Posts Tagged ‘Strengths’

Have you ever encountered someone who just seems to have a knack for making good conversation? They are never uncomfortable in new situations or stumped in job interviews, and people seem to gravitate towards them at parties and events. Regardless of circumstances, they can keep a conversation moving forward. It’s a gift … Or is it?

“You have a gift for …”

How many times have you heard someone start a compliment in that way? We often look at people who are “good” at something with admiration and then attribute it to a gift (as if they had nothing to do with it, but that’s another post). Certainly, we all have some natural abilities ~ an eye for decorating, a heart for people in need, a knack for organization. Still, many times the very “gift” we admire is something that has been cultivated with hard work helped out by a few tricks along the way.

Being a good conversationalist may well be a gift, but some techniques from the world of improvisational comedy might prove to be useful tools to the everyday person. In an article for Real Simple magazine, life coach Gail Blanke studied a troupe of performers to see what she could learn from this art form. Certainly, Improv is one of the ultimate tests of thinking on your feet. Blanke reports that the actors utilize three primary principles in their work:

  • The “yes and …” phrase;
  • Go with your gut; and
  • Make everyone else in your group look good!

By consistently applying these principles over and over again ~ think of it as their “recipe” ~ the actors made their difficult work and gifted banter seem effortless. Each principle she mentioned has its own value worth studying, but I was particularly inspired by the yes and…” technique. According to Blanke, here’s how it works:

Say two actors are given the words “blueberry pie” with which to create a scene. It might go:

Actor 1: “I made a blueberry pie.”

Actor 2: “Yes, you made a blueberry pie. And you remember the last time we had blueberry pie?”

Actor 1: “Yes, I remember. We took a picnic into the woods, and that’s when you said you wanted to join a nudist colony.”

You see what’s happening? Suddenly there’s a story; suddenly there’s a direction and a purpose. Using the simple words “yes…and” moves the scene into new territory, and that’s where new possibilities occur.

How to make it work for you:
So let’s say it’s Monday and you’re at the gym and that very attractive guy says, “It was a beautiful weekend.” If all you say is “Yes, it was great,” that ends the conversation right there. But if you say, “Yes, it was great. And I really made the most of it. I went to a concert in the park and brought my yellow Lab. He snatched a sandwich right out of the hands of some poor woman having a picnic. But we had fun.”

Now you’ve got something. You can follow up with “Do you like dogs?” or “Have you ever been to a concert in the park?” And, bingo, the next thing you know, you’re on your way to another concert in the park with none other than that very attractive guy. (Maybe minus the dog.)

As Blanke points out, this particular strategy both affirms the other person and allows you to move the conversation in the direction you want it to go. I love this idea and found it directly applicable to the teaching of Anusara Yoga ~ Say ‘Yes’ to Everything!

We can use this same technique in our work with our students. Those of you who were enrolled in teacher training with Christina Sell earlier this summer might recall that this was, in fact, a part of the instruction for conducting student demos. First, we acknowledge what is good about a student’s pose or effort, and THEN we direct the attention to where we’d like to draw more focus. We acknowledge what is beautiful and inspire more work as we move the class in the direction that we want to go.

Whether in conversation, improv comedy, or teaching (a distinct form of improv), the implementation of “yes and …” can make us all appear gifted! Try it today and see how it goes.

Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater. ~ Gail Godwin

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To Consider: Read the full text of Gail Blanke’s article: How to Think on Your Feet. And just for fun, here’s a scene from the improvisational comedy show Whose Line is it Anyway? Watch for the “yes and …” technique at work ~ whether explicitly stated or just implied. It’s totally there.

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I’ve said this before, but blogging can get addictive. With my summers off from school, I have had more time to write which I have totally enjoyed. The more I write, the more topics I think of, the more time I spend writing, and the more energy I have! Writing is definitely one of my strengths as defined by Marcus Buckingham. (Check out my previous entries for more on that.)

The process goes something like this … First, I jot down ideas that I want to explore deeper, then I’ll go back later and actually delve into the topic. If you happen to read an entry right after I initially post it, you may find something quite different 24 hours later, because I often go back throughout the day and revise, change a word, move a sentence, add just ONE more thought. I can’t help myself. I am not a mass producer, but I love the process. It’s like having a party!

Besides the actual writing, I love the COMMENTS! It’s always the first thing I check, and I definitely appreciate those who share a sentence or two. It’s gratifying to know when something I’ve written or posted has touched someone. This is particularly fun when it’s someone totally new ~ not that I don’t appreciate every comment ~ but there’s just some extra excitement then. (Think: new guest at the party!) For me, the comments are like big hugs. It gives me juice! (I’m not sure, can I call that “ojas”?)

After the comments, I turn to the STATISTICS. I love to check the page loads or “hits” for the day. That’s more like how many friends actually showed UP at the party! By the way, MY party always seems to be just a bit more popular after a mention on Christina’s blog so thank you, my dear!

*Side Note: I’m nearing 10,000 hits on this blog ~ it’ll be a big day ~ probably tomorrow! Sorry, no prize if you’re the one. Just consider it a personal thrill, kind of like when your car odometer rolls over!

Finally, the one other piece of data that I find illuminating is the list of search words which directs people TO my blog. It is such a fascinating study to review the phrases that generate random hits. Professional bloggers will tell you to include certain key phrases in your writing to raise your readership. The fancy name for this practice is “Search Engine Optimization.” Simply put, it’s how we get more people to show up AT our party!

Frankly, when I review some of the phrases, I’m really not sure HOW folks ended up here, and I’m certain they’re wondering that as well. Sure, there are the reasonable “yoga photo” queries. Then earlier this week, I got one “grateful dead yoga song” Alrighty, so we know where that comes from. But how about the more curious “pam walsh our secret.” (Ooo…kay!) Still hands down, my favorite search phrase THIS week … “hate partner yoga anusara.”

Well … I certainly don’t think that friend will be coming back to my party!

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During our Anusara Yoga Teacher Training, we were asked to bring in a poem or inspirational story for an exercise in theme development. I have folders of poems and stories that I’ve collected throughout the years, so my only problem was choosing just ONE. This is the stuff I love! Ultimately, I settled on a piece that came to me in an email about 10 years ago ~ The Butterfly and the Cocoon.

The Butterfly and the Cocoon

A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. The man sat and watched the cocoon for several hours as the butterfly struggled to force its body through the little hole.

Then it seemed to stop making progress. It appeared as if the butterfly had gotten as far as it could, and it could go no further. The man decided to help the butterfly in its struggle. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon.

The butterfly then emerged easily, but it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.

He continued to watch the butterfly. He expected that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to be able to support the body. He knew that in time the body would contract, and the butterfly would be able to fly.

But neither happened. In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.

What the man, in his kindness and haste, did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were Nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives. If God allowed us to go through our lives without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been.

We could never fly.

~ original author unknown (sometimes attributed to the American writer and painter Henry Miller)

There are important lessons in this parable for both the yoga practitioner and the yoga teacher. For the practitioner, this story beautifully illustrates the importance of cultivating our own strength to overcome our obstacles. When things are difficult we may want to give up. We think our efforting is fruitless, and it is easy to get discouraged. Whether on the mat or off, we have to stay the course.

“In our human lives, we sometimes find ourselves in the chrysalis state. During those times we don’t have much to offer the outside world because, whether we realize it or not, much of our energy is consumed with an inner transition.”

Sometimes, we think we are ready to emerge when we are not quite prepared; there is still work to be done. Then, we must have patience with ourselves and faith in the process. We get tired, we rest, we try again. Like the butterfly, when we persist we can experience greater joy and freedom than if we take the path of least resistance.

Holding the Space to Emerge

As yoga teachers, it is easy to slip into the same misguided assumption as the one in the story. Like the man with the scissors, we often give up on our students too soon. We see them struggle and worry that we are being “too hard.” We are quick to offer the easy way out ~ the less challenging form of a pose, the modified version, the prop to support.

Instead of giving them the opportunity to build and drawn on their own resources, we undermine this natural and necessary process. In our efforts to make it easier on them ~ to alleviate their discomfort (or is it, our own?) ~ we often deny our students the chance to experience the fullness (purnam) and richness that their efforts would yield. Our job is to hold the space, to create the environment for our students to work and flourish, and then wait. Their beauty will most certainly emerge.

“Sometimes the greatest supports we can offer others and ourselves are patience and quiet confidence in the process unfolding, along with faith that the result will be extraordinary.”

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I asked for Strength,

And God gave me Difficulties to make me strong.

I asked for Wisdom,

And God gave me Problems to solve.

I asked for Prosperity,

And God gave me Brain & Brawn to work.

I asked for Courage,

And God gave me Danger to overcome.

I asked for Love,

And God gave me Troubled people to help.

I asked for Favors,

And God gave me Opportunities.

I received nothing I wanted

I received everything I needed!

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* This poem is a variation of the Unknown Confederate Soldier’s Prayer.

** Quotations above are taken from the Mystery Of Transformation: The Butterfly Chrysalis** as featured in the DailyOM, an email subscription service of “inspirational thoughts for a happy, healthy and fulfilling day.” It is a great source for theme ideas and uplifting material.

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Part III: Sharing Strengths

In my recent posts, I have been reviewing the teachings of Marcus Buckingham as it relates to finding your true strengths – those activities in life that give you energy. Buckingham instructs that once you’ve identified your strengths you must begin to focus more and more of your daily actions and efforts on doing those activities. Through these endeavors, we are infused with energy and enthusiasm, which will ultimately increase both our productivity and success. This is the way to reignite the passion and joy in life.

But what do we do about those things that don’t give us energy, those tasks that are a necessary requirement in our lives or our jobs? Buckingham offers several effective ways to handle those “energy drains” including that sometimes you just have to pick up the shovel and shovel it! (My words, not his!) Shovels notwithstanding, one strategy is to team up with others whose strengths complement your own. By playing off our collective strengths we can create a mutually beneficial relationship where everyone’s energy is boosted, and all tasks get completed successfully.

This is something effective managers have known for a long time. Like a good coach, managers want to maximize the talents and gifts of their employees. Of course this makes sense in the sports arena, the corporate world, and even in family life, but how can we make use of this strategy in the seemingly solo task of planning and teaching an effective yoga class? Using Buckingham’s strength-based approach and this concept of sharing strengths, I’ve outlined five steps to guide you in this process, a.k.a. “How to use the Greatness of Others to be Great Yourself!” 😉

5 Steps towards Developing a Better Yoga Class

1. Determine your strengths as a yoga teacher. As you look at the components of planning a yoga class, what are your strengths? (Remember the criteria: anticipation, lose track of time, more energy at completion.) In an Anusara yoga class plan, we need a heart-oriented theme and a logical asana sequence with connection to the Universal Principles of Alignment. Maybe your strength is creating a theme, but sequencing drains you. Be astute in your evaluation. Discern without judgment.

2. Develop your strengths fully. Use the energy you acquire to study, develop, and enhance your strengths. If you are “in” to yoga philosophy and it energizes you, then deepen your understanding even further. Read more of the sacred texts. Study with a philosophy teacher. If the biomechanics of physical alignment excite you, take an anatomy class and learn more about the body. Too often we waste energy trying to strengthen a weakness. Instead, we could experience an exponential increase in our energy if we applied that same effort towards an area of interest. Read earlier remarks in comment 3.

Aside: I am reminded of what Christina advises aspiring teachers in the Anusara yoga immersion; teach what resonates for you! Represent the method accurately, but teach to your direct experience.

As you develop your strengths, compile your ideas and make notes. If your strength is theme development and personal connections, journal stories and anecdotes that could support a number of heart based themes. If your strength is in scope and sequencing, keep a record of those class plans. If the language of teaching comes easily to you, write down effective phrases. Record, journal, track! It will fuel the fire within.

3. Find people (or resources) with complimentary strengths. Team with fellow teachers, utilize your kula-mates. Tap into books. Build a reference library. If you struggle with sequencing, then look towards an informed source. Turn to the sequences in the Anusara Yoga Teacher Training Manual by John Friend. Write down a series when you’re in class with a teacher who does it masterfully (like Christina Sell). If you appreciate the way someone else centers their class or brings their students out of savasana, use that approach. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

4. Give credit to the Source, universally AND individually! Make sure you acknowledge where your material comes from, along with your teachers, and those who have helped you along the way, including — and especially — the Absolute. It is essential to credit your inspiration and sources.

5. Share your Strengths. Whether it’s working directly with fellow teachers, writing, or sharing resources that have helped you, offer your strengths and ideas to others. Don’t buy into the fear that you need to “keep it a secret” or someone might “steal it”. There is abundance. The more you put out, the more you’ll bring back in. Be seen as someone who is willing to share. Allow your energy to spark others.

“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” ~Albert Einstein

Whether using this technique to plan a yoga class, or to create a holiday dinner, build a home or coach a team, maximizing your strengths in combination with the strengths of others will generate success and ENERGY for everyone.

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Reminder: The Marcus Buckingham workshop as seen on Oprah is available for FREE on iTunes. Thanks to Kelly Sell for sharing that Marcus Buckingham also has a book on this topic available titled Now, Discover Your Strengths.

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Part II

In my earlier post on reigniting and finding your passion, I shared an overview of the criteria for identifying personal strengths as outlined by career counselor Marcus Buckingham. To reiterate: Your strengths are those things that give you energy and thereby, strengthen you. By his definition, a strength must meet these conditions:

  1. When thinking about the task, you are excited; you anticipate the activity;
  2. When doing the task you tend to lose track of time;
  3. Once the task is completed, you have more energy than before.

Buckingham helps clients identify their strengths with the following activity. For a period of one week, they are instructed to label each task they do as an energy boost (strength) or an energy drain. They are to make a list that answers the question, “I feel strength when …”

*** Important caveat: the activity must be something they actually “do” and not something that is done to them. “I feel strength when my supervisor praises me,” would not count as a strength. It may give you energy, but it’s not something you “do”.

Once a strength is identified the next step is to get specific — “drill down” as Buckingham says — and specify the associated conditions as clearly as possible. For example, if I were to say, “I feel strength when I teach,” he would delve deeper. “Do you like teaching anything to anybody? Hmm … well, no. I like teaching yoga to adults. And then go deeper still … what kind of yoga, what kind of adults, when, and where? I like teaching Anusara yoga to athletes, to middle-aged women, to … You get the drift. You must be specific.

As I digested the material from this particular lesson, I found myself moving much more consciously through my day – not just my workday, but at home – tuning into what things give me energy and what things are my drains:

  • Sorting & washing laundry (energy)
  • Folding laundry & putting it away (drain)
  • Grocery shopping (drain)
  • Writing on my blog (energy)
  • Conversing with someone about “deep” stuff (energy)
  • Being out in the sun (energy)
  • Loading the dishwasher (energy)
  • Unloading the dishwasher (drain, no pun intended)
  • Listening to my music (energy)
  • Listening to my teenage boys’ music (drain)

Try it! Simply, tune in and become a student of the energetic effects of your daily activities. Pull out your journal at the end of the day and make a list or a T-chart like the one below. It’s a great exercise that requires keen observation and awareness.

The workshop offers much more insight with Buckingham suggesting ways to redirect your focus to your strengths, along with strategies for handling your “energy drains.” He encourages teaming up with others for your mutual benefit as you play off each other’s strengths, from coworkers to family members (and of course, “kula mates”). So while I find loading the dishwasher to be an energy boost and the unloading to be a drain, perhaps my husband really likes the unloading part. Teaming up together to complete this task is a win-win! Everyone gets the energy, no one gets the drain!

Coming Up Next … Using the Strengths Concept to Enhance your Yoga Teaching! (Really! I swear.)

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Earlier this year, Oprah featured a workshop conducted by career counselor and motivational speaker Marcus Buckingham. Working with 30 women over a period of several weeks, Buckingham led the group through a series of simple exercises to reignite passion in their careers and their lives. He outlined several key components to the process, but it was his segment on personal strengths that I found most intriguing. A quick overview and then, how we can employ this in our teaching of yoga.

The process of reigniting passion in life begins with determining your individual strengths. Who hasn’t heard that advice, right? It is an essential part of the philosophy in career path manuals like “What Color is Your Parachute” or “Do What You Love the Money will Follow”. Take note, my friends, Buckingham’s definition of strengths may be a little different than first pass.

Many of us would define a strength as “something you are good at doing.” But a strength, by Buckingham’s definition, must energize you and make you stronger. Simply being “good” at something doesn’t necessarily make it strength. In this workshop, strengths meet a different set of criteria that must include the following three benchmarks:

  1. When thinking about the task, you are excited; you anticipate the activity;
  2. When doing the task you tend to lose track of time;
  3. Once the task is completed, you have more energy than before.

Certainly some of the things which you’d classically define as “something you’re good at” would also meet the three criteria listed above, but that’s not always the case. As an example, meet Sharon. As part of her job, Sharon retypes manuscripts. Sharon is a great typist. Her fingers fly like the wind across the keyboard and she makes few (if any) errors. This would make typing a strength by our first basic definition.

Now let’s explore this deeper. We learn that Sharon looks forward to large typing assignments (meeting criteria #1). When she types, she zones out, moving effortlessly through the pages of her project (criteria #2). Finally, as she types that final punctuation completing the project; she feels exhilarated. A sense of satisfaction and pride fill her as she notes the quick turn-around time she achieved (#3). Typing is certainly one of Sharon’s strengths.

But suppose, instead we had discovered the following about our girl. Sharon doesn’t really like typing, but it’s part of her job and after all, she’s “good” at it, so her boss frequently asks her to take on these large projects. (She got to be a fast typist in school because she saw it as a necessary job skill to acquire.) Sharon would much rather answer the phones or work on filing. The manuscript arrives on her desk, and she looks at it with dread. How long will it take to get through THAT? She pushes it aside. She procrastinates. When she eventually gets going she’s watching the clock, impatiently waiting for her upcoming coffee break. Finally finishing the project, Sharon looks up and thinks, “I’m ready for a drink. It must be 5 o’clock somewhere.” Typing — in this case — is definitely not one of Sharon’s strengths. She may be good at it, but it is not a strength.

Notice the difference in the two scenarios? Take a moment to make the distinction, and then see if you can identify examples from your own life. First, can you think of something that you’re “good” at — people may have even told you it’s one of your strengths — but on examination it fails to meet the listed criteria? Then take note of one your strengths, something which meets the outlined standards. Buckingham says, “Your strengths strengthen you!”

There is much to write on this topic, but this has been in draft mode for almost two weeks. So, I will post this introduction to the topic now and write more in a follow-up.

INSIGHTS: If you are willing, I invite you to post your two responses to the question at hand:

  1. What is something that you are “good at” which does not strengthen you, and
  2. What is something that does?

Until next time, may we all help to strengthen one another,



The workshop materials are available on Oprah.com, and the audio (8 segments, about 3 hours long) can be downloaded in its entirety from iTunes, all free of charge!


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