mental health

How One Gym Owner is Improving Mental Health Through Self Defense

After traumatic life events, it's important to prioritize both physical and mental health. Here's how one gym owner is helping others do both!

Emily Beers
June 13, 2023
How One Gym Owner is Improving Mental Health Through Self Defense
After traumatic life events, it's important to prioritize both physical and mental health. Here's how one gym owner is helping others do both!

Danae Hudson spent three years in the Middle East serving as a missionary. When she came home to the United States in 2015, her mental health had changed.

She described herself as “a hot mess.”

While in the Middle East, she was working with the Palestinian Lutheran church. She recalls finding the work environment to be “incredibly toxic.” On top of that, she was living in a war zone. At the time, Operation Protective Edge (also known as the 2014 Gaza War) was happening in Israel.

All of these things led Hudson to experience trauma on multiple levels. When she returned home, she said she was in such a vulnerable state and living in fear.

“I was so used to receiving text messages from the UN about where hot spots and danger is,” she explained.

Improving mental health with self-defense
A client of Valley Self-Defense in Stillwater, MN works on technique.

Back in Minnesota and no longer receiving warnings, Hudson said she found herself unable to assess her environment. Her mental health was unstable. For example, she couldn’t handle people walking behind her, and she constantly felt unsure of where she was safe.

“I didn’t know where it was safe to drive,” she said. “I was literally asking people, ‘Is it safe for me to be outside?’”

Reaching Out for Help.

Hudson was experiencing PTSD and the only thing she was sure of was that she needed to “figure something out.”

So she began therapy and also decided to empower herself through learning self-defense. Through some research, she discovered a Krav Maga gym in the area.

Her plan was actually just to do Krav Maga for a few weeks and move on. But it was so powerful for Hudson’s mental health that she knew she needed to keep pursuing it.

Fast-forward to today. Hudson is now a certified self-defense instructor and the owner of Valley Self-Defense in Stillwater, MN. She opened the gym with four others in 2016.

Valley Self-Defense, a PushPress client since 2021, offers Krav Maga, Jiu Jitsu, Yoga and StrikeFit cardio kickboxing. In addition, they host trauma-informed care workshops and even Naloxone training.

Danae Hudson, owner of Valley Self-Defense
Danae Hudson, owner of Valley Self-Defense.

How Self-Defense Helped with Mental Health.

For Hudson, learning self-defense helped her feel like she was taking her power back. And she has noticed the same is true with the female - or fem-presenting - people she works with.

Many of her clients come from a place where they feel smaller or weaker than someone who was raised male. And this can sometimes lead to a predator and prey mentality, a myth that Hudson is quick to debunk.

She says learning self-defense helped her realize her own strength, and feel less vulnerable in the world. It was also an incredible tool for improving her mental health.

“It has given me more confidence than anything in my life,” she said. “And the more confident you look, the less likely you’re going to be seen as an easy target.”

Confidence is what Hudson hopes those who walk through the door of her gym today leave with. She helps them achieve this through focusing on self-defense tactics and learning how to pay attention to their bodies, in space and time.

“We talk a lot about situational awareness,” she said. “A lot of it is the mentality and learning to look at the world a little differently.”

The Support Trifecta.

The education component is imperative for Hudson’s clients on as they learn situational awareness and self-defense skills. But she said there are two other major contributors for her own success, and that of her clients: Physical fitness and gym community.

“It’s the working out, and yes it’s the feeling safer and more confident,” said Hudson. “But it’s also a community of people who understand you. And for us it’s definitely a community of people who understand what you might be, or have gone through.”

Valley Self-Defense gym community
The Valley Self-Defense gym community.

She continued, “And for me, I have to workout for my mental health. I can always tell when I haven’t worked out. Or there will be days where my husband will turn to me and go, ‘You know what? I think you really should go to the gym today, which is always a sign.’”

Improving Both Physical and Mental Health.

Ultimately, what Hudson’s gym offers is an all-encompassing solution. The goal is for people to get physically fit, and improve their emotional and mental health.

“We very much believe that you bring your whole self to the gym,” said Hudson. “So that means that your physical health and your mental health and your emotional health are all connected.”

And the journey looks different for everyone.

“We have had people who step onto our mat and immediately burst into tears,” she explained. “And working with them, we have been able to go from that to watching their confidence grow. Whether that means how they carry themselves on the street, or they quit one therapist to go to one who is a better fit for them. We’re very big on little steps equals big progress.”

Ultimately, watching this growth in others is the best part of what she does.

“I love seeing the confidence it instills in people,” Hudson said.

And most of all, she loves helping people from all walks of life gain this confidence.

“Everyone is welcome here,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you have experienced, who you are, who you love, how you identify. We have people all over the autism spectrum and mental health spectrum. Everyone is welcome.”

Did You Know: The PushPress team is made up of gym owners ourselves! We’re here to help you run your business better. Book a demo with our team today to find out more!
Emily Beers

Emily Beers is a health, fitness and nutrition writer. She has also been coaching fitness at MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. since 2009.

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