What do Jiu-Jitsu and beet juice have to do with healing a grief-stricken heart? Elena Stowell tells us in her new memoir, "Flowing with the Go."
Stowell, a high school biology teacher in Kent, is one of those motivated people who runs marathons, coaches her kids' teams, gets her National Board Certification as a teacher and discovers new fungus species in her spare time.
But when her first-born child Carly died in her arms from a fatal arrhythmia just a week shy of turning 15, Stowell's world careened out of control. No amount of smarts or discipline or hard work could turn back the clock and reverse that shattering event.
Stowell was gripped with grief, anxiety, lethargy, and depression - punctuated by episodes of manic insomnia. She self-medicated with alcohol and food. Her weight ballooned.
A grief counselor helped her to understand that her body's transformation was a way of grieving, and that movement might be a helpful form of therapy. Stowell joined a boot camp fitness group, where she was introduced to kick-boxing. That led her to a local gym that specialized in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
The cardio punching classes allowed her to take out her anger and frustration on a punching bag, while the sparring practices taught her lessons in reciprocity and control. But the Jiu-Jitsu training itself was a personal journey - not so much about rank or promotions or competition, but instead about commitment to her own improvement, taken in small steps.
In addition to the rigorous physical training, Stowell learned more about breathing techniques and nutrition. She began to regard food as a fuel instead of an anti-depressant. This is where the beet juice comes in - it increases the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells. (Lance Armstrong and other doper-athletes, take note.) She gradually learned more about developing both mental toughness and trust.
In time, Stowell advanced to compete at an international level. She hasn't won every match, but her coach advises her that "you learn more from a loss than from a win."
Stowell shares these lessons through her unique lens of grief and healing.
"Flowing with the Go" is not an expertly written book. In fact, some of the jumps in sequence and message tend to belie the "flow" in the title.
Nevertheless, Stowell does offer generous insight into the very personal nature of the grieving process, as well as hope for those who yearn for some form of acceptance or calm following a traumatic event.
She contends that "flow with the go" - a mantra coined by a Jiu-Jitsu master who flipped the "go with the flow" colloquialism on its head - provides a useful perspective for receiving what happens to us and then developing measures that allow us to cope in a healthy way.
As someone who once dwelled in utter despair, Stowell shares how she learned to expend her energy on positive habits that have led to moving beyond paralyzing grief and to engage fully in life once again.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com.