Growing Gorillas One Fight at a Time

We posted this article (“Letting Children Win Is Always A Losing Strategy”) on the Growing Gorillas Facebook page about how important competition is for children. I encourage you to read it and think about it. Really. Think about it.

Think about how competition has helped you to become who you are. Think about those times when you failed or lost. What happened before, what happened during, what happened after. Who was there with you and what did they say?

Every match, every game, every competition is practice in living.

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And if you are a parent, ask yourself, “What am I doing to prepare my child for life?”

If you’re an adult, ask yourself who you have to thank or what experiences do you have to thank for your ability to show up for life, work hard, struggle, win, lose, win again, lose again, and show up again.

Listen. I don’t brag about our Growing Gorillas Kids Program nearly enough. But THIS is EXACTLY what we do. We teach kids to solve problems. We teach kids to compete. We teach kids to win. We teach kids to lose. But most of all we teach them to face life as it is handed to them.

No one is ever guaranteed a fair fight. No one. Ever.

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Sometimes you win because you’re better, faster, smarter. Sometimes you lose because they are. Sometimes winners lose and losers win because the “system” is wrong. But then what? What will you take from that? Where will you go? Will you withdraw and let that experience define you? Will you move on? How?

If by adulthood, our kids haven’t yet learned and experienced failure, success, hard work, or found their talents, then we have work to do. If as adults, our kids make excuses, complain about the unfairness of the world, or think that any one moment defines them completely and forever, then I know we have to go back to the drawing board and adjust what and how we teach children.

My wish is for each of us to see ourselves for who we are, strengths and weaknesses. My wish is for us to accept the challenges set in front of us. My wish is for us to have the training, confidence, and experience to ask ourselves, “What is the next right move?” And then, my wish is for us to have a team, a tribe, a family, a friend to cheer us on as we touch hands and go.

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I realize that some of you don’t know what Growing Gorillas is… hold onto your hats! My husband and I created a curriculum to teach jiu jitsu to children.

Wait – that doesn’t really explain it fully. We created a curriculum, using #jiujitsu to help children learn the basics of living. They learn through play, they learn through competition, they learn through the experience of being part of a a tribe, guided by coaches, supported by parents, and cheered on and pushed by teammates.

We incorporated what we knew and learned from teaching and raising our own children. We’ve since expanded the program and will be releasing a #kidsyoga curriculum this year.

The underlying thread of success is that we teach children how to be better versions of themselves.

Do you understand what we did? We created a curriculum for PARENTING! If only someone had given this to me when we took home Teddy from the hospital 17 years ago. Oh the grey hairs that would have never been!

Let me put it this way. When my kids were born, I felt an overwhelming panic that I had NO IDEA WHAT TO DO! I wanted them to grow up to be happy, healthy, and productive members of society. I wanted them to laugh, play, and find something in life to throw themselves into. I wanted them to learn how to love, how to be a friend, how to have a conversation, and how to be a good neighbor. Everyone wants that for their kids, right?

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Well, here’s the clincher. We really didn’t know how to do any of that stuff ourselves. In fact, neither Travis or I really knew what we were doing at all. We learned our life lessons through our practices in jiu jitsu and yoga. What we learned, we put into a curriculum for kids. That was our next move.

Life is short and it is what it is. The only thing we have control over is our own next move. What is your next move?

I love you all. Keep the fire burning. We have work to do.

Follow Growing Gorillas on Facebook.

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It’s On! YoMo 2016

img_0218This month, we are celebrating our lives with a little more YOGA! At SBG, we encourage everyone to practice a little yoga everyday. We motivate and encourage with sequences, reflections, jokes, demonstrations, parties, and lots of cheerleading.

I sent this reflection out to our students this week. And I figured that some of you would like to enjoy it, too! Cheers to you and your practice!


The second sutra of Patanjali’s treatise on yoga is succinct. Yogah cittavrtti nirodhah. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness. In the practice of forward bends, we are taught to fold “inward” as we fold forward. We are told that if we practice in this way, we have an opportunity to look within and practice svadhyaya, or self-study. This is how we find the peace and harmony of a quiet mind, we are told.

But that practice of looking within can create a dilemma of sorts. Set aside the common pains of folding forward (holy hamstrings!), the seemingly simple act of studying ourselves can be difficult. The mind wanders. The flow of thought, the breath, the emotions… there’s just so much commotion! We remain steadfast and search for some sense of peace, quiet. (That’s what they say we are supposed to find, right?). And still, how on earth can we find peace when our hamstrings and hips are SCREAMING…?

All jokes aside. This is the practice. This in fact is what it’s all about.

“But everything great is just as difficult to realize as it is rare to find.” – Ethics, Spinoza

Often people come to yoga in the pursuit of happiness. They may walk through the door and ask for help with their low back pain or to limber up to better play their sport. But ultimately, it comes down to people looking for more peace within themselves. And their exploration can easily turn into a fight. Like the early explorers who were so quickly turned into conquerors, fighting instead of listening and looking. As Spinoza’s wisdom reminds us, this balance is often easier said than done and all the more important.

The crux of the physical asana practice is not unlike this balance that we seek within our minds. Abhyasa (Practice) and Vairagya (Non-attachment) are the two foundational principles of yoga. Balancing these two in life and on the mat in asana practice is a key to finding the subtler quietness of the mind.

fullsizeoutput_70fSpecifically, Abhyasa means cultivating the actions, speech, and thoughts to lead ourselves in a positive direction, rather than following the path toward the negative. Vairagya is the practice of letting go of the habits, persuasions, and colorings of the mind that lead us away from the positive direction. Practice points you toward the finish line, while non-attachment keeps you playing the game instead of turning on the TV.

As you fold inward during your practice, accept the challenge. Look inward, dig deep, and breathe. This is you. This is yoga. You’re okay. In fact, you’re perfect. We just have some work to do. 😉

You Can Take the Kisa Outta Kansas…

But you can’t take the Kansas outta Kisa.

Every once in a while, I slip into conversation with people how much I miss the landscape of western Kansas. To which most respond with a look of disgust. How could anyone possibly think that the flat, empty nothingness is anything beautiful at all.

These photos embody my love for Kansas. It seems to me that beauty is having the space for amazing scenes to take place.

 

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Mammatus – Bolton, Kansas – Photo by Mitch Dobrowner, National Geographic

When I look at these photos, I see beauty in the drama that unfolds with an awe-inspiring play of power and stillness. I’ve lived those storms in person and I can feel the electric anticipation captured in these photos.

Can you imagine if a storm like these hit Glacier National Park? We would see the storm as a destroyer. And the truth is that meteorologically-speaking, a storm of this beauty can’t unfold with so many mountains and lakes and whatnot in the way, interfering with their moisture and majesty and stuff. It just can’t happen.

I will always love the open space of western Kansas. I will always appreciate that the landscape provides a clean canvas ready to be painted with the unique combinations of Mother Nature’s elements.

Truly. There’s no place like home.

 

Gettin’ Gritty!

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When my oldest son was a toddler, the odds were against him. Doctors painted grim pictures of Ted’s future because of the seizures that attacked him multiple times per day. As most parents would, we went to great lengths to give him what we thought needed to learn to play and live like any other toddling boy. We scheduled an array of therapy sessions, learned sign language, encouraged him to jump and run and stack blocks and put together puzzles. We set high expectations.

By four, Ted was two years seizure-free and developing better than his doctors predicted. One hot summer day on the playground, he saw another boy make an arm-fart. The sun was shining and the trees rustling their thick manes of leaves. And Ted’s eyes glimmered in the awesome reflection of that boy’s arm-fart. I watched as Ted slowly slid his hand to his own armpit to cast his first line into the depths of body sounds. And then… nothing. Failure.

According to researchers, it is that kind of failure that should help our kids learn the keys to success. Some of history’s greatest accomplishments came only after disappointments. And yet, we all know that not everyone bounces back after failure. Angela Duckworth won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2013 for her research on “grit” – what she defines as a winning combination of goal directedness, motivation, self-control, and positive mindset. Grit, according to Duckworth, is a key factor in predicting success and more important than talent in many cases.

As parents, we see when our kids have Grit and we see when they give up. What can we do to help them cultivate Grit?

  • Start Early. When they cry as infants, we soothe. This soothing calms anxieties and develops the neural circuitry to learn to self-soothe and eventually self-regulate. As they get older, set reasonable limits and enforce them with empathy. “I know you want to eat 76 cookies. They are delicious. But two is all we are going to eat right now.” This will develop internal limits and teach resilience. Children have to be taught that they don’t always get what they want – and it’s okay.
  • Teach Them to Achieve Goals. Household chores are a great vehicle for goal achievement. Start with stacking books. Then picking up laundry. One step at a time, teach your kids how to size up a project, identify steps to achieve the goal, and how to deal with obstacles along the way. We use the same system for finishing a puzzle as toddlers to coach our kids in writing research papers as middle-schoolers.
  • Teach the Growth Mindset. Tell your children how it works. “So you want to arm-fart? All right, it’s going to take time to teach your brain to work your body to make those awful noises. With practice, your brain will learn. You have the ability to be smarter, stronger, and better at whatever you choose!”
  • Enjoy Their Joy. Find out what your kids are passionate about and be their number one fan! With your support in their passions, they will learn to persevere and succeed by facing the challenges, learning through failures, and experiencing success. Most importantly, your genuine care in their happiness will help them to develop an internal happiness that will help them stay the course in the face of disappointment.

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Thankfully for Ted, we are gritty parents. It took a full year of Ted trying to arm-fart. The day that first sound emerged from his hand and armpit is one of many proud moments. To this day, we use “The Year of the Arm Fart” as an example for our other kids and a reminder to Ted that he is capable of whatever goals he sets his mind to achieve. With Grit like that, the sky is the limit!