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Embodying your practice through the principles of nonviolent communication to support relational well-being.

So you've done your yoga practice, you did yogic breathing, and now you see the effects on your body and mind. But how do you do yoga OFF the mat** when it's most needed? In the moments when you struggle in your relationships and get triggered and lost? Perhaps it is your intimate partner, your mother, your friends, or your colleagues. How do you access the language that fits your embodied yoga practice and helps you through conflict?

When we face difficult moments in conversations, there are several components present: the state of our physiology and our nervous system, our past and our wounds, our momentary feelings and needs, as well as the component of language and thinking. What we are looking for is a combination of being able to regulate our own reactions (this is where the yoga practice and the breathwork are so useful), feeling ourselves, and then being able to clearly communicate with and listen to our counterparts. 

As I was exploring these topics over the years in different contexts, I realized that in body-oriented groups, the participants would naturally speak the language of feelings and needs once they felt safe enough in the group. On the other hand, they were not necessarily able to reproduce this know-how of openness and connection when they were in a state of conflict. 

In groups where nonviolent communication was trained, people had the language know-how but they often lacked a good felt sense of their bodies, thus making the practice a bit more stiff and less natural. This has been one of my quests in my work and practice: how to combine the knowledge and wisdom of our body with conscious communication practice. 

When I coach my clients and couples, I help them to slow down the conversation, and press pause, so we can see in higher resolution what is happening.

What is nonviolent communication?

Nonviolent communication (NVC) is a needs-based approach to conflict resolution, originally developed by Marshall Rosenberg. It offers a simple structure as a guideline for blame- and criticism-free self-expression:

  1. What do I observe that is a trigger for me? How can I express it clearly and without interpretations? E.g. When I see you looking at your phone for the past 10 minutes as we sit here together…
  2. What do I feel and sense in response to that? Can I just feel it in my body? Can I then name purely the feeling and distinguish it from my thoughts? E.g. I feel sad… {as opposed to: I feel like you don’t care]
  3. What need of mine is my feeling pointing to? How can I name the quality of that need in positive language? E.g. Because I would love to have more of your attention now. 
  4. What would I like to happen now? What is my clear and doable request for the other person? E.g. Could you put away the phone now for 10 minutes, so we can have a conversation?

And there is more. It is not just how we speak, it is how we listen. Through this practice, I can expand the sense of choice in the words that I use to self-express while having the same choice in how I hear others.

How can nonviolent communication help you?

I do this a lot as a mediator and it is sometimes like a treasure hunt. Whatever I hear from the parties involved, I try to guess and uncover the feelings and the hidden needs that are often not clearly named. This is the beauty of the practice: bringing to the surface our desires, the qualities that we long for in our lives and our relationships, and naming them.

And when I am able to connect to that precisely enough in spoken empathy, the body shows a sense of “yes”, in the form of a relieving exhale, reduced tension in the body, a slowing down of the speech, and sometimes tears come, as we touch the life in us and feel touched, or as we mourn not meeting our need.

So, let’s get off our mats and continue our practice.

**  “Yoga off the mat” is a term that I like, coined by Martin Sittek, co-founder of Alpha Yoga School.

This article was written by our beloved Nonviolent Coach, Ivana Horakova.

Ivana Horakova is a certified Nonviolent Communication trainer, mediator, and Somatic Experiencing practitioner.  She offers online sessions for couples and regular conflict resolution trainings in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. She is also trained as a hatha yoga teacher. You can find more about her work at ivanahorakova.com

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