Friday, June 3, 2011

The Light Within

Namaste. It ends every post on Is Yoga Legal, and it often ends a yoga class. For some people, it is the only Sanskrit word they know . . . or at least can say. But what does Namaste mean? And why does it grace the end of these posts? The last two posts (here and here), focusing on turning inward, are perfect segues into a discussion about the word and meaning of Namaste.

At its most basic, Namaste means “Greetings,” and it is accompanied by anjali mudra, a hand position where the hands are at the heart in what many consider a hand position for prayer. More specifically, Namaste translates as “I bow to the spirit within you.” A modern, western yoga translation I often hear is, “from the light within me, I honor the light within you.”

Heading up the abstraction ladder, and the reason the word ends each post, Namaste is the recognition that we all have the same light within us. In the modern world, this is easy to forget. As lawyers it is even harder. The law places a small v between one side and “the other side.” A little letter, perhaps, but it has huge ramifications. It distances us from others, makes us believe that there is a wall between us and others, and allows us to dehumanize others, even just for the moment of the case.

But how does that affect our lives generally? How does it affect non-lawyers?

We all now communicate on email, and probably use some other form of social networking such as facebook or twitter. Even this blog puts a wall between you, the reader, and me, the writer. Our constant email communication is the best example of the reduction of our concentration on our internal light / spirit. Our email culture has gotten so fast and cut off from our connection that someone once actually thanked me for saying hello at the beginning of each email and signing each one with my name.

Moreover, our constant stress keeps us from even seeing our own inner light. In other words, we lose sight of ourselves, and we lose sight of the fact that we are more connected to others than we often think. We place these walls because they make life quicker. They do not, however, make it easier. They cut us off from our very essence, and as the last two posts have discussed, that internal presence is vital to our survival.

Namaste is different. It is a conscious greeting, a conscious decision to connect with another person, even just to say hello. But it requires recognizing that we have our own internal light. It is a greeting, but it is also a connection. It is a slight bow, a gesture along with a word (sometimes people actually leave out the word) that is a simple statement of, “I recognize that you are a fellow human being, and for that reason, I honor you.” It is a way to bring together rather than to push apart.

But this recognition requires going within. It requires taking some time to turn inward and getting to know your own inner light. And this is what yoga teaches us to do. It helps us bring humanity back into our lives. It reminds us that we are more than our blackberry emails that inform people there might be typos because we do not have the time to fix them, just like we do not have the time to say hello and goodbye. Instead, we learn to take the time – for ourselves and each other.

So, Namaste! From the light within me, I honor the light within you. I honor and appreciate the fact that you take the time to read these posts. But most importantly, I hope you are taking the time to honor yourself, that you are taking the time to turn inward and recognize your internal strength and light. Some days are more difficult than others, and on those days, the sharing of Namaste is all that much more important. Simple yes, but just as that little “v” between the sides of a case has huge ramifications, so too does the word/gesture Namaste.

How do you honor your internal light? How do you share that with others?


© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved


  1. Dear Rebecca,

    Thank you for your posting. I love the sound and gesture of Namaste, it seems to enhance human dignity, calm, and connection, if even for a moment.
    And I just read your post on Sighing, and that is what moved me to respond now. I'm not sure what the analytical connection between Namaste and Sighing is, but it feels like there's a link, emotionally, at a deep human level.

    Namaste appears and sounds so 'together' and offers me an immediate sense of connection in safety. Sighing, (esp. a full, audible sigh) could be loud and alarming and I often find myself alarmed by others' strong sighs, remembering clearly how I grew up attached to a mother who sighed strongly and deeply, but did not allow others to (esp me).

    I'd think she was falling apart, and that she needed me to be strong and 'unsighing' to reassure her I won't add to her heavy burden.
    Had she approved of other fam. members similar needs to sigh audibly, including me, there could have been so much more balance and connection among us and between us.

    Once the freedom to sigh becomes widespread we can all face one another, make eye contact, then gesture and say "namaste" to recognize how human we all are, and how connecting and comforting that could be to all practice those life-enhancing encounters, and often, too.


  2. Dear Shira,

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing that. How true, how true. I really have nothing to add except to say thank you. What a beautiful explanation, and I really appreciate you sharing it.


  3. Thank you Rebecca. Being new to Yoga, particularly Bikram Yoga in Tucson, I hear the instructor say Namaste and the students replying, I assumed it meant something positive but did not know the meaning until now. So Namaste to you my friend. Michael A.

  4. Thanks, Michael. I hope it helps with the future meaning for you.

  5. I'm just now taking the time to catch up on your blog (which you know I love and purposely don't read unless I have time to really read it). The email thing reminds me of another thing we no longer collectively take time to do: saying goodbye on the phone. I can't tell you how many times I day I feel hung up on at work because the person I was talking to decided the conversation was over even though we had not said goodbye. I have gotten over being offended but it still irks me pretty much on a daily basis.

    This of course comes from a person who takes a full 20 seconds of exchange to end a conversation wtih her mother: "ok" "ok" "talk to you later" "right" "bye" "bye" etc - probably not even 20 seconds but quantifying it shows how little time it takes and yet it feels like it takes so long.

  6. Amy, I know exactly what you mean. The rush to get back to something else often makes us forget that we are communicating with another human being. Thank you for the reminder. And I'm a long good-bye person as well. :)