that would bе an affirmation, not a mantra. Although affirmations can be useful in building confidence and reinforcing willpower, they won’t have a deeper, more meaningful effect because stringing words together into a sentence rarely creates the textural feel оf the sound necessary to assist meditation.
Mudra is a Sanskrit word which means ‘to lock’ or ‘to seal’. The word ‘mudra’ signifies hand gestures, or even symbols. Mudras are an integral part of a yoga practice in that they enable you to control the flow of prana, or the life force, thereby making you more energetic and full of vitality. In addition to this, mudras help you lock energy inside your body so that you can utilize it, rather than letting it dissipate. There are 25 major mudras in Yoga. Mudras are not just hand gestures, but can also be done with the eyes, body postures or take the form of cleansing rituals. The gestures themselves are symbolic of various states of consciousness. However, certain gestures can lead to the state of consciousness that they represent. So, practicing a mudra can alter your state of consciousness.
It is believed that by bringing together the fingers of the hand you call upon the energy of the elements that those fingers represent, and these energies can heal your body, mind and soul.
Our hands and feet contain more nerves and endocrine glands than any other part of our bodies. Mudras can be enhanced with breathing exercises, meditation, mantras, color, affirmations and music. The thumb is associated with the fire element, the lung meridian and the planet Mars and represents willpower and logic. The index finger is associated with the air element, the stomach meridian and the planet Jupiter. It represents the mind and the power of thought. The middle finger is associated with the ether element, the circulation and gallbladder meridians and the planet Saturn. It represents our spiritual path. The ring finger is associated with the earth element, the liver meridian and the sun (or Apollo, the sun god). It represents vitality and health. The little finger is associated with the water element, the heart meridian and the planet Mercury. It represents communication, sexuality and personal relationships.
Always make sure that you don’t apply too much pressure and always keep your hands relaxed when practicing the mudras.
Mudras can be done while you’re seated, standing or even lying down. Your body and mind should feel relaxed and centered.
There is no specific time to practice mudras. Whatever time you choose, you need to be able to relax and withdraw into yourself. This can be before or after eating, as soon as you wake up, or right before you go to sleep.
Always plan your mudras depending on what you need. Practice one or two mudras consistently for a few weeks. Monitor the effects of these mudras on your body. You will see that as things change in your body, you will see a corresponding change in your life as well.
Here are 4 of the many mudras:
Chin Mudra: This gesture symbolizes the connected nature of human consciousness. The circle formed by the index finger and thumb represents the true goal of yoga – the merging of the individual soul with the universal soul, or the soul of God. The nail of the index finger is placed into the first joint of the thumb. The last three fingers always face down towards the earth in this mudra. It is a gesture of receiving. When the finger touches the thumb a circuit is produced which allows the energy that would normally dissipate into the environment to travel back into the body, and up to the brain.
Hridaya Mudra: From a seated meditation posture with the head and spine straight, place the tips of the index fingers at the root of the thumbs and join the tips of the middle and ring fingers to the tips of the thumbs. The little finger remains straight. Place the hands on the knees with the palms facing upward. Close the eyes and relax the whole body, keeping the body motionless. This mudra diverts the flow of energy from the hands to the heart area, improving the heart’s vitality. The middle and ring fingers relate directly to the energy channels connected with the heart, while the thumb closes the energy circuit and acts as an energizer, diverting the flow of energy from the hands to these energy channels. The heart gesture mudra helps to release pent-up emotion and unburdens the heart.
Aadi Mudra: (primal or first gesture) this mudra is made by curling the fingers around the thumb making a very light fist. It has a soothing influence on the mind and is said to positively influence breathing. Aadi mudra can be very useful in savasana at the end of asana practice to quiet the nervous system.
Lotus Mudra: This mudra opens the heart chakra and is a symbol of purity. The message of the lotus mudra is to stay connected to your roots, open yourself to the light and realize that the greatest sense of steadiness in life is an open heart. Lotus Mudra drains out misunderstanding, helps to release tension, and is also practiced to enhance the fire element in the body. It is a great reminder of the beauty and grace that is within you and those around you.
The Sanskrit salutation “Om namah shivaya” ( pronounced as Aum Num-ha Shi-why), can be translated as: "I bow to Shiva." Shiva is the supreme reality, the inner Self. It is the name given to consciousness that dwells in all. Shiva is the name of your true identity- your self. Each of us has unlimited possibilities stretched out ahead of us, regardless of who we are, where we live, what we do or how old we are. It’s interesting to take a moment to bow to the possibilities. Inevitably something specific leaps to mind. Perhaps a physical goal, some mental hurdle or maybe even a spiritual seeking comes into focus.
As Yogis, we try to step back from the chatter, the planning and the desire that comes up when we contemplate those possibilities. There is an art to acknowledging potential without becoming overwhelmed by it or chasing after it. The key is to stay present. We explore this on the mat by placing ourselves in different physical postures or using varied this in the safe environment of the Yoga space, we may find this skill naturally extending into the other areas of our lives so that we can experience the fullness of our potential while staying grounded in the present.
Yoga offers you the opportunity to explore your potential in whatever aspect you choose; physically, emotionally, spiritually or any combination. Within Yoga there are a number of different styles and each one appeals to different people for different reasons. Yoga teaches us to be more present. As the Shiva force begins to manifest within us, it creates a certain pressure inside our minds and nervous systems for us to purify, to change, and to transcend. As we allow its currents to move, they will facilitate a deeper healing that dissolves our problems not merely suppressing them. Yoga helps us return to that path of previous great Yogis and sages whose blessings can guide us along the way, step by step.
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