The Power of Language
Dora as a little girl. Back then my brain knew only one language and culture.
As some of you know, a few weeks back I went to visit Hungary, the country where I was born and raised. I have wanted to write about this trip and my experiences as they relate to yoga and mindfulness. But so far the emotional intensity of the trip has left me numb. I am still processing, allowing the thoughts to settle, so I can better understand and express my message.
Carina asked me to write something about the upcoming Sanskrit workshop. I suddenly realized that part of my silence has to do with language. Not in the sense that I have trouble translating, that is not a problem, I am perfectly fluent and good translator of both languages. What I cannot cross communicate yet is the bifurcation of identities and emotions that exist in my mind that are language dependent. I can translate the words, but the words have an emotional and cultural background that I cannot very well express unless I make you live in Hungary, learn the language, history, and culture. Languages carry our heart and our soul. For now, I will leave you curious about my stories about my home visit, and simply recommend that you look into this Sanskrit workshop. If you want to understand the origins of yoga, then start with learning about the language of yoga.
Here is Carina’s message on the power of language:
There are great benefits to learning a new language. Languages are gateways to new cultures and new ways of thinking and looking at life. Learning a different language allows us to experience new and different modes of thought that provide valuable perspectives on the human condition. I love the definition of language given by anthropologist Wade Davis in his TED Talk Dreams from Endangered Cultures: “A language is a flash of the human spirit. It’s a vehicle through which the soul of each particular culture comes into the material world. Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind, a watershed, a thought, an ecosystem of spiritual possibilities.”
Language can literally alter our brain. Words have the power to reprogram our mind. What we say changes what we see, how we perceive the world around us. In the words of Jason Silva in his video Language Rewires Our Brain: “Language has the power to not only shape and inform the world, but also to transform it. Better language can create better reality.”
But language is not just for communicating with other people and interacting with the world. Learning a new language has health benefits as well. Studying a second language can increase the number of neural pathways between parts of the brain. The brain of a bilingual individual contains a higher density of gray matter, which contains most of the brain’s neurons and synapses. People who speak two or more languages have significantly better overall cognitive abilities than those who speak just one language. Being bilingual or multilingual is a constant workout for the brain, which can prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Exercising the brain is just as important as exercising the body!
In general, people who speak more than one language:
are better at filtering out unnecessary words than monolinguals
have better memory and memorization skills
are more creative and adaptable
are more perceptive of their surroundings
have better focus and concentration
can switch between tasks more easily
become more conscious listeners and thinkers
It’s never too late to learn a new language! You don’t have to be fluent to experience these benefits. Even minimal knowledge of a second language can give your brain the level of activity that it needs to stay healthy over time… which brings to mind one of my favorite languages of all time: Sanskrit.
Sanskrit was a very consciously designed language. The language sounds are set up to flow easily, making Sanskrit a very speakable language. Sound flow is the highest priority, and rhythm is built into the language.
Sanskrit is also the language of Yoga, Āyurveda, and Mantra. As such, it is important for yoga practitioners and teachers to understand key Sanskrit terminology which is relevant to yoga philosophy, as well as to know how to pronounce the Sanskrit names of yoga poses (or āsana) correctly. The name of each āsana in Sanskrit has a depth of meaning and an energy signature that are lost in the English translation. Sanskrit was designed for sound. The sound of each word in Sanskrit carries its prāṇa via the breath and uses the entire body as a resonating chamber through which harmonious vibrations can be transmitted. By saying the word Virabhadrāsana (Warrior Pose) correctly, for example, we are able to embody the subtle energy of its meaning.
Are you curious yet? Would you like to learn more about this unique language? Join us for our upcoming Intro to Sanskrit workshop, accessible to students of all levels. Click here for more details and to sign up.