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Ashley Dewitt : Healing through Jiu-Jitsu

Meet this amazing woman, Ashley Dewitt, who with 4 kids, a few months postpartum, and 85 pounds overweight, decides to start practicing jiu-jitsu. It is a very male dominated martial art,  and a full body contact sport, where you get your self in very uncomfortable positions with your partner.

She wasn’t feeling happy and fulfilled , something was missing, so she decides to start practicing this very complex martial art. In my opinion, Jiu-Jitsu takes you out of your comfort zone as a woman, where you are rolling on the floor with men, where you feel absolutely vulnerable and opeN. It is a sport that makes you stare at your most primal fears as women directly in the face.

So she went for it…she dived right into it…

I was doing something healthy as well as doing something that made me happy and feel good about myself.

- Why Jiu - Jitsu? Why of all the things you could have chosen, you went for Jiu-Jitsu ?

Why Jiu-Jitsu there's a few reasons why Jiu -Jitsu. The first being my husband had trained Jiu-Jitsu for years. We had opened a school and while I had wanted to try Jiu- Jitsu for a long time I was always pregnant or behind the desk, or just felt so out of shape and didn't really believe that it could be for me. I wasn't really sold on that I had the ability to do it.

I wanted to try something different and something that would help me to feel better. I knew that people recommended physical activity to boost different mood-boosting chemicals in your body, as well as people seem to really enjoy it. They were always smiling and laughing. It seems like a good way to make friends and increase my social circle, as well as get a workout in and feel good about the changes that I was making in my life. I wasn't super interested in the belt progression or how long it would take me to feel more achievement. I was very interested in doing something that would make me feel strong, step out of my comfort zone, and challenge myself to try something that I wasn't sure I could do. Jiu- Jitsu wasn't the only thing that I tried. Really at that point in my life, I didn't know what would make me happy or what I enjoyed doing so I tried a lot of different things but Jiu-Jitsu and yoga quickly became crossovers for me, where I was doing something healthy as well as doing something that made me happy and feel good about myself.

I felt so happy and like I had really accomplished something. I was surrounded by people who felt the same, so it was so encouraging.

-What happen to you the first time you stepped on the mat?

The first time I was on the mat was incredibly difficult. I was about 5 weeks postpartum and I was very blessed to have a friend who was more than willing to help me with my time on the mat and figuring out what I could and couldn't do. She was very talented with understanding how the body worked and she had already started her Jiu-Jitsu journey, so she was able to help me modify things if needed. The first time on the mat I was very emotional. There were a lot of aspects of my body that I was very uncomfortable with, that I wasn't quite prepared for my own reactions and the negative talk that I had to overcome in my head. A few minutes later and I was completely distracted from all of that. I had to learn how to completely shift my focus on what was being talked about or I would miss stuff. So I learn to turn off that self talk, my to do list, and anything else that was weighing on my mind. It's been a great skill to develop for me. My first class was difficult I mean you wear form-fitting clothes and I was uncomfortable with my body and had just brought another human being into the world. I was less than thrilled with my shape. I hadn't learned yet how to be gentle with myself or focus on a more positive self-talk. But oh my that first-class how I felt after? I can just remember feeling like" I did this! I really really did this". It was hard and I had to work on my focus and it's like a chess game but with your body. So I wanted more. I was impressed with all the stuff I was able to do and encouraged by the things that I couldn't do, but still I was able to take steps and realize that later I would be able to do them. There's a lot of movements that you don't do right off the bat, you have to grow in your understanding mentally as well as what you are physically able to do....and I had done a workout that didn't feel the same as when I went to the gym to do a workout. I felt so happy and like I had really accomplished something. I was surrounded by people who felt the same, so it was so encouraging.

It was hard and I had to work on my focus and it's like a chess game but with your body. So I wanted more. I was impressed with all the stuff I was able to do

- What did you have to overcome to be able to move on and keep practicing?

I've had to overcome a fair bit actually. To keep with my Jiu-Jitsu practice I have lost 85 lb and while some of that was very intentional with my lifestyle choices (and Jiu-Jitsu was a big part of that), it has helped me tremendously to keep that movement and be able to do things. I've had a few ailments with my body. I was recovering from pregnancy so I had to take care of myself and be very gentle, but I have a previous neck issue that has caused me to modify different movements and be careful with how I learned things. That's the beautiful thing about Jiu -Jitsu : everyone's journey is so individual and unique and you find other people who may have had something similar as you, and you hear what they did to modify or you know... grow to be able to do something and then you tweak it to what works for you. There's particular moves that because of my lack of flexibility with my neck, it took me a long time to be able to do them. This encouraged me to look at different stretches and yoga, which made that area of my life a lot better. I have increased my flexibility a lot over time and that has helped my Jiu-Jitsu so much. There's been emotional factors that I've had to overcome as well.  I was sexually abused as a child. While I had gone to therapy and thought that I had dealt with a lot of that, there were a few times that I was uncomfortable with things and had to be able to figure out what was going on in my own mind and then how to help myself with that and what I needed so that I could feel safe or be able to do more. Thankfully, I had a lot of support and people who shared their successes and I was able to quickly overcome any issues. This made me feel stronger and more empowered.

The uniform can be something that you need to overcome. Tight fitting pants or even ghee pants and a tight fitting top can be a little bit awkward if you are not comfortable with your body. There were times that I saw myself in spats (which is essentially spandex pants), and I wanted to cry. Now, I never thought about that on the mat because I was busy learning and doing Jiu-Jitsu, but I definitely thought about it before I went to class and I would just have to remind myself of how amazing I would feel after class and then it would all be worth it. Now I think I look great in spats.It really never mattered to anyone else what I looked like, it was just something in my own head.

- How has your life changed after you faced all your fears and dived deep into the world of Jiu-Jitsu?

My life has changed in many ways. I have a lot more confidence and awareness of myself and other people around me. This has also influenced my life in many ways. I have more patience with myself and realize that things are more of a growing process. I have worked very hard to overcome negative self-talk and different issues that I saw in myself. With putting so much pressure on myself during my Jiu-Jitsu journey, it's helped me physically and health-wise by giving me more motivation to overcome certain things and motivation to make healthier lifestyle choices. I am stronger, fitter, and a better person today because of Jiu-Jitsu. It seems cliche to say that, but it really is a truth for me..

-What would you say to so many women out there that are overwhelmed, and just can’t find time for themselves, don’t know what to do, and need something, but are not sure what?

What I would say to those women is: "just take the first step". The first step is the hardest part , but once you take that step, it does get a little bit easier to choose yourself. I can genuinely say that I was right there where you are. I was overwhelmed, I felt like I couldn't do anything for myself, that I didn't have anything left to give my family, and that they needed so much more. There were so many stressors and I didn't know what to do to make it better. I didn't know where I was going to come up with the energy to make things better. I was unhappy, overweight, stressed to the max, and had emptiness and a longing for things that I didn't know how to feel or even how to figure out. I genuinely no longer even knew what I liked to do or what sounded like fun to me.

But I took that first step. I started slow walking around the block just myself so that I could breathe. A couple of times throughout the week when I laid the kids down, I would go outside, right in front of my house , and I would do some sprints. Getting a little fresh air makes my heart rate increase and start doing things to choose myself. I can't explain it, I don't understand how, but when I started choosing myself and taking care of me as a priority, so did my family. It was hard to make new routines, but it was so rewarding. My children have grown so much for it and I see how they take better care of themselves and their value our family more. I see how I am teaching them to live healthy, to have safe boundaries, and to take care of themselves even when things are rough. I can't explain it, but I do things better now. I seem to have more time to get things done even though I don't. I spend more time on myself, I am happier, and I am less stressed (and so is my family). Somehow when I chose myself, things just worked better and I was able to take care of more things and figure out how to share in that. The things that didn't matter, I stop stressing about. But really it was up to the first step. It's so hard to do but it is the most rewarding thing.

I see how I am teaching them to live healthy, to have safe boundaries, and to take care of themselves even when things are rough

There you have it, if you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, empty, take that first step, take care of your self, I know it sounds cliché, but it's real, when you fill up your cup, you have enough to share. So often we forget about ourselves, we run empty and we don't realize that we are not only affecting ourselves but everyone around us. The first step is the hardest, once you take it, you will be impressed of all the things you can accomplish.

If you want to learn more about Ashley's journey or connect with more women while taking care of us, come join us Saturday September 28th, click here to see event.