Updated: October 29th, 2021
You just finished a call and are walking back to your vehicle.
As you have done after every call, you begin working on your regulation by focusing on your breath. Three seconds breathing in, holding for two seconds, and breathing out over five seconds. You do this again to drop your heart rate and prepare for the next call. One last time, focusing on your breath throughout. You allow yourself to be more present in the moment. Suddenly you hear glass break and a thud. Your heart rate begins to rise as you go around the corner to find a male on the ground, unconscious. You begin scanning for answers.
What happened? Is it safe for you? Is it safe for the male? What tools do you have with you? Who else is around to help you? What training have you had that helps here?
After processing as much as you can, you see the broken bottle was a whiskey bottle and you see the spot in the concrete which may have caused the male to trip. You call it in to dispatch to get others started. You begin accessing the male for injuries, using your training to act quickly but thoroughly. The male is breathing but has a cut. You smell the whiskey coming from his breathing. You begin processing what needs to happen next. You take a deep breath, collect what you want to say on the radio, and update dispatch and responding units.
Suddenly the male opens his eyes and begins swinging. Not knowing where he is or who you are, he is ready to fight. You recognize the movements and realize the best possible solution based on your body placement is to close the gap to defend against the hits. You begin to restrain him so you don’t get hit. As you are holding his body to protect yourself, you are aware of where each of your tools are, every flinch of his body to fight, and your body placement. You know where you both are and where the broken glass is at. You are aware that you can use your chin to press your orange emergency button for help and so you do it.
Breathe in. Assess the situation again. Breathe out.
Think of the next steps. Breathe in. Is he still willing to fight? Breathe out. You adjust slightly to a better hold that you know is stronger and easier for you to maintain longer. Breathe in. What do you need to do next? Breathe out. He moves to fight you again but you are in a great position, based on your training and body awareness, to prevent this. Breathe in. Breathe out. You tell yourself you’ve got this. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Calm in the fight. Breathe in. Breathe out longer.
You scan the area. Breathe in. Breathe out longer. You have kept your heart rate lower than the male’s the entire time. You remind yourself you are prepared for this challenge. You hear a faint, muffled radio traffic that your partner is on scene. Breathe in. Breathe out longer. You hear over everything else the sounds of your partner’s shoes on the pavement nearby. Breathe in. Breathe out longer. You are finally able to talk to the male to let him know you are there to help him. In your calm, collected voice, you begin to explain how you found him hurt. You feel the tension from his body drop and his breathing slowing. Before you need to do any more, your partner comes around the corner to assist. After getting the male restrained and his injuries examined, you walk away from the area for a minute to get a sense of regulation. You again focus on your breath. Breathe in for 3. Hold for 2. Breathe out for 5. You do this again and bring your heart rate back down.
Whether your career is in EMS, firefighting, or law enforcement, this scenario could be for you.
What training did you have to get through this situation? In one area of the scenario, you may have more training but another area minimal training. How often have you trained and retrained for a medical situation? For a ground fight? For breathing?
Regardless of the tools you had when the scenario started, you need to rely on the one tool you bring with you everywhere: your breathing.
Training your breathing helped you get through this scenario.
Your breathing allowed you to regulate from the first call and process the stress so you knew you could handle it again if needed. It allowed you to be in the right mindset to face any challenge you had next. Your breathing allowed you to be aware of your surroundings and hear the noise of the man falling. The training you had done previously with your breath allowed you to look at the male and the scene using your analytic prefrontal cortex rather than your reaction based response functions from the amygdala. Breathing throughout allowed you to be aware of your body placement, his body reactions, and planning ahead to help yourself in this quick response situation. Your heightened perception allowed you to take recovery breaths in the middle to become even more aware of your surroundings and remind yourself that you could do this. As Rickson Gracie wrote about in Breathe, “A life in flow, breathing and controlling the heart rate in a fight” is an extra reserve parachute to continue after an opponent is worn out.
How often do you train for breathing? It should be every day.
Training for CPR and First Aid? Practice breathing so you can continue to assess the patient throughout. Training for ground defense? Practice breathing so you can be aware of your body and the body of your opponent to find your spot to maneuver into a better position. Running for physical training? Practice breathing to give your body the oxygen it needs to make you faster.
Not sure how to practice your breathing? Yoga For First Responders® (YFFR) is a great place to start.
It is a job specific yoga training that allows first responders and military to learn how to process stress, build resiliency, and enhance performance. It allows you to process the stress from each call, each shift, or each day so you know you can handle that stress in the future. It gives you a tool to avoid trauma and stress from building up in your body to cause lingering body pains that hinder you from doing your job, not having the ability to rebound from an injury as quickly, or the mental mindset to approach the day positively. It gives you more interoception to know what is going on inside your body to be the best prepared you can for each shift. As described in The Body Keeps the Score, interoception is being aware of your body and feelings to promote emotional regulation. YFFR allows you to experience stress on the yoga mat, learn to breathe through it, and reset so your brain builds new neural pathways for resiliency. YFFR takes regular tasks, like retrieving equipment from your person, and adds stress so you have increased proprioception and are training your body to breathe through the stress.
But even if you cannot physically do the movements, yoga and YFFR are just breathing. The training leads to you being able to better handle any challenge you face in this profession and the resiliency to be at your personal best throughout this long life.
Written by YogaShield® Instructor Michael Turenne Class 0018 S6
Gracie, R. (2021). Breathe: A life in flow. Dey Street Books.
Kotler, S. (2021). The Art of Impossible: A peak performance primer. Harper Wave.
McGonigal, K. (2016). Upside of Stress: Why stress is good for you, and how to get good at it. Avery.
Penman, PhD, D. (2018). The Art of Breathing: The secret to living mindfully. Red Wheel.