As a yoga teacher, I think a lot about words. When teaching I want to be direct and concise with my cues and say only as much as needed, no extra fluff. Admittedly, it’s a work in progress. Through my current training, I know I have plenty to improve upon. And it’s not just a problem in the yoga room. Whenever I tell stories my mom always tells me to “get to the point already.” I love details and feel the need to express every single one. But sometimes that means I get stuck only seeing the trees and miss the forest (something a history teacher used to tell me).
As someone who loves literature and has a deep appreciation for language, I know words are important. Over the years I’ve studied 3 foreign languages, only dabbling in each and unfortunately I don’t remember much. But from those experiences, I understand the frustration of knowing what you want to say but not knowing how to say it. I also understand the desire of saying as little as possible and still get your point across because oral examinations were always the scariest.
Since watching Thirteen Reasons Why a couple of months ago, I’ve been giving a lot of thought about the power of words. In the particular case of the show, something we say that we might not think of as a big deal can have a big impact on someone else because we don’t know how it will be received. We don’t know what else is going on in other people’s lives. Because of my history with body image, I am always very aware if someone says something negative about someone else’s body, about their own, or makes a joke about eating disorders (yes, unfortunately that happens). I try to always speak up and often people are shocked that I’m so sensitive about it. But I’ve had friends that have had serious eating disorders. I’ve seen the damage they can do and the long term effects. They are no laughing matter.
Alternatively, Thirteen Reasons Why also showcased the power of words left unsaid. That can be just as hurtful. I have also fallen victim to this where inside my head I come up with what I want someone to say to me and when it doesn’t happen I get disappointed. But that might be a conversation for another day – one where we can’t put our expectations on somebody else, another thing I’m working on.
So I’ve been thinking about words a lot lately. And then this weekend I went to a Sanskrit workshop at Yoga Collective. Everything I had been thinking about seemed to come together tied up in a ribbon. I don’t want to dive into Sanskrit too deeply in this post, but one of the biggest takeaways was the idea behind the language itself. It’s a polished language in that “every sound is a vibration that is the essence of what it’s naming” (Marcy Braverman Goldstein). Another way she said it was “the sound you’re articulating is the thing you’re creating.” If the sounds we’re creating through the words we say are inherently negative, we are creating something negative. And because there are 4 levels of speech, it doesn’t just mean the words you say, but the words you think, the words within your conscious, and subconscious.
It’s hard to change the way we think, but we can start with focusing on the words we choose to leave our mouth. I’ve been working on this for years, especially as an over thinker who can spend days analyzing something I said. I still chose the wrong words sometimes and don’t always effectively say what I want to say, but I try. I’m aware.
So I invite you to join me on this endeavor. Think before you speak. Remember that the sound of our words has an effect on feelings. What is it that you want to bring into this world? And just to make things more complicated, don’t forget that the sounds you intake are just as important. What and who do you want to surround yourself with?