Nonviolent Communications (NVC)

What is Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and how does it fit with Felt-Sense Yoga?


NVC is the common acronym used for Nonviolent Communication. NVC is a consciousness supported by specific practices of communicating nonviolently. Violence in communication includes judging, bullying, blaming, discriminating, speaking without listening, criticizing, reacting when angry, being defensive, and name-calling. I know there are more descriptions of violent communication, but these words point in the basic direction.


As communication, NVC is about relating to others, but it is also about how we relate (and speak) to ourselves. The cornerstone of NVC is empathy. Empathy in NVC is given by identifying your own (for self-empathy) or another’s feelings and (universal) needs. A list of Feelings and Universal Needs is an indispensable tool for anyone learning or practicing NVC. (See my version of a Feelings and Needs list here). Empathy is classically offered in the format, “Are you feeling _____, because you are needing (or valuing) ________.”


Here is an example, “Are you feeling lonely, because you are needing companionship.”


Another example, “Are you feeling grateful, because you value acceptance.”


This seems both simple and stilted. Often when people are learning NVC they dislike the formula (the sentence “are you feeling ____ because you are needing / valuing ____.”), finding it awkward. People learning NVC also struggle with many words that seem like feelings but aren’t and that seem like needs and aren’t. These are words like disrespected, insulted, and blamed where by using them the speaker is implicating another person and not just speaking about their own experience. Often if one thinks one has been disrespected one might feel angry, defensive, disappointed, and/or hurt. 


By guessing at another’s or your own feelings and needs using an NVC list and formula, you can offer empathy — an understanding and naming of what is alive for that person in that moment. My experience of empathy has been, first, it is incredibly relieving and soothing: instead of spinning with emotions, empathy helps me land in what is really happening for me, what is really alive for me, where all the energy is. Empathy is also tremendously clarifying for me: once I have landed with the feelings and needs alive for me in a given situation, how I want to respond because much clearer, because I am clear about what is most important to me, most alive for me.


It does take some work to learn the NVC Feelings and Needs and the formula and apply it in this way. For me, it felt like learning a foreign language. It was awkward and annoying at first. It didn’t feel very powerful. As I stuck with it, I have found it to be life-giving. I sometimes refer to empathy as magic; it has that quality of being able to shift or dissolve a situation like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.


I found NVC because after learning yoga, learning several meditation techniques, and becoming a teacher of both, I felt that there was a missing piece. I felt I needed something to bridge the innerwork of yoga and meditation to my outer world, to my relationships and how I am in the world. I wanted tools for connecting with people that were commensurate with the inner work of yoga, zen, and MBSR. I wanted something systematic, concrete, tangible, solid. NVC is all this for me. The more I study and practice NVC, the deeper and more valuable it becomes.


I have found that having a facility with body sensations, self-regulation techniques, and concentration skills to be critical to being able to not only identify (guess and find resonance) feelings and needs, but to let empathy land and sink into me so that I can shift how I respond to myself, others, and external circumstances. To me the practices of yoga, meditation, and NVC are all part of a larger practice of growing into an emotional mature and responsible human with some skill at relieving our timeless suffering. This work has meant so much to me, that I devote as much of my life energy that I can to practicing it and sharing it.