Brazilian jiu-jitsu was the perfect meditation after my lupus diagnosis

Sometimes what we need most awaits in unexpected places

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by Kristiana Page |

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In late 2016, I was lost, lonely, and desperate for life to be different. In the wake of a lupus diagnosis, I’d never felt more alone or misunderstood. The life I’d long imagined had disintegrated into thin air the moment I was introduced to the word “lupus.” I no longer understood the parameters of the game — the goal posts had been changed.

As I sat amid the rubble of life as I’d known it, I felt an urge not just to rebuild, but to redefine and reshape my world. Catastrophic, life-altering events seldom come by choice. You rarely get to choose how your life crumbles; most of the time, we’re bystanders to the chaos. But we almost always have control over how we deal with the aftermath.

One night, on a whim and with absolutely no frame of reference, I typed “martial arts Geelong” into Google. I clicked the first link that popped up in the search list, filled in the inquiry box, and hit “send” on an introductory trial. It’s funny when I look back on that moment now. It’s astounding to think that in those five minutes, I changed the trajectory of my entire life and didn’t even have the slightest inkling.

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Hiding in plain sight

The Brazilian jiu-jitsu academy I chose was in the middle of town, hiding in plain sight. It was up a set of stairs above a laundromat, and I’d probably driven past it a thousand times.

Anxiety set in as I approached the open door. Walking up the narrow steps, I had no idea what awaited me. In the few moments it took me to reach the top, I questioned what I was getting myself into.

Of all the lessons on rotation, that day I walked into a session focused on shelling and striking. I come from an incredibly diplomatic family, and when I was a kid, we solved 100% of our problems with words. Being physically struck on the very first night of lessons really challenged me in a way I’d never experienced before. That night, I had the choice to run away or face myself.

During the drive home afterward, I made my choice. Taking a breath and throwing caution to the wind, I dug my heels into my discomfort.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu quickly went from something I was testing out to a new interest, a hobby. Over time, it became a lifestyle. Even in the beginning, it spoke to so many different parts of me. Being diagnosed with lupus had created a fire in me; never before had I felt such defiance and anger.

Jiu-jitsu was the most productive outlet when I needed it most. It gave me a way to harness and use that fire, which, left untamed, would’ve burned me. But even more than that, I’d found the most perfect form of meditation.

Intensely focused

The concept of submission grappling being used as a form of meditation sounds crazy to most people. But when you’re grappling with someone, all you can think about is what’s right in front of you. In that moment, all that matters is what’s going on between you and the other person. When you’re in the middle of a session, nothing else in the world matters except defending yourself and trying to work your way to an advantage.

Just after my diagnosis, my life consisted of too many moving parts. It felt like the world had kicked into hyperspeed, and when it did, I just wanted to step out for a moment. I would’ve given anything to have one day to myself. At a time when the chaos was engulfing me, a day to gather my thoughts would’ve been a beautiful gift.

But that was never an option. The world never stopped. I was forced to find my own way to quiet the pandemonium.

I found peace in submission grappling because when I was on the mat, nothing else mattered. There was no time for me to worry, fixate, or think about anything going on outside of the academy. From the moment we started a roll, slapped hands, and fist-bumped each other until one of us tapped, the only thing that mattered was my partner and me.

Over time, I fell madly in love with the technicality of it, the forced resilience, and the constant, relentless call to better myself. But at a time when I needed it most, what sucked me into Brazilian jiu-jitsu was that it was the only place I could stop the world and catch my breath.

Note: Lupus News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lupus News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lupus.