Language Matters: Empathy in Action

Feelings / Needs Literacy

Feelings Need Lit.jpg

Compassion Practices could be said to be central to yoga and timeless in relevance.


Language can be a powerful compassion practice. Language is Empathy in Action. 


Basic Needs and Feelings is a tool to understand how needs and feelings have a perpetuating, symbiotic relationship. Feelings Needs Literacy can help us understand the actions and words of others in context to the point of view of the person or group. 

This Feelings-Needs Literacy Tool (click image for PDF) can be used to identify a feeling, and then link the feeling with what Basic Human needs are being met or unmet. 

When basic needs are met, positive feelings have a presence: 

Ex.) When my worker thanked me for helping her out, I felt touched and optimistic. 


When basic needs are not met, dissonance and other incongruent feelings are present: 

Ex.) When I was discouraged from talking about a friend who was lost to suicide, I felt irritated, confused, and angry. 

This is a powerful journaling and discussion clarifier, as well as way to identify useful practices for personal health. 

Feelings-Needs Literacy is used not only in individual work. Dr. Rosenberg, the creator of Nonviolent Communication, was consulted for corporate, academic, national, and international negotiations. Interestingly, he tells a remembrance in his book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion, of his experience of growing up in racially divided Detriot in the 1940s.  His work was inspired by his experiences of disunity. His work is foundational to seeking ways to create dynamic, responsive, living unity via compassionate language. 

It starts with me, perhaps with us, understanding our own Basic Needs, and their connection to my feelings. When I am unsure why I am feeling a certain feeling (like irritated or nervous), looking over the Basic Needs list helps me identify what Basic Need is needing attention and intention from me. It works with positive feelings too; I can link positive feelings to Basic Need and ensure I incorporate life practices to provide these needs for myself. 

Empathy is understanding meaning and feeling in context. This tool is one way to do this for ourselves and others.


1. The Yoga Sutras, various sources, authors, versions. 

2. Rosenberg, M. B. (2002). Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion. Encinitas, CA: Puddledancer press. 

3. Clark, Arthur. Various writings on Empathy. 

4. McLaren, Karla. (2013). The Art of Empathy. Sounds True.