The Vinyasa of Getting Your Point Across

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Meet Vito Politano. I’ve been going to Vito’s classes for years now, and while working on my Warrior Two or crow pose I find myself noticing what Vito does to get our diverse class of yogis to do what he has in mind for us, the behavior he’s looking for, to take us somewhere purposeful. Just as good leaders strive to do in their organizations.

I can just imagine what Vito sees as we try to act on his instructions and we demonstrate a surprising range of interpretations — left instead of right; head down instead of up… How does Vito get the strays back on the yoga bus, help them achieve something useful? Recently, I had coffee with him to test my hypotheses and learn more. (Vito’s ability as a communicator is especially interesting considering he has a morbid fear of public speaking from his earliest days.) So, if he can be an impactful communicator, with effort, so can you or your leader.

Break it down into pieces. Don’t start with the punchline.
"My goal is to take people through the easy things first, which then add up to a more complex pose. Learning and recognizing those building blocks makes it easier when you’re in a tougher pose later."

Observe their responses.
Are people doing as you ask? Are they following your lead or wandering somewhere else? "When I see that people are not understanding, sometimes it’s because people are in their old ways, in their groove, in their previous version of the experience. They’re not refusing; they just go straight to their Warrior Two rather than being really present in that moment. I snap people out of their habits, get them to think about what they are doing. I have compassion for people who just want to get to the pose, but I want them to manage their energy, their focus, not be rote about it. I adapt what I say based on what I see them do; it’s critical feedback."

Be human.
“I know you don’t want to do this right now.” Use humor, share your own imperfections. It’s pretty funny sometimes in yoga classes, falling over in balancing poses, the distance between Vito’s demonstration and how close we can get. Vito shares his own difficulties, totally gets our yoga-mad faces as we struggle with a seemingly endless plank on forearms.

Make it feel possible. Acknowledge when it’s working.
"If I feel someone is on the cusp of reaching a new level, I’ll help them get there. Progress is very personal and I meet people where they are. And I’ll get excited when I see people really in it, like with Half Moon, when they’re not just trying not to fall over. When someone or the class really is getting it, I say 'Yes, that’s it!' Not as a gratuitous cheerleader, more like one that wants you to truly succeed."

Set expectations.
"We’re going to be in this pose for awhile." (No surprises is especially important when the news is unwelcome...)

Bring out your inner Italian.
You have more than words in your communication arsenal; in fact, your whole body speaks. Your face signals feelings, your presence around a room, how you use the space, how you show as well as tell help to deepen your message.

Repeat your message. Change the words you use.
“Half the class will get it right when I say ‘right leg up.’ I say it again, most of the rest are there. Then, I’ll rephrase: I’ll say 'by right leg I mean not your left leg,’ or ‘traditional meaning of right.’ People hear things differently and sometimes it takes time to process and translate into action. And, again, humor always helps."

Either let it go or double down.
"If we’re going to be in a position too long while getting stragglers on board, and it doesn’t really matter, I’ll move on. If it’s just not happening today, that’s ok. If it’s a matter of safety, and getting it right takes people somewhere important, I’ll insist."

Have a higher purpose.
"It’s my job to get the class to another level than how they entered the room. If it’s a really loud room when I walk in, I calm it down. If it’s low energy, I try to raise it up. And people are here for community as well as personal time. So I use names, so they come to know each other a little as well; we’re in this together. Otherwise people could just be at home doing yoga with a DVD.” And as individuals, make it personal. I start each class asking people to have an intention, to dedicate this time, and to extend the practice to someone on their mind.

"My intention every time is bringing my highest to your highest.” (That’s essentially what Namaste means, the best in you recognizing the best in others.)

"The word Vinyasa — It is often used to describe ‘movement with breath,’ which implicitly indicates mindfulness, however, it is more directly translated as to 'place with care.' There is a Vinyasa of language — to use words and make meaning with care. Being conscientious about what you say, your intent."

For more wisdom from Vito, check out his blog. Namaste.