Mighty Gumby and the Importance of Flexible Strength 

Ouch! Traveling can be painful. Three weeks of planes, rental cars and unfamiliar beds have wreaked havoc on my back muscles. Plus, I was foolish and did not heed my own advice which is the key point of this article.

Flexibility and Strength are not mutually exclusive and should be worked on in tandem as much as possible. I am thinking of tattooing this reminder on my arm.

Are you one of those naturally flexible people who can do touch your toes without too much trouble? I have always admired this ability since I am not the most limber person in the world. When I was seven years old I struggled more than the other girls at the bar in ballet class. My muscles just didn’t seem as gumby-like as the graceful ballerinas. I was envious and realized that I wouldn’t be joining the circus as an acrobat anytime soon.

After my traumatic dance class experience I longed to be a combination of Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman. The power, adaptability and super hearing abilities were alluring to me. I also longed to possess a “Truth Lasso” for obvious reasons.

Though I wasn’t able to touch to toes as a child, I did have strong leg muscles so I gravitated towards sports like soccer, track and cycling. I started weight lifting in college and ultimately joined the army where the goal was to do as many push-ups I could in a two minutes. Strength trumped flexibility because it was easier. Little did I realize how this one sided focus could cause imbalance, restriction and injury. Why did my lower back always get pulled into a painful knot? Why would my neck become so tight that I couldn’t look up?

Photo by Nancy Martch who is pictured below

Neck strain and back pain are so common in our stressed out and hectic world that Yoga centers are popping up everywhere to help unwind, relax and balance the masses.   This year in Austin I’ve been practicing yoga with a steady frequency and I was feeling great. In retrospect, my vacation plans to visit friends and family for my birthday should have included stretching and breathing exercises to keep me in balance. Oh when will I ever learn?

Many people don’t fully understand and appreciate the importance of balancing flexibility and strength. Here’s a good, simple way to think about it:

  • Increasing flexibility without strength results in joint instability.
  • Increasing strength without flexibility results in soft tissue tears, sprains and postural changes.

Thankfully three strong, lithe friends came into my life over the last 15 years and introduced me the power and healing benefits of the ancient practice. What Heidi started in San Diego in 2002, Nancy and Clarissa continue to inspire me to reach for my toes and beyond.

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Photo by Barry Staver

Elastic power leads to balance and stability, helping us physically and mentally in our personal and professional lives. Being grounded and level headed makes you a confident more assertive speaker and leader.

Here’s some great advice I received in yoga class: Flexibility needs to be supported by strength and stability.

Now I happily compliment my push-ups with the all -important child’s pose. My weight lifting reps are interspersed with the ever helpful downward facing dog.

Over the years I have come to marvel at how much yoga has improved my bicycling skills and strength and how my core strength has made my yoga poses so much more grounded.

Too much of any one good thing can lead to trouble and a wonderful blend of complimentary things can launch us to higher levels of achievement and satisfaction.

 

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Strong and flexible muscles are happy and less prone to injury.

So be like a mighty Gumby- your back and neck muscles will thank you!

 

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Soulful Servings 

Getting healthy dose of quality communication with others and can do wonders for your soul. But how often do we get a full and balanced serving of it?

Taking a vacation with a long time friend is fun and rejuvenating, especially when you can connect with the child-like spirit you once possessed.  This year’s getaway was to the west coast of Florida and I was thrilled to have a three day road trip with my dear friend Andrea.

Our time together was just what the doctor ordered and our interaction time was extended, genuine and authentic.  We told stories, shared dreams and lamented the woes of the world.  We were together and connecting without the use of an electronic device, just like we did in the 1980s when we met.

I had full, balanced and delicious meals of communication that left me happy and satisfied. I can’t tell you how much I have missed live expression, eye contact and nuance in my connections with others. All the things we are lacking in our frenzied life of online interaction with what’s called the “Snackification” of communication, I got to enjoy and experience it in the flesh.

Since it is the Lent season, Andrea and I have decided to give up Angst. Relaxing and restoring a sense of balance were our main objectives and I think we have met our goals.

There are many different forms of communication in today’s online world: written (texts, emails, letters), verbal (phone, FaceTime) and social media (posts, blogs and tweets). To me, nothing beats good old fashioned face to face sharing.

As I reflect on these last few days I can’t help but feel blessed and thankful for being able to spend quality time with good friends and family.  This is what a full and balanced life is all about and I was so happy consume and savor my Soulful Serving!

 

The Fool on the Hill and the Judgement Card

There is nothing like a good tarot card reading, a pending move to a new state and a bizarrely disgusting election news cycle to get me to look at things in an altered way.  An Agile Life encourages us to have frequent Retrospectives to review what is going well, what is blocking us and what we can do differently.

I view tarot cards as a mirror to the heart and soul and they often reflect thoughts and notions back to us in a new light.

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Below is a story about the Judgement Card, taken from the website Aeclectic Tarot“.

“There is no way to leave the past behind,” The Angel observes. “Each step wears down the shoe just a bit, and so shapes the next step you take, and the next and the next. Your past is always under your feet. You cannot hide from it, run from it, or rid yourself of it. But you can call it up, and come to terms with it. Are you willing to do that?

The Angel hands the Fool a small trumpet. The Fool is hesitant, but he knows that the Angel is right. There are certain memories he has a hard time looking back on as they make him feel guilty, ashamed, angry. He knows that he’s never come to terms with what happened and he must if he wants to make that final transition.”

Here are some retrospective thoughts and questions based my drawing of the Judgement Card last night:

Are we able to resurrect the past, forgive it and let it go?

Do we need to start something we’ve been putting off or have the courage to finally end something that isn’t good for us?

Is it time to move on?

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As I bask in the glorious autumn weather of Colorado and watch the leaves turn to orange, yellow and red, I remember that they will all fall to the ground soon, dead but nurturing to the soil below. I also have faith that the leaves will be reborn in the spring as the seasons continue to roll by.

I have hope that after the cold winter, there will be a better, brighter season but in the mean time…

It’s time forgive and move on to more important things.

Knowing What We’ve Got

Being sick while on vacation has put me in a philosophical mood.  Yesterday I reflected on the labyrinth.

Today I was well enough to fully appreciate an easy jog on a cactus-lined trail.  My senses were heightened as I savored every minute of my normally routine and bland morning exercise.    The old adage “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” kept repeating in my formerly stuffed head.


Then I started branching my thoughts and thinking of other things I have taken for granted and don’t appreciate enough.

Things like Integrity.

Honesty. Liberty.  Respect.

Things like Health, Happiness and Serenity.

Priceless things like Gratitude, Friendship and Honor.

I take none of the things for granted and cherish them more each day.   It’s amazing what a clear head in the desert can do for you!

Reflecting on the Labyrinth

Reflecting on the Labyrinth

I started my vacation journey with the expressed goal of relaxing, resting and reflecting.  Little did I know that outside events and internal viruses would so dramatically change my point of view.

It all started at the airport in Denver, when shortly before our departure, I perused Facebook and was shocked to learn to that a fellow Toastmaster had died the night before, within an hour of giving a speech.  Wow…  I had no words.

 


Retrospectives have been a big focus for me these past weeks as I’ve been writing and speaking on the topic since the beginning of the year.  Now, as I am cooped up in a desert hotel with the humbling head cold, I am further forced to slow down and reflect on life’s crazy path, journey or maze, depending on your perspective.

I am intentionally trying to avoid reading the news updates from the outside world but it is difficult to shield myself from the bizarre and unsettling stories about crazy killing Uber drivers and an egomaniac billionaire who may win a nomination for president of the United States.  The calls to fasten my seat belt on this nauseating narrative have caused me to want to curl into the fetal position and never check Facebook or CNN again.

A positive ray of hope entered my sheltered yet wounded psyche yesterday when I came across a poem while sitting in a waiting room.  It was written by Caroline Adams and started with ” Your Life is a sacred journey”.  It’s powerful message spoke to me about change, growth, discovery and transformation.  It encouraged me to expand my vision on what is possible and to see clearly and deeply.

Caroline’s words kindly comforted me as she reminded me that I am on a Path- exactly where I am meant to be right now.  And from here, I can only go forward. Shaping my life story into a magnificent tale……


And now I sit, I write and I reflect.  I am eager to get out of my room and go explore the labyrinth that’s down the sandy path in this beautiful desert. I am ready to experience the joy of life more fully now that I am again reminded that nothing lasts forever and every moment is a gift.

I am reminded that Life is a sacred journey and should never be taken for granted, no matter how badly we feel.  Nothing lasts forever. Not the high, not the low, not the happy, not the sad.  The Labyrinth of Life just keeps going until it doesn’t.  I’m going enjoy and appreciate it now while I can.

Resolutions, Reviews and Retrospectives

Resolutions, Reviews and Retrospectives

As a matter of course, I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions until at least February and this year, I have not made any.

Since I am a Scrum Master striving to lead an Agile Life, I’ve started planning and living my life in 2 week iteration (sprints) and am doing my first Sprint Review and Retrospective today. It is so much easier to set and achieve goals in a short 2-3 week period rather than the whole year. Plus it makes me very happy and excited to move my yellow sticky note user stories from the “In Progress” to the “Done” column (I know I am a total geek. See my article on Confessions of a Dashboard Junkie for further proof).

It is satisfying to have rapid feedback and visualization on the completion of your small, bite-sized chunk goals (user stories) and it is important to do a thorough review of the Sprint Board at the end of each iteration to determine what is still In Progress and/or what is not started in the To Do column.

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In the Retrospective, you can reflect on what you were able to complete and why, as well as what prevented you from starting or finishing a user story. Were there obstacles or unforeseen circumstances that interfered with you completing all your goals or did you simply procrastinate? Be brutally honest with yourself and strive to improve your process in the next sprint which starts tomorrow.

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The outcome of your Retrospective is a mini New Sprint Resolution and provides input to your next Sprint Plan.  This is why I don’t need New Year’s Resolutions anymore!

The Sprint Plan is done on the 1st day of the sprint and includes all of the user stories (goals) you want to complete in the next time period. It is meant to be a realistic picture of what you commit to getting done based on your understanding of the size and scope of the various items.

Living an Agile Life is rewarding, effective and less stressful than making huge blanket resolutions on some arbitrary date at the beginning of the year. Besides, your goals for the time period of Jan. 1-15 will probably be very different than your goals for Sep. 15-30. Conducting your Reviews and Retrospectives every 2 weeks will help you quickly analyze and adjust your life plans and goals as needed plus you will get so much more accomplished than if you didn’t track and plan with your Sprint board.

So here’s a toast to happy and healthy Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives!

May the Agile force be with you.

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Hedgehogs, Play-Doh and Crayons: A Return to Adult Creativity

There’s been a plethora of articles on the rising popularity of adult coloring books lately and this particular one caught my attention and inspired me to expand on the idea and share with you my recent adventures in the world of coloring, art and sculpting with a hedgehog named Ernie.

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The answer to the question posed in the article referenced above was simple for me since it is what prompted me to add color to Mandalas back in 2006. Why are jaded adults buying stacks of coloring books? For me and many of my friends, it is for Insight, Healing and Self-Expression. Coloring is calming and peaceful and when small, furry friends like Ernie are included, it is just plain fun!

How else can we explain that last month, 8 of the 20 top selling books on Amazon were  coloring books designed for adults?  Here’s an interesting WSJ article that further explores these trends.

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This new phenomena is also helping to connect us in a real, live and tangible way. Public libraries are offering spaces to host adult coloring with sessions titled “Stress Relief through Doodling” and a wellness coach in San Diego hosts “Color Yourself Calm” sessions in her home (active cell phones not allowed).

Wow, little did I know that 10 years ago when I invited some girlfriends over for a bottle of wine, a box of Crayolas and a Mandala coloring book, we would be the vanguard of the modern healing-through-art (and wine) movement.

As our collective blood pressure and cortisol levels have climbed and impacted our health and well being, escape from the stress of our frantic, always-on world of social media is alluring. These activities give us permission to concentrate and focus on something for more than a minute- without constant digital interruptions. Art and creative expressions allows a different part of our brain to be stimulated and exercised and for me, it calms like a cool cloth on itchy eyes. Coloring fosters creativity, new ideas and insights that posting on Facebook or reading Tweets just doesn’t do.

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On a more pure and simple level, these activities tap into childhood joy and give us pleasure. For many, just the smell of Play-Doh brings forth vivid memories of happy and youthful creations. I smile when I swish it through my fingers!

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Another positive outcome of painting, coloring and sculpting is the ability to produce some more tangible and lasting- something more than 1s and 0s of the digital world. Something you can touch with your skin and see without the need for an electronic glass screen or display. A lasting object you can send in the mail (via the Postal service) as a gift to a friend or family member. Our art is something we can proudly post on the refrigerator at home or in your cubical at work. It gives us a sense of accomplishment, finishing something that will last and is comforting in our age of fleeting Snapchat images and endless streams of 140 character Twitter posts.

So, why is Ernie the hedgehog so popular? For many of the same reasons as the popularity of the adult coloring, he makes people smiles and encourages child-like creativity, happiness and joy. Plus he is a great model in my photos!

So foster your creativity with a child-like zeal and enjoy the happy and calming effects.  Added bonus:  you just might make yourself and others break out in a hug smile- just like Ernie does.

Cheers!

Ernieinaglass