I recently came across this great little article on Psychology Today, It gets into some very specific psychological benefits of BJJ student. Interestingly, it was written by a doctor of psychology and brown belt in BJJ from Gracie Barra New Mexico, Dr. David Ley. He has a unique perspective on the psychological benefits of BJJ practice. as both a doctor and a long-time BJJ student. The whole piece is well worth the read. I’ve picked out 5 critical psychological benefits of BJJ, as identified by Dr. Ley. I’ll focus on one each day.

1. Physical contact

People in the modern era don’t get a ton of physical contact anymore, and much of what we get is negative. Think of a crowded Starbuck’s line or a lightrail car during rush hour. This physical contact is generally uninvited and unwelcome. We can clearly see the difference between this type of contact and the positive type. For example, consider how many contact-based ways we have to positive acknowledge another human: the handshake, which has a million forms. The hug, which ranges in intensity from stiff and formal to maximum intimacy. Or the way people walk arm-in-arm off the field of victory. Positive physical contact is something we do naturally, and seek out often. But so many people are so lacking in this area, and psychologically speaking, that’s a problem.

In the 1930’s, a psychologist named Harry Harlow did a lot of research into the importance of physical contact on development. He used Rhesus monkeys, as human experiments were then and still are pretty tough to pull of.. Rhesus monkeys are very smart and very social, so they make a good substitute. He raised the monkeys in three different ways. Some monkeys were physically isolated – no siblings, no parents, no staff. Some were raised by skilled staff, without their mother or playmates. And some were raised with surrogate mothers, either stuffed animals or wooden models. Basically, they were raised with differing levels of physical contact. Harlow got very different results. The isolated monkeys simply withdrew into themselves, stopped eating, and died. Those raised by staff with no mother showed substantial signs of fear and aggressiveness . Those raised with surrogate mothers thrived, relative to the other two. And they chose to spend their time in close physical contact to these surrogates, even when it cost them food. Essentially, the drive for physical contact is stronger than that for food for these infants, and physical contact was more important to their development than food was.

So what does that mean for humans? Well, at bare minimum, it means that physical contact is a very important factor in the development and happiness of primates. In particular, it seems important that we get some validation, some acceptance, and some simple good vibrations from positive physical contact. It’s important for all of us to consider how much positive physical contact we’re getting in our lives, since it seems so important to development and happiness. There are plenty of ways to do this. Some choose dance, some choose physical sports like basketball or rugby, and others rely on friends and loved ones. It happens that BJJ is simply a very effective, very powerful way to work on this. As Dr. Ley says,

“students of BJJ offer each other a powerful, affirming, accepting and biologically-mediated experience, simply through the body-to-body contact that occurs throughout BJJ.”

In a day or two, we’ll get around to discussing the way this physical contact actually delivers positive changes to your life. But for tomorrow, we’ll focus on the way the physical practice of BJJ develops mindfulness.

 

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