Episode 185 Anissa Hudak How Trauma-Focused Yoga Helps Heal PTSD

This transcript is from episode 185 with guest Anissa Hudak.

Scott DeLuzio   00:00:00    Thanks for tuning into the Drive On Podcast, where we’re focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty, guard, reserve, or family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio. Now let’s get on with the show. Hey, everyone, welcome back to the Drive On Podcast. Today, my guest is Anissa Hudak. Anissa’s life has been intertwined with PTSD trauma and the military, as a daughter of a Vietnam veteran and military spouse to an OIF/OEF veteran. She saw the struggles others were having, which inspired her to create the trauma healing yoga therapy program. Today we’re going to be talking to her about the program and how it can help those who have suffered trauma in their lives. Welcome to the show. I’m glad to have you here  

Anissa Hudak  00:01:00    Thanks so much for having me on.  

Scott DeLuzio   00:01:02    Yeah, absolutely. For the listeners who may not know who you are and anything really about you, other than the couple sentences I just read off in the intro here. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?  

Anissa Hudak  00:01:16     I am a daughter of a non-vet and, at a very early age, I was kind of introduced to PTSD, although I didn’t know it at that point in time.  Then I got married to an active duty soldier and became very well acquainted with PTSD. We were stationed here at Fort Riley. We live in Manhattan and I was in the process of taking teacher training for yoga and the school that I was going through, they were offering a warriors course, which was for active duty, retired military for PTSD.  I kind of live here at Fort Riley. we have people coming in and out from deployments, we have this Q huge military community. We have a WTB here. It would probably be great for me to take these classes and bring this back to my community.  

Anissa Hudak    00:02:13    However, I was about halfway through the first day.  I realized that the first person I had to work on was right here and that my own PTSD had really crawled into the Nooks and crannies of my life and was holding me back. It really became a journey of self-discovery, self-healing along with being able to then turn around and help others. I’ve had the honor of working for about three years at the WTB here at Fort Riley.  I have worked privately with soldiers, active duty and retired. I primarily focus just with women who’ve experienced sexual trauma. However, I still work hand in hand with lots of veterans and some active duty from time to time. That’s kinda how I fell into it. It was never like I woke up one morning and said, I wanna work with people and make them cry.  

Scott DeLuzio   00:03:16     I don’t think that’s anyone’s goal unless you have that really twisted side to you.  But it does make sense, especially given the location that you’re in a very big military community, that you would want to use this training to help out the people who are coming back from deployment.  The tail end of their time in the military. As they’re transitioning out, they probably have some unresolved issues that they need to kind of address before stepping into the civilian world. it makes sense that the journey and the path that you took to here to what you’re doing now does make a lot of sense.  Your program is a yoga therapy program. What is the difference between just yoga, traditional yoga that you might see someone doing in the park or in a yoga studio or whatever between that in yoga therapy, or is there even a difference?  

Anissa Hudak   00:04:22    Well, all yoga is healing. However, if you were to look at yoga as a great big pie and we slice it down the middle and we have on one side fitness based yoga, so AGA brick, Bru, aerial yoga, co-ed hot,  good yoga, I mean, all kinds of stuff right on this side. You do that for fun. You do it for fitness based on the other side, we have therapy based, and those of us who are on this side, what we do is we usually, choose a specialty. There’s yoga for cardiac rehab, cancerParkinson’s, MS, you name it. I just happen to work with PTSD, trauma and TBIs. That’s my specialty and our classes are geared more towards those folks in those niches to really help them meet their needs, as opposed to a fitness based class, people who are in these types of niches really can’t sometimes go into a fitness based class and be able to execute it maybe to the best that they would want to.  There’s a lot more psychology that goes into yoga therapy, as opposed to a fitness based. We really wanna help people, build them up. Self-esteem, self confidence, along with being able to get a full body workout and maybe better mobility, what else, better mobility, better balance, things like that.  

Scott DeLuzio  00:06:03    How does it work? Is there science behind this type of therapy where you’ve tested it out and observe the changes and what is it? If  we come to you and we’re looking to heal some sort of trauma, whatever it happens to be and what can we expect, how does that work?  

Anissa Hudak  00:06:44    What’s the difference? What happens when you’re in a fitness based class,  you’re going at a pretty good pace and you’re doing it for that.  I hate to burst everybody’s bubble. This is all science based. There is no smoke and mirrors. There’s no voodoo, it’s not new age rules kind of stuff. This is all science based and it has actually been proven.  

Anissa Hudak    00:07:14    That’s what really appealed to me was when I was in these classes, I was learning all of the science behind it. I was like, well, why is it more people doing this? This is a no-brainer. There’s a lot of physical science behind it, but there’s also a lot of psychology behind it. All proven, through science. It’s been really remarkable to see the difference when somebody comes into one of my classes and says, I took a class over at ABC yoga studio.  I didn’t feel like this when I walked out, you have different needs and that instructor doesn’t have education behind them to understand what those needs are and to kind of tailor the class for you. whereas here things are a little different. People find that they’re able to meet their needs a little bit better when they get the person, the instructor and they get into the class that really meets their needs.  

Scott DeLuzio  00:08:20    You’re right, those needs are different. Fitness based yoga is going to be geared more towards people who are looking to get in better shape and improve their overall fitness. But this trauma based therapy is focusing on a different part. It’s all healing, it’s just a different part of your body that you’re attempting to heal. I’m just curious, I personally don’t do yoga. My wife does, but I’ve seen a lot of the different poses and all the things that she does with yoga. How are the movements or the things that you’re doing in the class different from, your maybe traditional more traditional type of yoga for fitness?  

Anissa Hudak    00:09:19    One of the things that we do is  keep the lights on. Sometimes in fitness based class, they might turn the lights off, especially during Shavasana, which is final relaxation in my class, the lights always remain on, people who have experienced trauma, don’t usually like dark places. Sometimes if you turn off lights, then you’ve got shadows and we just keep the lights on. Sometimes the class can move a little slower. Sometimes we move at a good pace. It really kind of depends on who’s in the class. Physical needs to meet.  But also the way I cue things is very different. Please join me in this pose when you’re ready, please meet me here. We’re gonna be moving into this pose now. I’m always asking when they’re ready to join me there. The reason for that is when you’ve experienced some sort of traumatic experience, your power, your agency was taken away from you. Here’s an opportunity for me to give it back to you for you to be empowered, to make that decision and for you to move into that pose. When you’re ready, if you’re ready, you might hang out in the last pose. You might meet me in three poses after that, whatever, as long as you’re doing the pose safe and you’re breathing  

Anissa Hudak    00:10:54     I talked during the entire class. Some people say that it is the Anissa standup hour, because I am constantly talking now. I’m not a talk therapist, but I am a yoga therapist. My scope of practice is to help move the trauma out of your body.  

Anissa Hudak    00:11:18    That being said when things get quiet and silent, that’s kind of where the scary stuff happens. We talk it’s interactive the entire time. We talk a lot about food, sometimes sports, current events, you name it. We just talk usually after class, everybody’s really hungry because we talk a lot about food. but we’re always talking. And towards that end, once we get to Shavas a final relaxation, generally in a fitness based class, you’re silent, you’re on your back. You’re kind of in a spread Eagle pose and  you’re silent for five to 10 minutes, maybe more. But not in my class. you are able to lay on your side, lay on your belly, use pillows and blankets and whatever you need to feel comfortable lying down. I have several books of yoga poetry. I read about the emotional aspects of essential oils. I will read other poems or quotes or what have you that way your mind is never alone. You’re never alone with your thoughts. Sometimes this happens in a fitness based class, but most times it’s usually quiet. These are some of the ways that classes are different. I would say the number one rule though is we do not use straps.  

Scott DeLuzio   00:12:50   It does make sense that you don’t want to be alone with your thoughts. Sometimes  you almost need that distraction to keep your mind from wandering into maybe some of those dark places. By having those things that you’re discussing that are not threatening, it could be like you said food or  things along those lines, current events, although, these, this day and age, sometimes current events could be a little touchy. Simple things that are not threatening, it’s not the type of stuff that people are coming in with trauma about you’re not talking about a combat situation. You’re not talking about jogging alone in a park at night.  where someone may have been assaulted or whatever. You’re not talking about those types of things.  

Scott DeLuzio   00:13:53    You’re using that as a way to distract away from that. That does make sense. I’ve experienced that myself in various other forms of therapies that I’ve used that have required me to have some sort of distraction in place as I was going through some emotions because it was just too overwhelming in that process to do it without a distraction. That does make sense now, who is maybe the ideal candidate for you to work with in terms of, who will help this type of therapy the most?  

Anissa Hudak    00:14:35    Generally anybody who has a heartbeat.  

Scott DeLuzio  00:14:38    Okay.  

Anissa Hudak   00:14:39    You need a pulse.  

Scott DeLuzio  00:14:41    Yeah, well that, that is, that probably goes without saying. As far as the people who have experienced some sort of trauma, what is the best type of person that you’re, you’re looking for in terms of who this type of therapy will work the best for? Maybe I’m not asking that question that the best way, but, someone who’s been traumatized that they don’t even leave their house, is that this gonna be too much or is this something for someone who is on the, their way to recovering and it’s kind of that last step to take that edge off or just starting in their healing journey.  

Anissa Hudak   00:15:33    I generally like to work with people who are about three to six months out from either experience or kind of realizing that they have had an experience. Generally in the first three or sometimes even six months, depending on the person and the experience it’s too raw and, just being able to get up and brush their teeth and take a shower really might be all that they can do. That’s totally okay for those people,  I still invite them in and I say to them just sit with us  while we’re going through the motions, because we’re creating this energy. Ee do create this wonderful energy that in the room that they can sit and be a part of and when they’re ready, they can join us on a mat. That’s totally cool because they’re there. Sometimes that’s like 90% of the battle just to get them to plug in that way. It doesn’t mean that they have to be on a mat. From what I’ve been able to notice in the past, five years, six years that I’ve been doing this usually like that three to six month is, is the sweet spot.  

Scott DeLuzio   00:16:57   That’s helpful information too, because someone who may have experienced some sort of trauma last week, they may not want to just jump right into something like this right away.  It may be one of those things where they might need to process on their own for a little bit or, through some other forms of therapy, but before jumping into something like this, so that’s helpful.  I think that’s kind of what I was going for, in terms of who you’re looking for.  As far as the energy that you create in the room, I know you said it was kind of a little,  woo woo or, or whatever, but it makes sense because, I have three kids at home, three young kids, and we have two puppies at home. When the kids are around and around the puppies and they’re running around and they’re getting all crazy  and ramped up, the dogs are really crazy and amped up too, and they’re running around and they’re chasing things and they’re, they’re playing and everything.  

Scott DeLuzio   00:18:02    There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you walk into the room and you sit down on the floor and you’re calm and your own energy is calm and everything, it reflects on the dogs, they’re not as hyper and jumping around  and running and doing everything. They kind of take the lead off of what they’re experiencing. It’s not a hundred percent. Sometimes they’ll still be high and energetic and they’re puppies and they should be. But you can see the difference.  The reason why I’m mentioning that is because someone who might just be so overwhelmed with going into a room with other people that they maybe don’t even know, might feel I’m dating them. If you realize that maybe there’s that calming energy going on in this room, well, maybe I can handle that. Maybe that’s something I can get behind.  Like you said, even if it’s just sitting there not actively participating, but just being a part of that, that might be a good first step anyways, to just introduce yourself to it. 

Anissa Hudak    00:19:16    When I try to have my classes,I try not to teach where people are in rows. I actually prefer a horseshoe because we’re creating an environment there, a community community, and people can sit within that community and they don’t necessarily have to participate, but they’re still a part of that. Nobody is behind one another. You don’t have to worry about looking behind you if this person is watching me whatever everybody’s part of the community, but it doesn’t mean you have to be actively participating.  

Scott DeLuzio  00:19:53    That makes sense, too, especially for someone who may have that hypervigilance from maybe PTSD, you don’t exactly want someone creeping up behind or even an assault victim who maybe had someone sneak up behind them and assault them. In one way or another. you may not want that. Having that horseshoe shape is this type of therapy, one of those things that it’s an ongoing  I’m guessing it’s more than just a one and done kind thing, obviously. After you start to see the results, is it something that you need to keep up with, in order to benefit from, or is this something that once in you start feeling the benefits from it that you can kinda maybe stop going to as often?  

Anissa Hudak   00:20:55    Well, I kind of liken it to chiropractic care. You build yourself up and the more you go, the better you feel, the more you go, the better you feel and what happens your body finally makes these adjustments on their own, as opposed to having to go in and have somebody manually do that for you. Your body learns the proper alignment, or what have you kind of the same process. You go in and the more you do it, the better you feel and your body is gonna rewire itself. You’re really what we’re doing is we are rewiring the central nervous system. We’re resetting it. You’re gonna get to a point when you’re like, I’m reset. I am back to homeostasis 90% of the time. You might wanna continue the practice because you love the practice and you love being there.  However, you might get to a point and you’re like, you know what? I feel pretty good. I don’t think I wanna continue. That’s okay. It’s resetting your central nervous system for you. And you’re a high functioning person with PTSD. There you go.  

Scott DeLuzio  00:22:16    Sure. And That makes sense, right? The way you explained it, I think the chiropractic adjustment analogy is a good way to think of it, but is this something that people can take? Some of the things that they have learned during these, these classes to apply them at home and do the practice on their own, as well as in a classroom kind of setting,  

Anissa Hudak    00:22:42   There are certain poses that folks can totally do on their own. That for specific needs, especially like legs up the wall or waterfall that is great to help you with sleep, doing that for 15 minutes really helps people wind down to the point where they are able to then go to bed. It’s a great pose to use as far as the whole practice, they may not remember the whole practice. There’s an actual scientific way that I go about it. We warm the whole body up, we do our work, we do our cool down. We do our Shipo, all between that. We’re doing our breathing and what have, the thing is easy for people to do on their own. That’s where the money is and yes, there are some poses. Would I recommend that people do this all on their own? Probably not because if not educated in it, you really wanna keep yourself safe.  so it’s a fine line between using poses for a special need or maybe going ahead and becoming a teacher just so you can keep yourself safe.  

Scott DeLuzio   00:24:04     I think why I wanted to mention that is, because I’m sure there are some, things that you do in the class that require some format and structure and the ways that you’re doing it to do it in a safe and effective manner, as opposed to just doing it haphazardly,where it may not be quite as safe.  It was sort of a loaded question. I think I kind of knew the answer, but I wanted to, to just verify and make sure that I had it right on that, from that aspect. But, we’ve been talking a lot about this, this class setting, the horseshoe shape and all the energy in the room. Is it possible for someone who maybe isn’t comfortable with being in a group like that, to do this type of stuff on a one-on-one basis? Whether it’s over like a zoom or something like that. Or, even though there’s a form of classes that maybe don’t require a whole group in the room.  

Anissa Hudak    00:25:13    When I say group, I usually mean between seven to 10 people. That’s usually a really good amount of people because, people coming in with all different needs and, you have to kind of know what the triggers are, what not to do what this person needs. And so seven to 10 people is really good. I have taught in settings where I’ve had 25 people or more, and it gets a little overwhelming. I’ve had other people there with me to help keep an eye. Can I do one-on-one? One-on-ones absolutely. The really lovely thing about that is, not only can you create that energy. almost a sense of intimacy and the thing. I’ll be talking about my general things that I’m talking about, whereas that person can then say to me, Hey, why are we doing this now? Or when I’m doing this, I feel this, or this makes me think of that. and then they start talking and they’re able to open up a little bit more. Although I’m not a talk therapist, I am a human being and I will listen. Yoga’s about releasing. If it’s more about them talking than actually doing poses, they’re still releasing, they’re still doing yoga, just a different form of it. And that’s okay, too.  

Scott DeLuzio  00:26:51    When you have someone who maybe has just hasn’t had the opportunity or felt comfortable enough to open up and talk about some of their experiences, and then you create this environment where they do feel comfortable with talking about it. I think that’s a good thing to have available to people where maybe you’re not sitting in the, the therapist’s office on the couch, in that traditional talk therapy type of format, but you’re still able to open up and maybe that will lead you to be able to do other forms of therapy if that’s required down the line. I think having that type of environment will help a lot of people to just start opening up, and peeling back that onion of, of all the, the issues that maybe have been affecting them over the years. 

Anissa Hudak   00:27:52    One of the things that I tell my clients is if they’re talking about something, I’ll say to them, you need to write that down. When you go see your therapist, you can unbox it with them. Don’t forget it. Writing it down, getting them to write it down, does a couple things. One, it hopefully will help them remember. Also two, they might remember more as the writing,  and that way they have something to really take back to the therapist. That being said, I think that this form of yoga works best if you do have a therapist, because sometimes you’re gonna pose and boom, something just kind of hits you and that way you have that person to go and really talk to about it.   I think that this works really hand in hand with talk therapy and meds. It Isn’t a bad thing, either. It’s better living through chemistry.  

Scott DeLuzio   00:28:56     There’s a time and a place for all of this stuff, medications can be helpful, in certain circumstances and they may be necessary in certain circumstances. They go hand in hand with all of this stuff. I think one of the things I like to do on this podcast is, just talk about different forms of therapies that are available to people. Some people may not even have a trauma focused yoga program out there where maybe that’s something that they would want to do. Maybe they do yoga for fitness anyways, and they enjoy that. And the benefits of that.  they’re also on the other hand, dealing with some sort of trauma in their life.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:29:46     Since they’re already familiar with yoga and the process that you go through, they might very well benefit very much from something like this, where they go into this classroom and, or a class setting where they are able to get these benefits of the trauma focus as well. I like to just raise awareness of all these different types of therapies and this is one of them that to me, it was something that just didn’t occur to me that something like this even existed, which is why I want to have people like yourself on the show who can share this information with the listeners. I wanna make sure that we get it to tell people where people can get in touch with you and find out more about your program that you offer.  

Anissa Hudak   00:30:50    Well, I’m kind of like a penny. I just kind of show up on social media all the time. Trauma healingyoga.com yoga there. I’m on Instagram, I’m on Facebook gum on Twitter. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m like a bad penny. I just keep showing up. 

Scott DeLuzio    00:31:11    We’ll put links to all of that in the show notes, so people can, can reach out to you. You’re specific to your local area,obviously for the in person. 

Anissa Hudak    00:31:27    I do everything online, everything online. Here in Manhattan, Kansas, we live where the livestock outnumber the people. And the cows here, the cattle, they’re really not into yoga.  

Scott DeLuzio   00:31:41    Got it. Yeah. I can imagine they probably aren’t quite as flexible as you’d want them to be right?  

Anissa Hudak   00:31:50    No.  

Scott DeLuzio  00:31:50   You do all of this online. That’s perfect for people who are in other parts of the country or other parts of the world who might want to get involved with this. And especially for people who may not be quite as comfortable with getting involved, in person class where they’re, they’re physically with a group of people.  That is a great alternative. We’ll have a link to the website where people can find out more information about all of that in the show notes. They can check you out, reach out to find out more about the program, ask some questions that we didn’t cover in this episode. but it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today.  I really do appreciate you taking the time to come on and sharing this practice with us because, I think again, it’s just one of those, those programs that maybe people just aren’t aware of, and we need to raise awareness of all the possibilities that are out there, so that way the people who are suffering can find the, the thing that works for them.  

Anissa Hudak   00:32:57    Well, I think the important thing to remember is there is no silver bullet. It is not just one type of therapy and one, and done. Unfortunately, each person is an individual and your healing process is going to be very individualized. It’s not gonna look like everybody else’s. You have to find what works for you. This may or may not work. However, maybe you try martial arts and that works for you. Maybe running is your thing, whatever it is, maybe EMDR works for you. Maybe C B T works for you. It doesn’t matter, whatever it is. You just have to keep trying until you find what works for you. Just don’t give up, keep trying different modalities. Scott, thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate being here. Thank you.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:33:50    I appreciate it too. I appreciate you taking the time. Thank you very much.  

Anissa Hudak   00:33:55    Thanks.  

Scott DeLuzio   00:33:56    Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website DriveOnPodcast.com. We’re also on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube at Drive On Podcast.

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