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Why Language Matters

Not too long ago I was in a yoga class with a well known teacher. As class got underway I found myself counting how many times she addressed those in class with the verbal cue ‘I need you to __(insert directive here)__’ to change something posturally, and the phrase ‘I’m proud of you’ indicating something was correct or improving. Perhaps I’m over sensitive to the use of language as a teacher myself, but for me, these two phrases exposed something that fundamentally missed the point of yoga.

First off, my belief is that there should not be a ‘need’ to do anything for the teacher. If we want to increase our understanding of our breath or the energetics of an asana, there are physical structures that could be moved and adjusted in an exploration of the body in space. Secondly, I interpreted the teacher as being proud of a student to mean they assume responsibility for the student’s correct alignment or pretty shape rather than it being an intrinsic experience of the student. In both cases, the person in the role of ‘teacher’ seems to have allowed their ego to overtake the situation rather than stepping back to allow the other person space and time to just be with their body and breath.

It is just semantics, but is it? Language is one of the strongest tools of communicating we have, and the subtleties of language are as important as the subtleties of touch. How we offer instruction can leave residue on the recipient of the information, providing the potential for the information to be received and absorbed, or rejected. Further, when left to its own device, language can reveal our true intentions in any given moment.

Of course, language is also learned. When a young child first learns to speak, their inflection and word choice comes from those around them- their influencers. Its the same as adults as we change home and city, we are exposed to new words, some of which are incorporated into our daily vocabulary. So often we don’t even realize the words we rely on to communicate, until someone else points them out to us.

Whatever the intention is behind our words, when we take the time to choose our words mindfully, we can be specific and efficient in speaking, and aim to say what we mean, and mean what we say. Communication and relationships will reveal a beautiful clarity and spectrum of colour when we do.

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