Psychology – What is it with BJJ?

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Psychology– the mental characteristics or attitude of a mind and its functions governing our behavioral responses to a situation or activity.

What is it with BJJ? Why is the sport growing at such a rapid rate in popularity? We’re surrounded by endless fitness and health options these days, so what is about BJJ that is captivating people around the globe? In this instalment we take a look at the psychological and physiological effects of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Let’s start with basic human nature or pre-conditioning of the human mind. We have been conditioned to reserve physical contact for only those closest to us.  We believe in respecting the personal space of others we come in contact with throughout our everyday operating. A mere few handshakes throughout the day could equate to someone’s daily physical contact. The effect of this limited physical contact is people starved of physical connection, creating a lonely, isolated, sad psyche for many. From the first experience on the mats, this mindset is challenged with immediate face to face, body on body contact with complete strangers. Although challenging at first, it doesn’t deter people from continuing with the sport. Why? Physical contact holds powerful positive psychological reactions.  In this context, it triggers the release of neurochemicals in the brain and hormones like Oxytocin, affectionately nicknamed the “cuddle” or “empathy” hormone, throughout the body which makes us more aware, focused and connected.  It could be argued this is one of the reasons why friendships develop so quickly amongst Brazilian Jiu Jitsu students and teachers alike. Although the physical contact in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu does not occur in a context of “cuddles” it nourishes our otherwise starved psyches but it also delivers on more.  It is delivered in an environment or context of competition; a struggle for survival and physical dominance.  Our pre-conditioned brains and body’s natural reaction to this type of situation is fight or flight.  Norepinephrine, adrenaline and cortisol flood our bodies, decreasing our reaction times, increasing our heart rate and respiration, and enhancing our focus and awareness.

As with other physically intense exercises, such as running, during the demanding physical challenges on the mats, our brain also releases Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein which produces the feeling of euphoria, commonly known as “runners high”.  This “feel good factor” protein also works to protect and repair neural tissue which leads to enhanced activity of our brains after such physical challenge.  All of this supports the mind and body in feeling more energized, positive and focused.

With all these psychological responses (positivity, energy, awareness, focus and connection) our minds are encouraged into a meditative state, providing us immediately with the benefits of mediation and mindfulness; the art of focusing in the here and now – a powerful tool which has long been practiced in the East and now in our fast moving society an encouraged practice to help us maintain our balance.  The 21st century is overly stimulated; we’re chasing our tails, forever focused on the next thing. Anxiety, depression, ruminating thoughts are amongst the many mental challenges facing more and more people every single day.  Mindfulness found through mediation encourages our minds to deal with the present, supporting a healthier mental state. Beyond the physiological outcomes of practicing the Gentle Art, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu demands undivided attention, centring us, allowing our minds to be freed from worries and frustrations. Clearing our mind, sets us up to better navigate the next part of the day.  Ongoing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training teaches us the art of mindfulness unknowingly and this new behaviour is imbedded subconsciously into our method of everyday operating.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu benefits are not limited to the biological benefits mentioned in this piece, it offers many unique experiences which trigger rich, subtle and fulfilling psychological and physiological changes, which promote positive transformation both on and off the mats – it is the all-round benefits gained both mentally and physically that contributes to this sports ever-growing popularity.

We ride this journey of life only once, embracing activities that will support a healthy lifestyle are crucial in supporting an enjoyable journey. Irrespective of your current psychological or physiological state, never give up on learning along your journey nor enjoying the journey of learning. The Fight Never Ends.

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