I often have felt awkward at the end of a yoga class, when everyone systematically bows forward and says “Namaste.” Forgive me for saying this but it reminds me of elementary school when we had to say the Pledge of Allegiance everyday. It is reminiscent to me because it seems like something that should probably be taken seriously, but no one (or not many) understands the exact significance of. I think in Western cultures especially, bowing can feel strange and forced.
But this is an Eastern tradition and actually the practice of bowing at the end of class should probably not feel forced or awkward. This bowing is not intended to create some kind of hierarchy but to diminish one. One of my favorite explanations, or prefaces to Namaste is this:
I bow to you and deeply honor who you are;
In truth you are light, love, and bliss itself.
When you remember who you are,
And I remember who I am,
We are one.
So, putting aside ego and selfishness we are bowing in order to acknowledge and honor the same spark that lies within all beings.
Nothing awkward about that.