The beautiful word

Hands in Namaste prayer mudra by Indian man practicing yoga

“The light in me celebrates the light in you.”

The first time I ever heard the word “Namaste” was–fittingly–at the end of my very first yoga class. The teacher said it and the class repeated it back to her. I instantly liked the word. It sounded as if it was the perfect word to say, our heads bowed, sitting with our legs crossed Indian style and our hands in prayer pose.

For all I knew, namaste could have meant “Go fuck yourself,” but it didn’t. After I rolled up my mat and put it away with the blocks and blanket, I put on my flip flops and walked over to the teacher to say, “Thank you for your practice,” like everyone else was doing, but I also asked what namaste mean. She gave me a warm smile and said it was Sanskrit for “The light in me celebrates the light in you.” If she had said something like “goodbye” or “until next time,” I would have been disappointed, but she didn’t. The word meant something as beautiful as the sound of the word.

I spend much of the time in the shower at that gym surrounded by a bunch of naked men with a smile on my face thinking of namaste. I toweled off and got dressed singing my own namaste song. I said it out loud all the way home on my scooter–my helmet reverberating with the sound naamaaastaaaaae.  Why did I love and still love the word so much? I think it’s one of those words you can say while shaking a hand, hugging, or making love and know that it would fit perfectly for those occasions. For any truly heartfelt occasion.

For me, the English language doesn’t have a word with the emotional punch as namaste has. As a Christian, I cannot find an English word in the faith that compares. If I go to the common Greek words used in my faith, I run into trouble: “Agape” is beautiful in its meaning, “the highest form of love,” but it doesn’t sound like that. It brings up the image of a small aquarium fish–like the kind I bought for my son Peter when he was a kid and after it died I flushed down the toilet only to find just before it disappeared it was feigning death. (Sorry, “Dak Dak the Pirate Snake.”)

Recently, I learned the impossible Greek word “koinonia,” which means, roughly, “communion” or “joint participation.” My pastor decided to liven up our weekly church schedule, changing our Sunday Evening Service and our Wednesday Prayer Meeting to two in-home Bible studies: the Sunday Evening Service became Koinonia Central Bible Study, and the Wednesday Prayer Meeting become Koinonia East Bible Study. As the person who creates the church bulletin every week, I need to spell this word correctly and often. I didn’t–many times–and then, finally, I did. Copy & Paste is a lifesaver.

Hebrew has some words that are easier on the tongue than the above Greek. I have a Jewish yoga teacher who rarely says Namaste at the end of practice, but often says “shalom,” which means “peace” among other nice things. There’s also the lovely-sounding word “Shiloh” which means “a place of peace.” I loved this word before I know it was Hebrew. My mother–a big Neil Diamond fan–used to play this song, among others, when I was a kid growing up. Finally, I would say Immanuel, “God with us,” is nice, but before I was saved I worked in an independent cinema, so my first expose to Immanuel was “Emmanuelle,” a French erotic film. So when the word gets thrown around in sermons during the Christmas season, I have to stay focused, if you know what I mean.

I practice yoga four times a week, so I hear a lot of other Sanskrit words, but, except for Shavasana (Corpse Pose) or the root Asana (pose or posture), I have never consigned any other Sanskrit word to memory. Part of this is because I’m lazy, but also no other Sanskrit word has the same hold on me as Namaste does. Perhaps it is nothing more than it being the first new word I heard after my first yoga class–a class that made me feel better than I had felt in years.

Recently, I was buying lunch at a bodega when I noticed a sign on the counter. It said: “Namaste” followed by a longer English translation than the one at the top of this post–the only translation I have ever known. Instead of “Thanking you” I said “Namaste!” to the woman who bagged my lunch. I immediately felt embarrassed as I left the store. Still, I  shook off the shame and smiled. It was nice to see the word outside of my practice. A few months later I would widen my usual tunnel vision and see that on the front of that building, the signage had changed from the old name (Tootsies) to Namaste. I thought the stand was just a nice gesture. I guess not. Some marketer probably thought it was a good hook. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you can sully a truly beautiful word.

I start MindSpace’s “14 Day Meditation Challenge” today

business man practice yoga at network server room

I have been meditating most days now for about six months, but I want to step up the practice to everyday. Currently, I am meditating every weekday afternoon in the the dressing room in my work’s bike room. It’s loud, but the fan noise and dripping shower faucet gives me sounds to focus on.

My friend Angus pointed me to MindSpace where it has a fourteen day challenge. Though I have been tinkering with smartphone apps like Omvana, Simply Being, and starting yesterday, Head Space, I think I will check MindSpace out. Kind of disappointed they don’t have a smartphone app.

Anyway, I’ll try this out and get back to you.

Observations From the Mat #3: My Transformation

Йога
When looking back at how I became more in touch with my body and mind, which lead me to lose 20 pounds, as of this post, and begin meditating, there are certain watershed moments and critical people that have contributed. Without a doubt being diagnosed with Degenerative Disk Disease and referred to a yoga-loving physical therapist who happened to go to the same gym and suggesting I to take the Gentle Yoga class is significant. In fact, it was during a Gentle Yoga session where the I met Heather, who was subbing for the regular teacher.

By the time we said “Namaste” I was more physically invigorated than I have ever been before, and, something new: I felt spiritually more alive. I wish I was better with words because “spiritually more alive” sounds either over-the-top or corny. I, obviously, not know how to accurately describe how I felt. All I knew is I wanted more. At the risk of creeping her out, I asked Heather if she taught any yoga classes in town. I was lucky–she taught the Vinyasa yoga class on Tuesday nights right her at this club. She also taught a class in the complex across the street where she lived. I wanted to go to that class as well, but I thought that might really creep her out, so I restrained myself.

I will let Yoga Journal’s Maty Ezraty explain what Vinyasa means: “Vinyasa means a gradual progression or a step-by-step approach that systematically and appropriately takes a student from one point and safely lands them at the next point. It is sometimes described as the ‘breathing system,’ or the union of breath and movement that make up the steps.”  (See the whole article here: http://www.yogajournal.com/article/teach/defining-vinyasa/)

Looking back, Heather’s class didn’t seem that physically challenging. It still isn’t. Vinyasa yoga is supposed to be challenging, but Heather teaches an easier version of the practice, “open to all levels,” she calls it. What makes this particular class so special are the activities that invigorate me.

It was first in a Gentle Yoga class that she subbed–and later in her own class–where I learned just how important breathing was in yoga. Too, this was the first class I ever practiced Pranayama (or Skull Shiner) and Nadi Sodhana (or Alternate Nostril Breathing). These breathing practices made me feel markedly better after practicing them. I often wonder why my other classes ignore these important practices.

This seems like a minor point, but she was the first teacher to explain the benefits of many of the postures as we went through them. I liked it when I first heard it because it provided me with a specific purpose for performing a particular posture. Later, when I told a friend at work who practices two times a day/seven days a week he told me that teachers who do not explain the reason for performing postures are usually “mercenary yoga teachers.” That is, they are usually in it for the money.

Savasana (or corpse pose) was the first posture I ever learned. My physical therapist taught me it. This is the therapist that is responsible to turning me onto yoga. I always looked forward to Savasana every session, probably because it appealed to my lazy ass, but Heather explained it was actually a difficult posture to master because it was more a posture of the brain. Anyone can just lay like a corpse, but Heather emphasized that you should neither doze nor keep your mind busy about things like how much you need to improve on your warrior postures, if you are going to meet that creepy guy who likes to talk to you in the shower, the ride back home, tonight’s dinner, or whatever. She often leads us in a guided mediation during Savasana. Starting with a big toe and working our way up to the crown of our head–focusing our attention on each part of our body as she called them out. It was my introduction to meditation.

Heather’s introduction to meditation lead me to check out other spiritual sources (Buddhism, Yogananda, Kriyananda, Tara Brach) in a small part for the spiritual information, but mostly for information on meditation. Lastly, she gave us a benediction. Now, maybe I’m just too sensitive for my own good, but I felt touched by the teacher’s words:

“May you live like the lotus
At home in the muddy waters
Namaste”