An alternative to the handshake -the “Namaste” greeting

Posted 09/03/20 in Workshop life

During this Coronavirus outbreak, an alternative to the traditional handshake is the Indian "Namaste" greeting. I wanted to share this with you and I hope you will try it and share it with others.

It makes you feel really connected with others, something that is of vital importance at this time when we need to hold on to our basic humanity and avoid feelings of isolation.

I was listening to Thought for the Day this morning on Radio 4 about the importance of the handshake in our society, and how relationships may suffer now that we are unable to shake hands because of the Coronavirus. In recent meetings, it has been a bit awkward when people offer their hand or are unsure of whether we should be shaking hands. How can we connect with each other without any physical contact?

Shaking hands has been a tradition in for the past two and a half thousand years, starting in Greece, where a person would offer their right hand to show they came in peace and did not hold any weapon. The handshake is an important ritual in our society, a way in which we connect with each other and offer each other respect and forge friendships.

Alternatives being suggested are the “elbow bump” or “foot bump” but these feel lacking in sentiment and leave us feeling like something has been lost.

It occurred to me that this is an excellent time to suggest the adoption of the “Namaste” greeting used in India.

When I worked as a vet in India we used this greeting at all times, and it is a lovely way to connect with each other, to offer each other love and reverence without any physical conduct. It can be used both for meeting and departure. Namaste is usually spoken (though you can do it without saying this) with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest.

In India the word Namaste is said at the same time which translates as “bowing to you”, and in Hinduism it In Hinduism, it also has a spiritual importance, reflecting the belief that "the divine and self is same in you and me", and connotes "I bow to the divine in you". According to sociologist Holly Oxhandler, it is a Hindu term which means, “the sacred in me recognizes the sacred in you”.

It is a beautiful sentiment, and whether or not we take the meaning onboard, the act of stopping and gently acknowledging each other’s presence and more deeply, each other’s humanity, is of great importance at this time, especially when we may be feeling worried or increasingly alienated from each other.

The other lovely part of greeting each other using this gesture is that I used to greet people on the other side of the street or even in the distance. Words need not be spoken, the gesture in itself is enough to let people know that you are connecting with them.

So next time you meet someone instead of feeling awkward and offering an elbow, try the Namaste greeting, and you will be surprised at how good it feels, and hopefully, the greeting will prove to be far more infectious than the Coronavirus.