Marvin Oka – Facilitating Wellness Conciousness Through Languaging

Marvin Oka is a renowned international management consultant and recognised world leader in the field of behavioural modeling. Yet when you sit down to talk with him, you don’t feel like you are sitting with a hard-nosed leadership guru, but rather with an expert and philosopher who cares deeply for the chiropractic profession. Today, we are talking about wellness languaging – how the words we use to frame our message are far more important than we think.

In his travels, Oka often asks the question of chiropractors, “How many of you talk now with your clients or with people who ask you what you do? When you explain what chiropractic is, how many of you get misunderstood?” It’s a common dilemma the world over. We come up against a bias. There’s a problem with what happens next though: we take that message and broadcast it even though it isn’t facilitating the level of awareness we want.

This brings us to what Oka calls ‘the experts dilemma.’

“When someone becomes an expert in their particular field, if their living is based on people buying their products or services, they have to learn to communicate value in a different language. They have to connect, and if they don’t understand the language other people speak, they can’t do that.  

So they now have a triple issue. They’ve got to have content mastery, to be able to articulate what they are on about, their expertise. They’ve got to be able to understand other forms of world views, and they’ve got to figure out how to translate. It’s quite doable but you’ve got to know that’s what you’re doing,” said Oka in a recent interview with Spinal Research.

When it comes to facilitating wellness consciousness, where do we start? Oka believes we’ve got to appreciate language itself.

“There are three great mysteries in the universe,” says Oka as he recalls an ancient proverb. “The first is this – to a bird what is air? The second is – to a fish what is water? The third is – to a human, what is language? If we break that apart we realise a bird lives in air. It can fly in air. It can soar and swoop in air. It lives it’s freedoms in air. Yet if you asked it what it is, and if it could speak, it wouldn’t be able to tell you. It just is. A fish lives in water. It swims in it, plays in it, lives in it. Yet if you asked it what water is, it would say ‘what are you talking about?’ To a human, what is our world? What creates our world, and our subjective experience of our world?”

The answer is language. Yet so few of us make a study of how it works and how we use it. Language possesses a unique power to not only form the narrative around how we think or feel, but to influence our thoughts, feelings and state of being in a very powerful way.

“If I ever said ‘have you had a good day, or ‘have you had a bad day?’, the next question would be ‘how do you know?’ You might say ‘it felt right, or ‘it felt bad. The way you language it will affect not only your narrative, but your very experience. You language it into existence. If someone isn’t aware of the way they use language, they’re basically hypnotising themselves into an existence,” says Oka.

He is referring to the way that our words can enhance our positive or negative feelings on an experience. But this is only the starting point. Our language can help form our identity, our relationship to people and even our relationship to wellness or illness. How does this work? Take for example the word “relationship”. Most of us think this is a noun – a thing. But Oka explains that its actually a nominalisation or a verb. “A relationship isn’t something we have, it is something we do.”

So how does language affect the relationship?

  • If you were to say you had a bad relationship with someone, it would evoke a set of feelings.
  • Those feelings might have you feeling stuck, sad, or frustrated among other things.
  • The narrative you form around those words could affect your approach to the relationship.

Oka illustrates a simple point here: change the word ‘relationship’ to the phrase ‘the way I relate’ or ‘our manner of relating’ and you’ve got a whole new ball game. Suddenly, ‘the way I relate’ is something you can change or impact. It’s no longer a fixed thing over which you have no control. You’ve now got options.

“The map is not the territory. If you ever confuse a map for the territory, things get a little strange,” says Oka, as he explains that our narrative forms the map of the way see the world. “If our map is wrong, things get confused. We navigate life and living in a strange way. It’s just like when you go to a restaurant, you don’t eat the menu. I don’t mistake the menu for the real food. That is what happens when we don’t understand our air, our water, and our language that we are living in.”

How does this tie in to chiropractic and wellness language?

Abracadabra is a word that pops up in many a fantasy novel or magic show. It’s played off as nonsense, but Oka brings an interesting fact to the table. It’s actually Hebrew in origin, and it means “I create what I speak.”

All of us do it. We create our reality through our narrative, be it positive or negative, active or passive, static or dynamic. Through every interaction we have with family, friends or even patients, we can hear the ‘abracadabra’ in their narrative. They are creating their world through the words they speak, just like we are.

“I’m just like this. Always have been, always will be.

“The situation is hopeless.

“I can’t learn technical information. I’m not smart like that.

“I’ve got this illness. I’ll have to deal with it for the rest of my life.

Oka explains that this is a very important thing to observe in the patient/practitioner relationship. There is a certain weight that a patient gives their practitioners words, and thus the way we frame up their situation or condition has gravitas. He explains that simple phrases can make all the difference.

“You can use phrases like ‘up until now’, ‘in the past’, or ‘yet.’ I’ve never been good at learning technical things…up until now. [When you add that last phrase] all of that gets moved into the past. In the present you are freed up. It’s like saying abracadabra. You now have choices. It’s like magic.

If I operate off an old map [that tells me I can’t understand technical things] then for the rest of my life, I can’t understand technical things. When we start to understand the power of language, we realise we are saying ‘abracadabra’ every time we speak.We can’t be irresponsible with language. We can ‘abracadabra’ them into a state of being,” says Oka, explaining how we form an narrative and that narrative can form an identity.

“But who we are is not a pronoun. It’s an ongoing set of processes. We are human beings – A verb. How we are being creates where we are going next. We are also human becomings.

So, you are a chiropractor. A patient shows up saying “I’ve got this issue or that issue.” What do you do?

  1. Listen to your own internal languaging. How are you languaging, or framing up, what the issue is for the patient? You’ve just created a way of relating that can create their world for them. Are you saying “we’ve got an L4 subluxation, we know what to do?” Or are you saying “I can see what/how you’re doing and I can see how we can free this up. What you can be or do in the future is so much more than what you are now.” All of a sudden your care for them can take them to places.
  2. Introduce subtle languaging that puts the problem in the past and puts options into the future. Using phrases like “up until now,” or “yet” or “at this point” can be very powerful. This subtle change in language has the potential to put the issue in the past, or to bring improvement into the realm of possibility again.  The flip side is equally as powerful. “If a chiropractor is unaware and says ‘how is your scoliosis?’ you can lock in an identity for them. This is something they have. Their ‘I’ is being kept as a noun instead of a verb.”
  3. Use the power of mindfulness and expectation to help them recognise, notice and appreciate the changes that are happening or about to happen. This can be done through simple questions, Oka asserts. Don’t just ask how they feel. “Call their attention to what you want them to notice. ‘I’m about to adjust this… Take a breath and start to notice what’s different. What starts to free up? What changes for you?” says Oka. This presupposes that something is happening. It facilitates a wellness consciousness, using mindfullness to draw them right into what is occuring in their body. It also uses expectation in order to build something Oka and his behavioural modeling colleages call ‘response potential.’
  4. Make sure they walk out wiser as to how to manage themselves. “They need to be slowly taught and coached in wellness. We do this through language. That’s the way we relate to them, as someone who can do It helps them become a more conscious person when it comes to wellness.” Essentially, it changes them from being a patient, to being someone who you are going on a wellness journey with.

Language can have a profound impact on people, as narrative impacts perception, expectation and even identity. By understanding this and introducinge even the most subtle of changes, we can start to empower people to a far greater degree.

*Marvin Oka is the co-author of the mBraining. Find out more information here:


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