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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You Have a Seat at the Table, Now What?

Much has been written about the strength and impact of women’s voices in corporate America and the level to which they are acknowledged and perceived. What we say and how we say it are critical success factors and key skills to refine and perfect. I would even go as far to say that how we present our message is an art which needs to be thoughtfully approached and practiced for maximum effect.

As more women get promoted into leadership and executive positions, the next challenge and question is-  how do we make certain that our input is heard? How do we connect and reach people to influence, motivate and inspire them?

Given my frame of reference and experience as a leader over the last 28 years, I’d like to share with you some thoughts, ideas and suggestions on how to ensure that your voice is  heard and respected.

My background is deeply rooted in the area of communication both in the military and in leadership roles in a number of large corporations in the US. I served as a Signal Platoon leader during the first Gulf War and my main job was directing and projecting my voice to give orders and commands to a communications unit that deployed cellular networks on the battlefield. I also received extensive training on radio communications and protocols during hostile operations. This is where I learned the importance and value of being bold, being brief and being gone. The mantra that stuck with me was: “Be bold, be brief, be gone”.  Make your point quickly and then be still.  Speak, wait, listen and learn.

After my time in the Army, I worked in various fields including Sales, Consulting, Project Management and Agile leadership, all of which rely heavily on strong communication skills to be effective.

I have been an active member in Toastmasters International since 1994 and enjoy giving speeches and mentoring others to improve their confidence and communication effectiveness. Basically, I’ve been working on honing my ability to connect, articulate and transmit information, stories and messages to others since the mid 1980s.

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As a long time Toastmaster, I’ve been told that I possess a “Confident Command” when I speak. It is from this perspective that I present to you some tips and techniques  on the topic of Powerful Speaking.

1 – Project your voice

Before you utter your first word at the table, on the conference call or at the lectern, take a long, deep breath and get grounded in your thoughts and intention. Relax your neck and shoulder muscles ( I use a technique of firmly pressing the palms of my hands together for 8 seconds- usually done under the table where I am sitting prior to standing for my presentation).

Be mindful of your volume and pitch. Avoid a shrill sound which is often overly high and piercing in quality. Even tones and breathing are your friends.   Practice your key foundational statements ( opening and closing) in advance so you can ensure that you project your message clearly and strongly.

2- Make your point quickly and succinctly

Back to the “Be Bold, Be Brief, Be Gone” mantra. Make sure that your main point is clearly stated up front and with power and conviction. Declare and proclaim the situation, facts and impact in a short 1-3 sentence statement of clarity and impact. Get their attention, connect and then elaborate on your point if necessary.

Providing brief stories and examples can help support your point and knowing your audience’s concern and frame of reference is key to ensuring that your message is heard, understood and hopefully appreciated.

Know your facts cold. This will help you deliver in a solid and unwavering manner.

Remember, Less is More.

3- Know your value and what you uniquely bring to the table.

Be prepared.

Be authentic.

Be steady.

Be assertive.

You’ve got this!

4- Having a Positive and Grounded Tone

It’s not only what you say but how you say it has never been more true.

As a woman friend and outstanding speaker from Laughing Matters Toastmasters club in Austin recently shared with me:

“Don’t be wimpy. Don’t be whiny. Don’t be pissy. Don’t go postal.

Rather, have a tone of confidence, composure, and quiet conviction.”

Another tip to have a good, solid tone is to tap into your Personal Power.

Here’s an energizing quote that I read on DailyOm.com two days ago.

“ Power is not about exerting our will over others, it is about being in complete truth with ourselves. When personal power is balanced, we are neither meek nor overbearing.”

When we have harness our Personal Power we:

  • Have a clear sense of our strength and the impact we can have on others
  • Are worthy and deserve to be heard
  • Come from a place of humility and strength- not entitlement

When speaking from a position of balanced strength, our tone and non-verbal communications send the message that “ I have something important and valuable to contribute”.

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The Goddess Pose

So take your seat at the table, speak up and let your voice and powerful message be heard!

I hope that this article was helpful and connected with you in some way.

Please send me your comments, questions and thoughts.

This is Brenda Smull signing off. Over and Out.

A View on Balance: Yoga, Minds and Eyes

I went to yoga class the other day and after holding a difficult pose for a minute the yoga instructor asked us to switch sides. She calmed stated, “You may notice that this side feels different than the first one and that is okay. Just observe it, take note and let it go. Don’t judge the difference between the two sides.”

After hearing some groans and comments from the group about recent events, marches and demonstrations, the instructor gently reminded us that there are no politics in Yoga rather it is about centering and focusing. Yoga helps us balance and is about opening your body and clearing your mind.

Wouldn’t this be nice if we did this in our everyday life?

Being aware of the differences from all the different sides and viewing them with both eyes wide open and not filtering so strongly through our own biased lens.

I view my life as a continuous effort to remain in balance. Opposing forces are always around us and we are often asked to pick or support one side or the other. But why? Why is there always a binary choice? Why is one side viewed as always right and the other as wrong?

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After my yoga class experience, an interesting and apropos book was brought to my attention by Steve Smull, a thoughtful and insightful writer, with his clever commentary and posts on Facebook.

The book by Jonathan Haidt titled “The Righteous Mind” was published in 2012 and has an important and relevant message in the polarized and hyper-partisan world in 2017.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“It’s Yin and Yang. Both sides see different threats; both sides are wise to different virtues”

My husband Steve created another insightful thread online this morning that ties into this theme and I’ll leave you with his words.

“I view the world through both eyes. I have a right eye and a left eye. People who pick one to look through and close the other are missing depth perception. I suppose it’s simpler that way.

I do close one eye when I look through a viewfinder to capture an image. But not before surveying the scene with both eyes open first.

I don’t know why people are so incredibly defensive about how great it is to see through only their preferred eye. OK, one of your eyes may be dominant, but that’s no reason to cover your other eye with duct tape.”

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