We humans were meant to be social animals. We thrived on connection, community and kinship. When we met up with other humans, it wasn’t enough to simply be there with them; we felt an urge to instantly bond with them.
And so we kissed, we hugged, we shook hands, we high-fived. That was how things were until early 2020. Then came the age of coronavirus and the need for social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine, lockdown and shelter-in-place.
Today, we humans continue to be social animals, and we continue to crave connection. We need to find a way to build an instant bond but we have to do it without physical contact. Research shows that a single handshake can transfer 124 million bacteria on average, so it is quite likely a perfect way to share viruses as well. A high-five will transfer about half of that number. But let’s face it, elbow contact just doesn’t have the same sizzle as, say, a handshake or a hug. And Director-general of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently said it wasn’t a good idea, tweeting “When greeting people, best to avoid elbow bumps because they put you within 1 meter of the other person.” So some elder statesmen around the world are using the bonding method that they’ve learned during their state visits to India: Namaste.
Namaste around the world
In case you haven’t taken a yoga class, namaste is when you bring your hands together, palms pressed against each other, centered at your chest. Namaste is part of several yoga postures, but it is also the traditional way in which the people of India greet each other. And, since it involves no physical contact, it is virus-proof. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had traveled to India in 2018. So when coronavirus struck, he was one of the first to adopt namaste as his greeting of choice. He has also encouraged his country to abandon handshakes and adopt namaste. France’s President Emmanuel Macron also recently decided to employ namaste in welcoming Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia. The French ambassador to India, Emmanuel Lenain, later tweeted, “President Macron has decided to greet all his counterparts with a namaste, a graceful gesture that he has retained from his India visit in 2018.” In US President Donald Trump’s recent state visit to India, his host, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, may not have been able to sell him on a new trade deal, but he did sell him on namaste. Soon after his return, Trump folded his hands to greet Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. “I just got back from India. And I did not shake any hands there, and it was very easy because they go like this and Japan goes like this,” Trump said, demonstrating the Indian namaste and the Japanese bow. “They are ahead of the curve.” It’s high time namaste went global, for it has been around in India forever. Namaste may arguably be the oldest form of greeting in active use on our planet.
You can use it during your video conference
Because namaste involves no contact, it is also the perfect form of remote greeting. So tomorrow when you run what may be your 31st virtual meeting in this age of coronavirus, think about it. Namaste has this powerful quality of being inclusive. With namaste, you are building an instant bond with all who are gathered in your midst — not simply the one person right in front of you. It is physically impossible to achieve that with a kiss, a hug, a handshake, a high-five or an elbow bump, all of which are exclusively one-to-one. Namaste helps us to recognize that, like it or not, we are all connected; we rise and fall together. While we may choose to hug or bump elbows with just our favorites, when we offer a namaste, we are opening our heart to everyone, without discrimination. All of humanity is in our embrace.
What does ‘namaste’ even mean?
And that is not all. To understand namaste’s ultimate potential as a social bonding tool, we need to ask, “What does this strange-sounding word even mean?” Within the word Namaste is encoded the whole philosophy of yoga. Here’s what I mean. If I were to draw for you a line to represent the full spectrum of human nature, going from “terrible” to “terrific,” where would you place yourself on this line? Where would you place your favorite colleague? And your least favorite colleague? Wherever you placed yourself, and wherever you placed these two colleagues, I offer that you are wrong. Because, you see, you are the whole spectrum, and so are they. Think of your worst quality, your worst behavior, your worst life moment. Now think of your best quality, your best behavior, your best life moment. Yoga invites you to find that divine spark within yourself — the part of you that I call your “inner core”. When you operate from your inner core, you are centered, committed, connected and curious. You are able to step away from attachment, ego and insecurity to operate with wisdom and intention. You are at your full potential. The more you discover this divine spark within your own self, the more you start seeing it all around you, in every throbbing heart, for it is innate in humanity. We all have it — we just need to work on awakening it and expressing it in all we do.
Namaste is a Sanskrit word that means “the divine spark in me bows to the divine spark in you.”
International President of Lions Clubs International (2017-18) Lion Dr. Naresh Aggarwal also used the Indian greeting “NAMASTE” as his global signature campaign. The gesture was appreciated by the 1.47 million Lions Club members across the globe.