I am a yoga instructor and am currently providing yoga instructions in the prisons. This week has already provided me with some good practice opportunities. I have been teaching yoga on a regular weekly basis at Wake County Correctional Center in Raleigh, NC. The class has included anywhere from 2 to 13 people. This week I also taught a class at Johnston Correctional Institution in Smithfield. We had more than 15 people there. Tonight I will be a guest teacher at an Ayurvedic Health class. More on this later.
Yogic Greeting – Namaskar vs. Namaste
I begin yoga classes by giving my name: Shiva Steve Ordog and greeting the class with “Namaskar.” The Shiva was given to me by an Ananda Marga monk named Shuddhatmananda with a meaning of “he who is benevolent to all” – something to live up to. When saying Namaskar, I hold my palms together in a prayer position and touch the spot between my two eyebrows (the “trikuti” or “third eye”) with my thumbs and then move the hands down and touch my heart with the thumbs. These two spots correspond to the Ajna Chakra (said Ag-nya) and the Anahata Chakra respectively. The meaning of this greeting is: “The divinity within me salutes the divinity within you with all the divine charms of my mind (touch trikuti here) and all the love and cordiality of my heart (touch heart here).
This greeting establishes that both parties are due equal respect and recognizes that a piece of divinity (Parama Purusa, Authentic Nature, God, Kingdom of Heaven, etc.) exists in each person… that each one we meet and greet is “God who has come in this form.”
Another common greeting in yoga classes is Namaste. This is certainly a fine way to greet someone or to take your leaving but the people who trained me to be a yoga teacher (Ananda Marga) feel that Namaskar acknowledges the divinity in both parties whereas Namaste means more simply “I salute you” and would be more appropriate for a sadhaka (practitioner) to greet a guru.
I find that there are some interesting effects of this simple way of starting things out when I am in a prison. It seems to have the effect of establishing an environment of mutual respect. It seems to lessen tensions about talking in the group. It also seems to establish a connection that survives long after the class. I often times look up to see a man greeting me with Namaskar and struggle to remember a name because it has been months since I have seen him. Imagine walking into “the yard” as they call the open area where most of the men are during their “free” time and seeing men lifting weights, standing in line at the canteen to buy candy or soda, men looking around and moving in a way that shows their bravado and here comes one of these tough looking people who says “Namaskar” and makes the prayerful gesture of touching his forehead and heart. The first time it happened I was very surprised and was brought to full presence of the here and now. I still experience this feeling of presence although the surprise has left me.
Yoga is a certain kind of magic that has worked on these guys. Namaskar is just an outward sign of it. More on this later.