After grappling with agoraphobia and panic disorder for over twenty years now, I have tried just about every treatment option possible before finding the right fit for me. Everything from medication to yoga to therapy and finally Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) to discover the benefits of what I consider to be a very effective form of active meditation.
When I first started getting panic attacks and ended up having to quit my job as a prison guard, medication was a godsend. Finally, I was able to do the simple things that had seemed impossible in the recent weeks. Little things like going to the movies or even going out with my friends and having fun.
A few months later however, I decided to get off the medication and try to continue my progress without any pharmaceutical help. The side effects of taking antidepressants and anxiolytics were starting to take its toll. Besides, I’ve never been a big fan of taking medication. It wasn’t easy but I managed to ween off the pills and take my anxiety head-on.
In order to help better manage my emotions, I signed up for a yoga class. It really helped induce a state of relaxation. Actually, after the classes I was usually very calm and relaxed. The problem however was that in-between yoga sessions, my anxiety would increase and it seemed harder to stay motivated so I knew I had to find something else. Mindfulness meditation was the in thing to do at the time so I gave it a try. Although the principles of mindfulness meditation is relatively simple, I found it incredibly difficult to try to remain silent and focus on my breathing. It seemed like every thought I have ever had would present itself during my attempts at meditation. Maybe I should have continued trying but it became frustrating and I looked for alternative solutions to reduce my anxiety.
At the same time that I was looking for a magic solution to manage my panic attacks, a mixed martial arts (MMA) gym opened up a few streets away from my place. Being curious, I signed up for a few classes to see how it was. I had always been curious about MMA. Turns out I don’t like being punched or kicked. When we practiced ground routines, or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu however, I really enjoyed the challenge. Once we started grappling, it seemed as if time had stood still and all my thoughts had disappeared from my mind except for the present moment. It was impossible to think about anything else when somebody was trying to submit me. My mind was focused on what was happening to me right now and nothing else.
When my trial membership finished, I signed up at a BJJ school and started training two to three times a week. After a few weeks, I noticed that my anxiety had decreased significantly and I felt much better about myself. It is then that I realized how BJJ was a form of meditation that allowed my mind to empty itself of all other thoughts while being focused on the present moment. Isn’t that what meditation is all about?
Today I am a blue belt in BJJ and still try to go train every week. Having a family and working full time doesn’t make it easy to train as often as I’d like but when I start to miss a few classes, I can feel my anxiety rising. It is at that moment that I make it a priority to find the time to roll. Everyone has to find their own way of dealing with anxiety and I’m glad I discovered how to successfully grapple with mine.