As humans, regularly or daily exercise is important to our overall health. Studies have shown, it helps your improve the immune system, decreases stress levels and helps reduce the risk of developing several diseases like type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Overall, physical activity and exercise can have and improve immediate and long-term health benefits but most importantly, it can improve your quality of life.
With all that said, I would like to talk about yoga and it's benefits on us as firefighters and how it could improve our performance on the job, our health and general wellness.
According to the NFPA's "U.S. Firefighter Injuries - 2015", there were 68,085 reported injuries in the fire service in 2015. I would have used 2016 statistics but the report hasn't been released yet. So what does our health, exercise and NFPA injuries report have to do with yoga in the fire service?
Well the majority of the injuries in the report both fire ground and training were strains, sprains and muscle pains. Granted some injuries cannot be prevented, however we do have a chance at keeping our bodies healthy and fit for when it's time to do the job because let's face it, we are athletes. Function athletes at that. Our bodies could take a beating during training and on runs. It's up to you how well you prepare yourself. No one said 50lbs of gear including carrying tools would be easy to wear and operate in and all in a functional manner.
With that being said, I would like to discuss the benefits of yoga and how incorporating this into your fitness regime could help benefit you as a firefighter also known as a function athlete. Mind you, I am not an expert and do not claim to be. I am only sharing my experiences with the exercise and how it can help us as firefighters on the job and off.
For thousands of centuries, people throughout the world have practiced yoga poses and techniques for health and well-being. Yoga brings together the mind and body in a combination of physical postures, breathing techniques and meditation. These have been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, relieve anxiety and depression, and improve chronic low-back pain. All of these have been found in firefighters at a high rate due to the stressors and physical and mental nature of the job while on duty or off.
Yoga itself is a form of healing exercise that can be very beneficial for improving function and flexibility. As mentioned throughout this article, we are functional athletes. Benefits of yoga for us as functional athletes can provide the following:
Raises heart rate - making it both a great cardio and fat burning workout
Works the muscles fully, but in a low impact way that doesn’t stress the joints as much as weight training
Increases cognitive function, coordination, and balance
Greater flexibility, reduced tension, and stress
With that said, this can improve our duration to work under tension as well as how we maneuver in our PPE and SCBA for long durations in and out of IDLH environments.
The intense styles of yoga, could also strengthen muscles throughout the body through various poses. By practicing yoga it is also a chance for you to give back to yourself with time spent in relaxation, contemplation, and reflection to energize your mind and soul. Mentality this is a great way to relief the stressors of the job and have a long, healthy career for yourself, your family and your crew.
Practicing yoga is generally safe for healthy individuals. However, if you have a health condition that can be exacerbated by heat or deep stretching it is advisable to consult your healthcare provider before starting yoga or trying more intense styles. It is also important to find an instructor who will be mindful of your limitations and restrictions.
Here are a few poses you could try at home, on duty with your crew or at the gym:
Whether you're a beginner or a well-practiced yogi, these poses will stretch your body, open your mind, and bring you back to your center. Hold each pose for three - five breaths, or combine the postures into a routine, moving from one pose to another and repeating several times.
Balasana aka Child's pose
A restorative, forward bend pose. Aligning at the spine and stretching the hips, low back, and middle back, balasana is used as a resting position between more difficult poses.
1.Start on your hands and knees.
2.Sit back so that your hips are over the top of your ankles.
3.Allow your body to completely relax with your head on the floor.
4.Your arms can be lying back by your feet or outstretched above your head. Your knees can either be close together or spread apart.
5.Find what is most comfortable for you.
Bhujangasana aka Cobra pose
This position used to strengthen the vertebral column and to stretch the abdominal and shoulder muscles.
1.Start in a high plank (top of push-up).
2.Lower your body to the floor before pressing your upper body back up.
3.Straighten arms and arch your back while keeping your knees on the floor and squeezing your glutes.
4.Be mindful of any tension in your lower back and stop if you feel discomfort.
Adho Mukh Svanasana aka Downward Dog pose
A forward bend pose strengthening arms and legs, while stretching shoulders, hands, hamstrings, calves and arches of your feet.
1.Start in high plank (top of push-up).
2.Lift your hips to the ceiling, drop your heels to the floor, and push your chest back toward your knees.
Ardha Matsyendrasana aka Half Lord of Fishes pose
This is a seated, twisting, hip-opener that realigns and lengthens the spine. It also stretches the shoulders, hips, and neck.
1.In a seated position, bend your left knee and pull your left foot up to the outside of your right hip.
2.At the same time, cross your right foot over your left knee with the right knee pointing up.
3.Twist gently to your right by placing your left elbow outside your right knee and your right hand behind you on the floor.
4.Make sure to maintain a tall, straight spine.
5.Inhale and exhale as you twist as far as you are able without discomfort.
6.Repeat on the other side.
Virabhadrasana I aka Warrior One pose
A hip-opener as well as chest-opener pose, strengthening legs while stretching arms and legs.
1.Start in a high plank (top of push-up).
2.Step your right foot forward into a deep lunge.
3.Lifting your upper body straight up, continue lunging forward onto your right knee while tilting your upper body further back.
4.Raise arms above your head and sink your hips low, striving to maintain a straight back leg.
5.Repeat on the other side.
NFPA - National Fire Protection Association
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
National Institute of Health
CDC National Health Statistics Report
About the Author
NICHOLAS J. HIGGINS is a firefighter with 16 years in the fire service all within departments in Piscataway, NJ. Nick has held the ranks of Lieutenant and Captain as well as being a township elected District Fire Commissioner for 1 term (3 years) in Piscataway, NJ. He is also a NJ State certified level 2 fire instructor and currently a State of New Jersey Advocate for the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation. He holds a B.S. in Accounting from Kean University working in Corporate Taxation and is the founder/contributor of the Firehouse Tribune website.