A Spin on Healing Through Jiu Jitsu

As I drive up I can see the women piling through the front door, gear in hand. I hear the music pumping loud bass filled beats that push through the cold evening air and fill the parking lot every time the door opens. Spin class is about to start.

I take a deep breath, grab my Gi and head next door to Frontline Academy where I am a white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

I take off my shoes and enter the oddly quiet building. From the outside you would never know that the walls were filled with a precise mix of kindness, skill and savagery. 

I tie my, still, crisp white belt around my waist and smooth out my Gi. I’m greeted, by name, by my professor Pedro, as he has done since my first class a few months ago and I feel the same feeling as I always have: welcomed.

My heart still pounds as I step on the mats and my brain still struggles to grasp the lessons. My whole body still tenses up as I fight to figure out a way to slow my thoughts and practice the techniques taught. 

In fact, I still ask myself the same question every time I find myself on those mats: “Why the hell would a 38 year old woman with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) come here, risk injury, get her ass handed to her and completely deplete herself for such a physical sport?”

And my answer is always the same: “Because I want to be better. Because I can be better. Because my heart keeps leading me back.”

As someone who was orphaned at six years old after witnessing how fatal domestic violence can be and then having been personally subjected to all kinds of trauma and abuse, this is the first time I’ve done anything to powerfully take back ownership of my body. And I love it. 

Healing isn’t always bubbles baths and talk therapy. 

I’ve spent decades with some incredible therapists, counselors and coaches. I have done so much work to build a healthy and successful life and to carve out a lot of happiness despite the cards I was dealt. I have dedicated my adult life to healing from my past.

While I think it still sounds strange that I find healing from trying to escape bottom side control and that I have yet to manage a way to pass anyone’s guard, I can feel myself getting stronger and more resilient and yes, even a smidge better, at Jiu Jitsu each time.

I am giving myself permission to suck at something for the greater good. Isn’t that what being a white belt is all about? Having faith in something outside of yourself and trusting the process? 

I’m learning to trust my teammates, to trust myself, to feel safe when I would normally panic and to feel powerful and like I gave it my all.  

Most importantly, I’m letting myself off the hook for having to know better or especially in those first few weeks: to know anything at all. My only job is to show up and give it everything I’ve got.

And that in and of itself carries a lot of healing.

When I put on my uniform and step on those mats I have to practice respect for my body and my teammates. I have to practice kindness and compassion to myself for learning something so incredibly difficult, that if I am brave enough to continue for the next decade or more and maybe just maybe make it to black belt, I will still not have mastered it. 

There will still be many, many, people with more skill, talent, experience and tenacity than me and I will almost certainly continue to feel like I don’t know what I’m doing or that I’m not good enough or that I don’t have what it takes.

I still ponder the same question before I get out of my car and head to class: “What the hell are you doing here?”

But I never question if it’s good for me, if it’s making me a better person, if I feel stronger and more accomplished and if I should come back. All of those answers stay the same loud resounding: “YES!”

As I gulp water, wipe the sweat off my brow and try to calm my breathing, I focus in again on the loud pounding music from the spin class next door and I smile to myself because, while I would probably feel more comfortable on a bike, I am certain that I am exactly where I belong.


Submitted and written by Iman Gatti


Iman Gatti, bestselling author of Cracked Open – Never Broken, is an empowerment coach, transformational speaker, and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist™. Through her work, she helps people overcome self-limiting beliefs, heal past wounds, and step fully into their limitless potential.

She is currently a white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Frontline Academy Canada – Carlson Gracie Team, under Professor Pedro Lott.