SPEAKING your Yoga: The Practice of Non-Violent Communication

As many of us travel home for the holidays, we are faced with a challenge different then getting our arms pretzeled into a bind in side-angel. In fact, we might find ourselves already tied, in a much more difficult bind: the intersections of our families, the knots of our roots.

While everyone’s family is uniquely different, after working as therapist in family systems I can say with confidence that everyone’s roots have a few knots, no matter how ‘beaver-cleaver’ they may appear! And often, who we want to be becomes difficult to embody, when we return to a structure so deeply embedded in our psyche. All of a sudden, years of yogic calm go out the window when your dad reminds you how to do the dishes. (Love you dad!)

While I have nothing but love, appreciation, and gratitude for my family– I have found that sometimes it’s the one’s we love the most that are the one’s easiest to hurt. And so my commitment to myself and my family is that this year, I will bring my yoga home with me, not by bringing my mat, but by bringing new words.

Marshall Rosenberg, author of Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life argues that conflict and violence occur as a result of our needs not being met. For example, instead of stating a need to feel appreciated, we might instead making nagging passive-aggressive comments to a partner, which creates a negative cycle for both people involved.

Instead, Dr. Rosenberg argues there are four steps to communicating with compassion—for me, all of these are directly tied to, and cultivated in my yoga practice.

1). Observe: The yoga principal of ‘witness mind’.  Taking the time to observe the facts (what we are seeing, hearing, or touching) as distinct from our evaluation of meaning and significance. NVC discourages static generalizations. It is said that “When we combine observation with evaluation others are apt to hear criticism and resist what we are saying.” Instead, a focus on observations specific to time and context is recommended.

2). Feelings: emotions or sensations, free of thought and story.  In yoga, we might call these the vritti (or whirlpool) of thoughts that pass across our chitta (pure consciousness).  Our feelings are to be distinguished from thoughts, and then shared. Identifying feelings allows us to more easily connect with one another, and “Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable by expressing our feelings can help resolve conflicts.”

3). Needs:  To understand our own needs, we must use Satya, or truth and honesty. Sometimes, it takes deep self-study (svadhyaya) to understand what we are truly after. Do we really want the kitchen clean or do we want to feel respected by those in our household? It is posited that “Everything we do and say is in service of our needs.”

4). Request: To speak with ahimsa (non-violence) we must be willing to make ourselves vulnerable and ask for our needs, instead of expecting, coercing, or demanding them. Requests are distinguished from demands in that one is open to hearing a response of “no” without this triggering an attempt to force the matter. If one makes a request and receives a “no” it is recommended not that one give up, but that one empathize with what is preventing the other person from saying “yes,” before deciding how to continue the conversation. It is recommended that requests use clear, positive, concrete action language.

If we can observe, identify, and then, VOICE our thoughts, feelings, needs and requests, we have opened a door to not only allowing our needs to be met, but allowing someone else to met us there safely, with compassion.

During the holiday season, a time of stress, of emotion, and often of family togetherness, it is all the more important to make the commitment to pack your yoga, and carry it home with you. Bring it to those you love, and to those who need love. Let your gift to others be honesty and truth, a chance at reconciliation—gifts that, while not as flashy as others, will not break or fade with the passing of the season.

**This post is written with the utmost gratitude and love for my family–my knots– who have given me both roots and wings, and the greatest example of commitment, even when I tangled things up. **

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