Why Saying “Namaste” is Culturally Insensitive and NOT Just a Yoga Term.
“Assalamualaikum”, “Sat Sri Akaal” and “Namaste”. What do they all have in common? They are a greeting attached to three different religions. One belongs to Islam, another to Sikhi (or Sikhism as it’s more commonly known as) and the other to Hinduism. I’ll let you figure out which is which.
The key word to focus on is religion. They all actually mean something to groups of people who follow a particular path in life and out of all religious greetings, the most misused and mainstream one has to be Namaste. In Hinduism, Namaste is a respectful greeting when giving namaskar and means “I bow to the divine in you”. Now that beautiful meaning and greeting has become this:
Why? What does that phrase even mean? But it’s not just the word Namaste itself that is being wrongfully puked over every Western wannabe yoga and spiritual movement, there’s a whole list of spin off words/phrases that have come off the back of it that are now used in everything from clothing to movies to songs. A few examples are:
- Namaste in bed
- Namaste at the bar
- Namaste bitches (as shown on that confused sweatshirt in the above picture)
There’s a whole list but I’ll stop there. Commodifying parts of a religion or culture for t-shirt sales and a lifestyle practice is where learning to balance life and beginning your spiritual journey starts to become somewhat of an issue for me. As someone who is British Indian, I get it. I get the Western need to understand life, meditation, yoga, oneness, mindfulness and all the Eastern spiritual practices that teach us so much about ourselves; in mind, body and spirit. When you grow up and live in West, there isn’t much emphasis on understanding these practices and exploring another side to life and yourself and so when you come across them in Eastern philosophy, it’s pretty mind-blowing stuff.
“They are here for everyone to appreciate, not for everyone to appropriate.”
On the other hand, as someone of Eastern descent, I understand how sacred certain practices and even phrases are. They’re not just words within our religions or cultural practices that we use for the sake of, we use them because they mean something deeper for us and represent values we try and uphold within our respective religious or cultural practices. Words like Namaste (in this case) exist to show those who follow the Hindu faith how to treat others by seeing the divinity with all beings. This teaches values and belief systems and provides a guideline of how those following this faith are expected or encourage to treat people. Just by this simple greeting, it transforms the way you view it and therefore, should be using it. Such words and phrases are here for everyone to appreciate, not for everyone to appropriate. There’s a huge difference.
There’s a level of disrespect I feel when I see a hipster yoga class going on. The excessive need to make yoga this visible lifestyle to ensure everyone knows how spiritual and connected you are kind of defeats the point for me. The universe/galaxy printed yoga pants, the Namaslay t-shirt or vest top, the premium, memory foam, breathable, durable, bounces your sweat away overpriced yoga mat and of course, the “YOGA MADE ME DO IT”, “OK BUT FIRST YOGA”, “YOGA O’CLOCK” water bottle that every yogi must have.
Well, I’ve met real yogi’s. Yes, they are a real thing and no, they don’t fit the description above.
Real yoga doesn’t need fake, overpriced, culturally insensitive accessories to make it appealing or accessible. Read up on the history and meaning behind it. Figure out which type of yoga is best for you (there’s loads), watch YouTube videos to avoid the super expensive classes if you can’t afford it (as it’s now become this ‘exclusive’ thing to do) and wear whatever the heck feels comfortable for you to move around in and breathe well in.
Being aware of the culture behind any practice you take on in life is important. It shows good morals, respect and honour for the practice you wish to make a part of your life. It’s not a special religious or cultural request from the East that you use what you take with respect and dignity, it’s just good manners and common sense. Now that’s something we can all understand, regardless of what language you speak, religion you follow or culture you are part of.