Using Language for Resilience
The language you speak, the words you say, and the thoughts you think all determine the way you think.
The language you speak determines what you pay attention to in your daily life. For example, an Australian Indigenous community speaks in North, East, South, West, which means they must be oriented all the time. Hawaiians have over 200 different words for rain. North American Hopi don’t actually reference time. They speak only in the present. Some languages have more words for violent acts and others for peace and love. By using more of a certain part of your brain, your brain is more inclined to think this way in the future. What you think slowly begins to become your reality.
Learning a new language changes the way you think and allows you to express yourself differently. Imagine learning a language with mostly love and peace? As I continued to study translations of ancient Sanskrit medicine textbooks over the last year, I noticed that instead of stating something was “bad”, the sentence would say “not good”. I wondered if this was due to the positive nature of Sanskrit itself. I wondered if this was intentionally put in place to prevent the negative consequences that follow negative thinking and speaking to oneself and others.
Sanskrit is also known to cause the environmental and physical response intended within the words reverberation when said aloud. It is known in yoga philosophy that the names of asanas, or physical postures are said aloud in yoga to unlock specific areas in the body. The power of Sanskrit is both intentional and complex beyond measure.
Trauma-informed practices of medicine, nursing, and yoga all emphasize and draw attention to the weight of the words we use. Our words have the opportunity to provoke anger, to cause fear, to trigger traumatic memories, to relax, to create a sense of wonder, to spark interest, to excite, and to cause many other emotions and experiences based on one’s neuro-pathways and previous experiences. One of my early yoga teachers, Jonathan Boyd taught me to use intention while directing people with action words because the intention will transfer to the student’s intention, then the pose. If as a teacher, you give the direction to “gently place your hands to your toes” versus “grab your toes”, the outcome will look different. This is very apparent in children when you emphasize enthusiasm in giving direction. Adults, though, have a way of internalizing and personalizing responses and reactions, maybe greater suppressing emotions and causing more shame.
“A single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress” (Andrew Newberg & Mark Waldman, Words Can Change Your Brain). In their book Words Can Change Your Brain, Waldman and Newberg (2012) explain that our thalamus in the brain actually changes it’s structure over time based on our words, thoughts, and feelings, in turn changing our perception of reality.
Naval Ravikant’s book “Love Yourself Like Your Life Depended on it” revealed the power of the words we speak to ourselves and provided heart-wrenching insight into life lifecycle of the grief and despair of a breakup, and how speaking to himself, even if forced, with only love transformed him. He went from survival (or barely) to thriving and loving himself even with his wounds.
Matthew Engelhart, the founder of Cafe Gratitude, the popular and divine organic restaurants located in California, used language intentionally to instill love and esteem in every customer who came in by naming their dishes positive affirmations such as “I am nourished” which literally wires the brain more positively when the person orders. Brilliant.
Whilst in India, we spent the first few days of 2020 at a sacred temple in the most beautiful setting to worship Mookambika, the mother goddess, where we chanted hundreds of times, the mantra of health. We prayed for our loved ones to be healthy and took part in Darshan, receiving sacred blessings from the divine. Soon after arriving home in South India, we became sick with fever and cough, then rapidly recovered with loving guidance from our dear friend, doctor, and teacher of Ayurveda. We still speak about how the timing potentially allowed us to get, recover from, and be protected against the spreading COVID-19 virus before our travels home through busy airports in February of 2020 during what would soon be declared as the global pandemic. The mantras and blessings and prayers are known to be protecting and healing to those who chant them and receive them. Most cultures use the power of language to speak to higher powers outside oneself whether in one’s own language, or another.
What language do you use toward yourself?
What words make you happy?
What sentences make you feel strong?
Language shapes your reality. Moving forward into 2021, use positive language more intentionally and watch your life change. Watch the people around you respond differently. Watch love grow.
“When we study human language, we are approaching what some might call the [human essence], the distinctive qualities of mind that are, so far as we know, unique to man.” (Noam Chomsky, Language and Mind)
"Words are not just pieces of language, they are packages of energy with corresponding emotion. They can be medicine or poisonous depending on how they are used." (George Bovell, Personal Communication)
May you be well. May you be RESILIENT.
Founder of I AM RESILIENT.
I AM RESILIENT. is a movement geared toward cultivating collective well-being. With intentional and practical tools that intricately combine innate resilience, ancient practices, modern science, and beauty, I AM RESILIENT emerges. Join the movement by tagging #iamresilient and making your tools for resilience and stories of resilience known, so that you too can help others who need it!
By changing the way we think about problems, we can change, and improve the way we find solutions.
Lara Broditsky, How Language Shapes Thought, Long Now Seminars, October 26, 2010
Andrew Newberg & Mark Waldman, Words Can Change Your Brain, 2012
Noam Chomsky, Language and Mind, 2006
Personal Communications, Jonathan Boyd (2012)