Olivia Kvitne, creator of Yoga for First Responders (YFFR) is a yoga instructor and journalist who has created programs to help veterans and people within the military overcome their stress and PTSD.
Her non-profit work has brought her to teach both the Los Angeles Fire and Police Department workers yoga and resilience training in order for them to feel better equipped with dealing with all the emotionally draining aspects their jobs bring.
As part of fine tuning her teaching methods to make it what the first responders needed, Kvitne attended various first responder trainings so she could further understand her students more. Instead of focusing on the relaxation part of yoga, she teaches the method to teach self-regulation for their nervous system and how to deal with stress and activation while on the job and how to recover afterwards.
Aside from all of these benefits, the students also have lower depression rates, anxiety and addiction. Kvitne also knew that the main focus of this initiative would provide the responders a loophole on how to handle their everyday trauma in a healthier manner.
“Breath work helps CO2 tolerance in the body,” says Kvitne. “It means that while a firefighter’s air bottle normally lasts 15 minutes in action, we can make it last longer. Yoga strengthens the body and makes it more mobile which is very important for first responders, as their body is their tool—but the true essence of yoga is neurological training.”
When she started, she was leading the fire department in yoga twice a week, and not long after, the police department also became interested in her modes of teaching. Not all of the people Kvitne has taught embraced yoga as a hobby the first time around, because the first responder culture is very well related to being a warrior and tough guy psyche, whereas yoga in magazines and advertising are seen more of something soft and feminine. As she was able to convince her students that mindfulness movement would improve their wellbeing in their jobs, they took to it better and eventually started to enjoy the breathing exercises and eventually saw the benefits in their everyday lives.
At present, Yoga for First Responders work with 35 different police and fire departments including Denver, Wichita, Kansas and Massachusetts.
Richard Senneff, Los Angeles firefighter and paramedic definitely felt the benefits of yoga and said:
“Fire and EMS by its very nature is a zero to sixty kind of work. You can be in the station polishing a diamond plate and suddenly, you’re in a life and death incident. Hypervigilance is a very necessary state of awareness first responders carry with them at all times. It allows them to react quickly. You can’t go through hypervigilance 24/7, you need to be able to turn it off. Yoga gives you the tools, the ability to focus and concentrate, and shut off the hypervigilance if only for a while.”
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