Yoga Greetings: What Do Wahe Guru, Sat Nam, and Other Terms Actually Mean?

yoga greetings

As I lay in savasana at the end of a yoga class late last week, I tuned into the music playing softly in the background. It was a piece in which a singer was singing the words, “wahe guru.” As I drove home with the song playing in my head, I thought about those words. Over the years I’ve been practicing yoga, I’ve become accustomed to yoga greetings and phrases I once did not understand. In fact, even in the earlier days of my practice, I would hear yogis speak to each other using terms I was unsure of.

In case you’re in the same boat, here’s a quick guide to five common ways in which yogis acknowledge each other.

5 Yoga Greetings You’ll Often Hear

  1. Wahe guru. So, what exactly does this mean? Wahe guru is a way in which Kundalini yogis say, “wow, that’s awesome”! But it’s beyond the ordinary kind of awesome. In the Sikh religion, Wahe guru is an expression of the name of God. If you practice Kundalini yoga (as many Sikhs do), you’ll hear wahe guru in response to many things. For example, you may tell someone good news, and the person will say, “wahe guru!” In other words, “wow, that’s awesome!” This a reverent kind of awesome, though. It’s about awe for the universe or God or creation.
  2. Jai Bhagwan. I first heard the greeting jai bhagwan at the Kripalu Center in Lenox, Massachusetts. I was a yoga newbie at the time, and I had no idea why the woman in the gift shop said this to me. Jai bhagwan is a hindi version of namaste, the yoga greeting you’re probably most familiar with. It can be translated into something close in meaning to victory, victorious, or good fortune. Jai bhagwan is a way of wishing someone well.
  3. Namaste. This is one of the most common yoga greetings. Most students learn it soon after taking their first yoga class, if not before. As you may know, namaste means something along the lines of the teacher in me honors the teacher in you. You’ll hear other varieties of that translation—for example, some people say the light in me honors the light in you. The main point for me is acknowledging that we are all connected through our universal connection to the divine.
  4. Sat Nam. This is another yoga greeting you’ll hear among Kundalini yogis. As one of my teachers says at the end of every class, “sat nam; truth is your name.” Sat means truth and nam means name, she explains. Like namaste, sat nam is a greeting that can replace both hello and goodbye. I’ve even heard it used in place of thank you.
  5. Om Shanti. Shanti means peace, and om is the primordial sound or the universal vibration. Om shanti is a wish for peace.

You may also hear shortened forms of some of these greetings. For example, it’s not uncommon to hear yogis simply say “jai” or “shanti” when wishing each other well. In other cases, the greeting may be lengthened so it becomes more of a prayer or invocation. For example, your teacher or class may chant om shanti, shanti shanti to close a yoga class.

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Maria Kuzmiak

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