words can nurture life;
words can destroy life

Part 2: Words that Heal

"Aia ke ola i ka waha; aia ka make i ka waha.
Life is in the mouth, death is in the mouth."
                                               traditional Hawaiian saying

An important component of my life as a lomilomi massage therapist has been to learn new ways to speak and to listen in my healing massage sessions, in my classes, and in my private life. I now use many new-to-me listening, thinking and speaking patterns that open wide opportunities to support unlimited healing potential.

I share with you here many of my favorite, most effective life affirming expressions. These word tools don’t belong to me; they are mostly communication tools I’ve learned from other people, from books and from classes. See chapter 3 for descriptions of these resources.


I often pray while giving massage; “I love you” is one form that my prayers commonly take. When I silently think “I love you” or even simply “I love” my hands, my heart and my voice all soften, I connect with the best in both myself and in my recipient, and I become present in the work. When I encounter stiffness or tight muscles in the receiver, the words “I love you” frequently and automatically run through my mind and the receiver’s tissue seems to magically soften.

I love you” is also a compelling expression for me to use anytime I’m having a hard time with someone. In the same way that some people train themselves to take a breath or count to ten when they are upset, the key for me is to think “I love you”. When I use the “I love you” key, I immediately connect either with the tender, childlike part of myself or with the tender, childlike part of the person I’m feeling pissed at. My irritation usually dissipates quickly.

 (By the way, I respond in the same way when I think the word god.)

This word tool came to me from the Foundation of I and the article by Joe Vitalie.


Choose the attitude of gratitude! Both saying and hearing “thank you” is another phrase that softens me and helps me connect with others.

I’ve recently changed my phone answering message from

  • You’ve reached the massage practice of Barbara Helynn Heard


  • Thank you for calling the massage practice of Barbara Helynn Heard”.

I changed my phone message after hearing a “thank you for calling” phone message of one of my student’s answering machines and noticing how really good I felt when I heard her phone message. (Thank you   Renee from Vebona Wellness Center!)

I also continually look for opportunities to thank people. Each time I thank someone, I strengthen loving relationship in my life and my joy grows.

This word tool came to me from the Foundation of I.


The word “good” is another key word I use in giving massage. Sometimes when I move a person’s arm or leg to stretch their joint or to test its range of motion, the recipient instinctively either tightens their muscles or begins to move their limb themselves.

This is rather like when in partner dancing the follower stiffens because they feel nervousness or because they don’t know the dance. Flow is lost. When this happens in massage sessions I sometimes hear massage therapists say with a mild scolding and condescending tone of voice,” You’re helping me…

Good. Good, good, good” is the response I find works miracles in this situation. When my client internalizes the message “good” more often than not they immediately let their guard down, and their limbs immediately allow themselves to be moved. I murmur, “Good. Good, good, good” just barely loud enough for the recipient to hear.
This word tool came to me from John Calvi.


Please read these two sentences out loud and feel their energy.

  • The back is bothering me today.”
  • My back is bothering me today.”

Did you feel a difference in energy? In my practice I frequently hear the first pattern “the leg”, “the back”, “the shoulder”, and so on. I find that when my clients and I identify our hurting parts as belonging to us by using the possessive language “my leg”, “my back” or “my shoulder” that pain decreases.

Try it out. Does it work for you too?

Insight into the use of possessives came to me from Mastery Systems


Similarly, I find that when I talk to my injured body part saying, “Shoulder, you belong to me” or “Shoulder, you are part of me” my tension and pain decreases. I’ve noticed that when I say these words my core muscles engage to give my shoulder more support which allows my shoulder to relax.

Try it out, please. Does it work for you too?


More on the subject of injured body parts….. Oftentimes people refer to an injured part of their body as “bad”. They say “my bad leg” or “my back is bad” or “my bad ear”. In fact, these parts of our bodies may be doing a miraculous job of either healing or of functioning within limitations.

I suggest that these parts of our bodies are truly marvelous! We’d be in big trouble without them!!

I find that using neutral or positive wording supports healing. Here are some possibilities:

  • my special leg
  • my leg that was injured
  • my healing leg
  • my leg that needs extra TLC


Sometimes my massage patients comment “Ooh, I’m really tight there!”or they ask me “Can you feel how tight my back is?” When they comment on tension in their muscles I reply “Yes,I feel it. Let it go.” or “Let’s help these muscles to soften up”.  With this response I acknowledge the tightness and then immediately verbalize a picture of the desired outcome.

I learned this lesson years ago by being on the receiving end. Noticing the soreness in my buttock muscles I exclaimed, “Wow! I am so tight there!” When my experienced massage therapist mildly replied, “just let it go” my muscles softened as if he had flipped their on and off switch. This was an important lesson for me.

I’ve found that whether spoken by the therapist or the client, observations highlighting tight muscles which are not immediately followed with a description of the desired change make those muscles tighten even more.

Observations of tension are like red lights; they can make us stop and pay attention. Sometimes such comments are useful; they make a person aware of the situation. However, I find it critical to consistently follow “red light comments” with “green light comments” in which we tell those tight muscles to soften or let go.


While giving massage I talk with body parts and tissue. I especially talk with tissue that is tight or restricted in someway. When I feel knots in muscles or when a limb I’m moving feels stuck I say, “Hello leg!” or “Hello back!”.

Why do I talk to body tissues, and why does it work? I verbally greet body parts because of the potent energy the word “hello” holds for me. For over 50 years I’ve said hello with intention to connect with others. My body reacts at a very deep level to the word hello by creating an energetic connection between us.

So when I say “hello hip!” I immediately connect with that hip. This quality of presence helps tissue to feel supported, paid attention to and safe, and hence to relax and heal.


Aloha is an extraordinary word. You may have noticed that I often greet you with aloha when we meet in person or when I answer my phone. I also open letters with this greeting.

Aloha is a common greeting in Hawaii and is used for both hello and goodbye. Aloha also means love. The word aloha literally means “to be face to face with breath”. I experience aloha as “the spirit/breath in me greets the spirit/breath in you.” What an extraordinary way to connect with each other!!! Aloha.

I’ve heard this word tool from many Hawaiian resources.


Frequently while giving longer massage sessions my mind wanders. When I realize that my mind is only partially present, I simply recall my recipient’s name and my attention immediately returns to our session.

I’ve noticed that when I forget the name of persons I’m talking with I feel vaguely nervous and energetically separated. Then when I remember their name our conversation immediately flows more easily.
This is why in my classes I frequently ask my students, “Please remind me of your name” and why we frequently play name games.


Do you feel an energetic difference in these two sentences?

  • We must take care of the earth.
  • We must take care of our earth.

Using possessives creates the energy of ownership, and the privileges and responsibilities associated with ownership. I use possessives to intentionally highlight relationship. Sometimes I intentionally avoid using possessives in order to reduce potentially blaming or negative energy.

Do you sense a slight energetic difference in these sentences?
  • Your comment bothered me.
  • The comment you made bothered me.

Insight into the use of possessives came to me from Mastery Systems.


Avoid assigning ownership of your feelings to others to prevent living as victim.

For me, taking ownership for my own feelings is an even better choice than either of the above two sentences. Here’s the example:

  • I was bothered by the comment you made.

Other people can not bother me or make me mad. Rather, being bothered or getting mad is my response to what someone has done. Other individuals may have different emotional responses in the same situation. Some may feel amused, others sad, others determined, others delighted, etc.

Using language patterns in which I take responsibility for my own feelings rather than attributing them to others takes me out of victim language and gives me more control and choices in my own life.

The Center for Non Violent Communication teaches this concept.


Notice your breath as you read these sentences. Do you breathe more freely reading some of them? Which versions make positive change more likely in your life? Which make you feel better?

  1. I am lazy.
  2. In the past, I’ve been lazy.
  1. I get upset when….
  2. In the past, I’ve gotten upset when….
  1. I always forget to…..
  2. In the past, I’ve always forgotten to….

Deliberately choosing what we declare about ourselves can helps us to change our lives for the better.

In the past I’ve found it easy to declare negative things about myself using absolute language like that in the first sentences in the pairs above. Somehow using these negative declarations helped me feel either humble or self righteously honest. This can be dangerous! Repeating negative declarations in absolute language reinforces negative patterns and makes change difficult.
This word tool came to me from Mastery Systems.


This is a big one! English contains a myriad of words that simultaneously refer to an action or behavior while also expressing a basic emotional state with an underlying connection to a universal met or unmet human need.

Please, what does this mean??? Here is an example:
  • You abandoned me.”  
  • “I felt abandoned.”  
  • “I was abandoned.”

Here the neutrally stated situation is : "You left  and I think you should have stayed ".  The neutrally stated emotions might be sadness, fear, anger, loneliness. I might have an unmet universal human need for support and companionship. People can experience deep healing when they stop saying things like:

  • My mother abandoned me

and say instead something like:

  • My mother left our family when I was 5 and this was very hard for me.”

This language shift can move a person out victimhood and can increase the potential for forgiveness, for healing, and for embracing one’s own power.

Now let’s look at the opposite side of the coin. Perhaps I hear my daughter say “My mother emotionally abandoned me when I was young and spent her time on other people and activities.

When I listen under the surface of her words and differentiate the actions, her feelings and her universal human needs I can hear simply that she really wished I had given her more attention. I may guess that perhaps she felt lonely and resentful and that she longed for more support when she was younger, and perhaps she still does.

Listening under the surface this way helps relieve the sting of being accused of abandonment (a loaded term), and allows me to open healing conversation first with myself, and then with her.  I might begin the conversation with her like this, “Oh, did you feel lost and wish for more support when you were in middle school?”

Skill is needed not only to start conversations like this, but to keep them going when pain or anger comes up.   Skill is needed to separate factual descriptions of actions, the basic emotions and the universal human needs expressed in words like abandon, manipulate, degrade, humiliate, deride, and many more like them took me a lot! of practice to learn. This skill ican be learned!  This learning has truly transformed my life!

I still use expressive and juicy emotionally loaded words. I find that using them consciously is much different than using them unconsciously, as I did for years. And certainly having the skill to listen below the surface makes being on the receiving end of emotionally loaded words a much less overwhelming and disempowering experience.

This is a very brief summary of the foundation of NVC – non violent communication as taught by the Center for Non Violent Communication.


 Hmmmm, “no” has sometimes been a difficult word for me to say and to hear.

Most of us feel wonderful warmth or even thrill when we contribute to other people’s well being. And we also often feel badly if we suspect something we say or do might contribute to another's feeling disappointed or thinking negatively about us.

In the past if someone asked for my help, or if I simply thought that they needing help, I have easily been tempted to play the role of helper or even the rescuer. For me, helping has sometimes been the path of least resistance; it has come naturally and has made me feel good about myself.

While sometimes lending a helping hand is absolutely the best thing to do, at other times a better choice is either (1) to take care of my other responsibilities and not spreading myself too thin or (2) to let the “helpee” find a different solution and thereby develop skills themselves.

One graceful, though admittedly wordy, way to say “no” is to first thank the person for the invitation to offer help, then tell them what prevents me from saying yes, and then if possible suggest another resource and/or let them know I’m confident that they’ll find a solution.

Here’s a recent true example from my life.

  • The request: “How much can I pay you to code 4 or 5 pages of my website for me? I’m tearing my hair out trying to use this website building program and I’m in over my head.” (I could easily code the pages, and I’m immediately temped to say yes to her because of the way she asked. My rescuer is stimulated!)
  • My response: “Thank you for asking for my help. My work time and energy is now committed to supporting my clients and my Mana Lomi® students and teaching colleagues. You’ve got a good start on your website and I know you’ll succeed in the end. Here’s another resource you might try…(list the resource). Best wishes, Barbara Helynn Heard

I now consider the ability to say “no” as a true responsible adult skill.

I learned this word pattern from the Center for Non Violent Communication.


I find that specifically stating what I would like the another person to do is far more effective than telling them what I don’t like. Of course, the energy with which these things are said is more important than the words.

Here are a couple of examples:

Lower your voice, please” instead of “You’re talking too loud
Softer, please” instead of “that’s too deep

At the end of bodywork practice trades in my classes I ask students to give feedback by first sharing with their parter something they liked about the session – something that worked well. Then they can share specific ideas of ways to improve the session.

Here are a couple examples:
  • My body really relaxed during this session. I felt safe because you kept your hands on me the whole time. Next time you might work on going deeper.”
  • “I like the way you hum while you work. It’s soothing. Next time you might be a little gentler when you rotate a person’s shoulder.
I learned this pattern from Dr. Maka’ala Yates, developer of Mana Lomi®.


I often use this language pattern when I teach and also when I give massage. Here are some examples:

To my massage clients/patients:

  • What might it be like if you could freely move your arm in this position? 
  • What would be like if your body could trust just a little bit more? 
  • What might it feel like if your back were pain-free?
  • What might it be like to breath gently and easily
To students giving massage in my workshops:
  • What would it be like if you positioned your hips this way?
  • What would it be like if you relaxed your eyes?
  • What would it be like if you slowed down a bit?
  • What would it be like if you had x-ray vision in your hands and could specifically feel every muscle fiber, vein, nerve and bone?
  • What would it be like to touch with love
This word pattern came to me from Karen Clay of Somatic Unwinding®.


I find suggestions made in a direct voice are easier to follow that those made in passive voice. Here are some examples:

  • Breath gently into your back and open your eyes” VS “breathing gently into your back, open your eyes
  • Lower your arm” VS “lowering your arm could help

This pattern came to me from Dr. Maka’ala Yates, developer of Mana Lomi®.


Chanting and singing is a wonderful way to settle messages into our bodies. The settling becomes deeper and deeper with repetition. Expressing words and their associated messages using tone and rhythm is a full body experience which physically embeds the words and messages into our tissues.

Chanting and singing makes words easier to remember, and it certainly is FUN!

Here’s one of my favorite Mana Lomi® chants in Hawaiian with the English translation on the right:

                   E ALOHA                     DIVINE LOVE
E aloha kakou                We are loving
Ho’omau kakou              We persevere
Malama kakou               We are caring
Ikaika kakou                   We are strong

Makaukau kakou           We are prepared
‘Eleu kakou                     We are energetic
Hau’oli kakou                  We are happy
E pono kakou                  We are rightly aligned.

I learned many Hawaiian healing chants from Dr. Maka’ala Yates, developer of Mana Lomi®.


Intentionally repeating affirmations helps create their reality. They remind us of who we are and of our chosen truth for ourselves.

Trust is the direction I have chosen for myself this year (2010). Modeled on the format of the Mana Lomi® healing chants, this is an affirmation song I wrote and which I sing to myself to remind me to trust:


In Hawaiian

Ua piha ka’u pu’uwai,
Mai ka la hiki a ka la kau,
No na kau a kau.
Ke lelepau nei au.

In English:

My heart is full,
From sunrise to sunset,
from sunset to sunrise,
from winter to springtime,
from springtime to summer,
from summer to autumn,
from autumn to winter.
I trust, I trust, I trust.


Learning the word tools I shared above has transformed my life, and helps me live joyfully. These are only a few of the many healing word patterns available; this is certainly not an all inclusive list!

To learn more about the sources from which I learned these language patterns, I invite you to check out the resources listed in part 3 of this article.

E malama pono ~ take good care.

Barbara Helynn Robles

Copyrighted 2010 Barbara Helynn Heard

For more information visit www.lomilomi-massage
Email barbaraheard at msn dot com
Olympia, Washington  All materials are copyrighted. If you would like to post articles on your website or use it as training material, permission is granted as long as all contact and credit information remains intact. Thank you.