The Power of Words
written by Caroline Hughes
“Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.” -Don Miguel Ruiz
I began to understand the importance of speech at a young age. My parents raised me with traditional Southern manners. Yes, sir, Yes, ma’am, please, thank you. I remember if I said anything with a tone of voice that might be construed as rude, I could be put in timeout immediately. My parents wanted me to be kind with my words and to speak with intentionality. This is a lesson I’ve come to deeply appreciate over the years: becoming mindful of the power of my words.
As a young child I always remembered the really hurtful things that were said to me. We have uplifting experiences with friends and family, inspirational stories of adventures, but somehow instead of remembering the joyful moment that your best friend brings up, we remember the critiques of not being good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, the list goes on. This trauma was brought onto us by someone being careless with their speech, and unfortunately it happens all the time.
The way we talk to ourselves reflects how we view and interact in the world. I had a friend tell me one time that life is like a mirror. If we feel as though we aren’t smart enough, pretty enough, funny enough, etc., that energy has potential to be mirrored back out into the world through our actions. Fortunately, we have the choice to speak to ourselves from a place of love, or from a place of fear, but it can take years at practicing intentional speech to overcome that self-conscious voice.
We all have different sets of morals and values based on past life experiences. Most of our life experiences are attributed to what part of the world we grew up in and which religion was fundamental to our moral development. Some of the greatest lessons I learned growing up were from the Bible. I grew up attending church and I always appreciated the morals and values from Christianity. “Be good to your neighbor” and “help others” were the ones that influenced me the most. From Christianity to Hinduism and Buddhism, the moral code of most religions encourages others to live a life that is moral, ethical, and virtuous. Morals and values shape everything about a person, from how they speak to their colleagues to their diet and relationships.
In yoga we call the system of morals the Yamas. The Yamas are the first of the 8 Limbs of Yoga mentioned in Master Patanjali’s classical text, The Yoga Sutras. Asana is the 3rd limb, and in this ordering Patanjali stresses the importance that the Yamas become our first true way of practicing yoga; they are our attitude towards our environment. When I first began practicing yoga it was a physical practice. I wasn’t aware of the Yamas until teacher training but through studying them, they paved the foundation for my asana practice.
Ahimsa and Satya are the first two Yamas. Ahimsa is non-violence and Satya is truthfulness. These two Yamas complement each other and they have been used by peaceful political figures in different ways. Firstly, Martin Luther King encouraged Ahimsa by inspiring non-violent protest, which he defined as a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love. Secondly, Gandhi used Satya when he created the word Satyagraha, which consists of the words satya (truth) and agraha (polite insistence or holding firmly to). Satyagraha is a policy of passive political resistance. Gandhi and Martin Luther King were honest and intentional speakers. King applied the power of words to inspire millions to follow his example of non-violent protest to overcome injustice.
Asteya can be translated to non-stealing. Gandhi said, “Mankind’s greed and craving for artificial needs are also stealing.” Swami Sivananda said, “Desire or want is the cause for stealing.” Asteya derives from feelings of insecurity. We fall victim to the “I’m not _____ enough.” We don’t feel whole and we mistakenly look outside of ourselves to fix it. Gratitude practices and meditation are antidotes for self-conscious thoughts and behaviors. By focusing on positive intentional speech and using the power of words we can overcome self-conscious thoughts and reinforce the confidence we already possess.
Bramacharya, or non-excess is “the conservation of vital energy in order to direct one’s attention towards divine pursuits and self-knowledge” (Kevin Courtney). Building loving, respectful, and long-term relationships requires constant communication, continuously checking in with your partners and friends, and purposeful speech that reaffirms your connection to those you love. We can respect our partners and loved ones by listening with intentionality, not only by focusing on the power of our speech towards them. Furthermore, we must be mindful of moderation in our actions.
Aparigraha is the final Yama and can be translated as non-hoarding, non-grasping, or non-possessiveness. Words have the potential of cutting into us and affecting our emotions, especially if we choose to hoard them into our memory. Words and emotions are intertwined, and words can cut into us because they are so connected to our beliefs about ourselves. Let go of thoughts and emotions that cause you to suffer through meditation and Seva, or volunteering. It’s always wonderful to give back when you feel stuck in your mind.
The Yamas are guidelines for how to live a virtuous life, and when we live a life rooted in these morals, the way we speak to ourselves and others will change. You will begin to question everything you’ve ever been told. You will begin to contemplate and think before speaking by asking yourself: “Is what I’m saying non-violent, is it greedy, is it inappropriate or offensive to others, and is this coming from a place of self-consciousness?” You will begin living life with more intention and purpose.
Before discovering yoga, I lived a life for many years where I disassociated myself from my body and actions. I wanted to be numb to everything and remove myself from consequences. After becoming more ingrained in the teachings of the Yoga Sutras I began speaking to myself with uplifting words and I recognized the importance of being intentional with not only my thoughts and words, but equally in my actions unto others. The thoughts we tell ourselves are mirrored out into the world in our actions.
For this month, as we focus on intentionality of speech, pay attention to the words you choose when speaking to others, but pay even more attention to the ones you choose when speaking to yourself! You always, always must take care of yourself first before serving others, so be mindful of the thoughts you dream, of the silence in between your thoughts, and of the power of your words. Discover yourself a little more. Be a little more intentional each day as we bring awareness to our own unique set of moral codes and simply do your best!
How to practice this on the mat:
- Find time to contemplate and meditate in every class at the beginning or after shavasana allowing yourself to deeply check in with how you are doing.
- Encourage yourself to speak from the heart!
- Incorporate poses that ignite the heart and throat chakras
- Practice inversions to flip perspectives and practice patience
“Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.” Don Miguel Ruiz
“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” Brene Brown
Mindfulness can be defined as, “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique,” (Dictionary.com).
“Start where you are. This is very important. Meditation practice is not about later, when you get it all together and you’re this person you really respect. You may be the most violent person in the world – that’s a fine place to start. That’s a very rich place to start – juicy, smelly. You might be the most depressed person in the world, the most addicted person in the world, the most jealous person in the world. You might think that there are no others on the planet who hate themselves as much as you do. All of that is a good place to start. Just where you are – that’s the place to start.” Pema Chodron
The Pocket Pema Chodron
Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now, Maya Angelou
The Bhagavad Gita
Movement by Lara: Redefining Yoga
This American Life
Zionsville by Khruangbin
I Need a Forest Fire by James Blake, Bon Iver
Keep Me Around, The Wood Brothers
Postcards From Hell, The Wood Brothers
- Sarvesham svasti bhavatu, sarvesham shantir bhavatu, sarvesham purnam bhavatu, sarvesham mangalam bhavatu
- Jaya Ganesha Jaya Ganesha Jaya Ganesha Pahiman. Sri Ganesha Shri Ganesha Sri Ganesha Rakshamaam.
- So Ham
Inhale for 8 counts, hold the breath for 8 counts, exhale for 8