Calm Your Nervous System
The stresses of everyday life can be enough to send anyone diving for cover. Living with a constant and persistent elevated stress level is damaging to many facets of physical and mental health. Finding ways to bring balance and calm to a nervous system whose instinct is to battle or flee is crucial.
Emergency personnel, namely fire-fighters, EMS, and police officers, experience stress that is taken to the upper limits as they are exposed almost daily to extremes of violence and destruction. This constant and repeated exposure often develops into a nervous system that is continually activated. The sympathetic portion of the nervous system, the ‘fight or flight’ part, is constantly firing, which can lead to a variety of health issues; from sleep disturbances to to fatigue and depression. While the nervous system is taxed, the mind goes into overdrive.
Yoga is widely recognized for it’s ability to combat stress, offering the possibility to approach life from a more balanced perspective. The Give Back Yoga Foundation (givebackyoga.org) has developed a training to specifically address the effects of heightened stressors that face first responders. Robert T Scott, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist specializing in the field of trauma/disaster psychology, is a core faculty member for the foundation’s Yoga for First Responders Program. He describes the state of constant readiness as “hyper-vigilance, which is a necessary state of awareness that first responders carry with them all the time, but they have to be able to turn it off. “
In creating a program to help participants ‘turn it off’, program director Olivia Kvitne describes an approach that works dually from the body and the mind, creating space to find relief, if even only briefly, from the intensity of their work. Ideally, it offers tools that these responders can use in their daily lives.
She offers affirmations during difficult poses, because she says, “as in the mind, as in the body; whatever you are telling yourself will manifest itself in your body.” She offers the following affirmation as a way to counter the challenge of the pose with a more positive way of thinking.
“My mind is open and receptive”
“I’m a warrior with inner strength”
“I move through life with an open heart”
“I deserve this break”
Kvitne describes trauma as “a complex process and complex reaction”. She recognizes that there is a distinct culture within the first responder community that is important to honor, so the training of teachers is specific and intentional.
Finding a way to bring our nervous system back into balance is crucial for each of us in our lives. Bringing ways to navigate this process into our first responder communities encourages those communities to serve from a vital, whole perspective.