Per My Last Email: The Psychology of Boxing

August 9 - Dr. Nahal Delpassand

Very little research has emphasized the specific physiological and psychological benefits of boxing for women. Research has proven that exercise helps to promote positive mood states, increase production of “feel good endorphins”, and decrease depression and anxiety symptoms. In my experience boxing offers more than these known benefits. It offers a unique space for the modern working woman to redefine strength and adapt to the barriers of everyday life with enduring tenacity.

I am often asked what I do to unwind after a long day at work. Without hesitation, my response is always, “I head to the boxing gym.” Over 10 years, I have been training with Julia Gschwind, who is the owner of Austin’s only female boxing gym, Austin Boxing Babes. I need to emphasize that Austin Boxing Babes is more than a gym. It is a school, otherwise known as dojo, that upholds the values of skill, structure, and consistent effort.

As I sat down with Julia in preparation for this piece, she provided her insight into why women seek out boxing. She stated that, “Women are looking for a way to tap into their power because subconsciously they are feeling stuck.” She indicated that with time and practice, the skills that are acquired in the boxing gym are applied to everyday life. Julia stated that her students come to her and say, “I handled that [setback in my life] like I would in the ring.”

Julia emphasized that as a woman, a third degree black belt, and a fighter she witnesses a transformation in her students. This comes through the process of confronting fears. Ultimately, the boxing ring is the greatest metaphor for life.

How do we show up to face our opponents?

Do we shy away or do we stand tall?

How do we rise up after a hit?

Boxing as a discipline teaches skill, tact, protection, patience, self-awareness, and above all else: grit. Therefore, the relationship between boxing and psychology cannot be denied. Julia and I agree that the bond that is cultivated in the ring, or in a therapeutic space, takes time and is critical to positive outcomes. Perhaps, what I find most enlightening about boxing and therapy is that both act as a microcosm for healing.

As a woman, boxing has provided me with more than just a good workout. Ten years ago when I googled “female boxing gym”, I was feeling defeated. I was tired of feeling uncomfortable as a woman in a gym. I was self-conscious because I was never athletically inclined and was preoccupied with what I perceived was my physical clumsiness and “am I doing this right?’ What I have come to realize is that I was looking for a safe space where I would be accepted for my strengths and limitations. Austin Boxing Babes not only offered an inclusive space, but more importantly, it offered a sense of camaraderie.

I was uplifted by the other women and their stories that led them to chose boxing. I learned to experiment with different exercises and connect to a physical strength that I did not know I had. In addition, I found a special outlet that provided solace from the noise of the outside world. It is more than a sport to me. When my hands are wrapped and my gloves are on, I experience an immediate rush. I feel a visceral connection to my prowess as a female. I have more appreciation for my body and the responsibility I bare to protect it and above all else respect it.

Over the years, I have not only strengthened my physical self through boxing, but this discipline has also served as a platform for increased emotional tolerance and spiritual connection. Boxing is not just about hitting a heavy bag. It fosters mindfulness through repetitive movement and requires acute awareness. The enduring benefit for me has been increased mental clarity and empowerment.

Boxing has helped to dismantle my fears and face the challenges of life with persistence. I have learned to deeply celebrate the mind-body connection. I have learned to be more bold, creative, and grateful. These values, while cultivated in the ring, have also translated to my clinical practice and my personal life. Boxing is an enlightening activity that strengthens the will to not merely survive but thrive.

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