This article is a special post by F.R.Y. and does not necessarily represent Canadian Paramedicine’s, or its affiliates, opinion. References in this article are for informational purposes only and you should consult with your local health guidelines and protocols before applying any of the information in it.
Studies(1) show that First Responders experience 5x musculoskeletal disorders than general workers, suffer from sleep disorders due to shift work, experience anxiety and inability to relax or “let go”, and 30% develop depression and PTSD. These statistics are from BEFORE the past Pandemic Year.
Do you know that yoga helps our mental wellness? Yoga is more than movement(2). People think “yoga” is bendy twisty poses. Poses are but one of EIGHT “limbs” of yoga(3) that form the essence of how yoga increases mental wellness. We mention them here, not in the order set out in the ancient texts, to highlight that yoga is more than just poses:
“Restraints towards a compassionate life” (3)
Hold to non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, and control of sexual energy.
Paying attention to these restraints can bring peace and calm. Set a positive intention each morning for each of these restraints.
“Cultivating habits or observances for a healthy and happy life(3)”
Internal and external cleanliness, practicing contentment, self-control, feeding our mind with uplifting studies, and surrendering the ego.
Set goals and time for ourselves to nourish our minds. Pause and think of something everyday for which we are grateful. It can be as simple as that ideal parking spot, the warmth of the sun, or even that first sip of coffee.
Breath is life. It affects our energy, and consequently our quality of life. A controlled breath calms an uprising of emotional energy that may occur in life. Are you a chest breather or a belly breather? As adults, we forget how to breathe. Watch a baby breathe. Their bellies rise and fall with each breath.
Breathing shallowly causes the diaphragm’s full function to be reduced(2). The lower area of the lungs, in which many small blood vessels are stored, is imperative for carrying oxygen to our cells. Hemoglobin, contained in red blood cells as we know, serves as the oxygen carrier. These small blood vessels never get full use, as shallow breathing does not allow the lower areas of the lungs to completely fill with air. The result is feeling anxious and short of breath.
Deep abdominal breathing encourages a complete oxygen exchange: all of the outgoing carbon dioxide is traded for incoming oxygen. It slows the heart rate and manages blood pressure. Did you know that one of the reasons massages feel so good is because it causes old blood to flow out of the muscles, allowing fresh blood to flow in? When we breathe, the diaphragm naturally lowers into the abdominal organs. When inhaling, the diaphragm pushes on the spleen, pancreas, liver, and stomach, and these organs in turn push on all our other organs. When we exhale the pressure is then released until the pattern repeats again. Whenever we practise deep abdominal breathing we give our organs a much-needed massage, allowing them to be filled with the fresh blood supply to function their best, and increasing our overall wellness.
FIGURE 1: Diagram of Lungs and Heart
Stress is why people unconsciously abandon the natural way of breathing. When we are stressed the solar plexus becomes tense(2). The solar plexus, found in the pit of the stomach, is part of the sympathetic nervous system. It is a complex system of nerves that plays an important part in stomach, kidneys and liver function. How does your stomach feel when you are nervous? The abdominal muscles also become tense when the solar plexus becomes tense, restricting the diaphragm movement required for full natural breathing. Shallow breathing(4), disrupts the balance of gases in the body, prolonging the feelings of stress and anxiety. It can become a vicious circle: feelings of stress – shallow breathing – more feelings of stress – more shallow breathing and so on. The stress response can be reduced by breathing with the diaphragm.
“Withdrawal from the senses”(3)
We are often limited by our habits, tendencies, impulses and weaknesses. We let our senses over-influence ourselves, generating a reaction.
This yoga element suggests we acknowledge yet distance ourselves from the over-stimulation of the world around us. How? Pause and give time to relax the body and mind. Try taking a few minutes to “talk” (2) your body into relaxation. Maintain rhythmic abdominal breathing and repeat the following in your mind:
“I relax my toes. I relax my toes. My toes are relaxed.”
Repeat for all body parts: feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, buttocks, hips, abdomen, abdominal organs, low back, mid-back, upper back, chest, heart, shoulders, arms, elbows, hands, fingers, neck, mouth, eyes, and face
Close with “I relax my mind. I relax my mind. My mind is relaxed.”
“Concentration or steady focus”(3)
It binds the mind to one place, idea or object, calms the ‘’busy-ness” of the mind and permits us to focus and be present. It overcomes the “monkey-mind”, where the mind swings from one thought to another, as a monkey swings from tree to tree. Remember, the quality of our day depends on the quality of thoughts(2).
To calm the distractions in the mind, acknowledge what comes to mind; never suppress the images, thoughts, emotions because that may eventually lead to an eruption as they boil to the surface. Release them from the mind by writing them down and by taking control. Acknowledge the distractions, record them, but tell them this is not the time for them, especially if we are taking time for ourselves, or need to pay attention to a situation. Place the distraction mentally into a filing cabinet that will only open when our time is over, or the situation at hand is over. Remember, what we focus on we empower (2).
Meditation leads to mental wellness. It is often described as finding a state of awareness and single thought, withdrawing the mind from the automatic reactions we have a tendency to follow when stimulated.
Science has proven the benefits meditation provides for mind-body health(5). We exhibit different types of brain waves, which are produced depending on our emotions, thoughts, and actions. These waves affect how we feel and react: high-frequency waves make us alert; low-frequency waves, calm. When awake our brain exhibits predominantly fast-moving beta brain waves (12-30 Hertz) (2). When asleep we are in slow, high amplitude waves (0.1-4 Hertz) called delta brainwaves(2). There are two other identifiable waves in between these two: alpha (7.5-12 Hertz) and theta (4-7.5 Hertz) (2). The alpha brain waves are produced as we attempt to go into a deeper meditative state and calm our minds. These waves calm the nervous system, reduce stress hormones, lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate and promote relaxation (6). The benefit of theta waves is that they promote creativity and an uplifting mental state. They not only keep us balanced and calm (7), but they also improve memory and problem-solving skills (8). We experience these brain waves when we are in a dream state, light sleep, deep relaxation and deep meditation but with awareness. These waves are between wakefulness and sleep and relate to the subconscious mind; therefore, a very healing state. The theta brain waves are also the learning state. It is important to note that children up to the age of 13 are predominantly in theta brain wave state (9), hence why they are sponges to learn. Understanding these brainwaves, please take note here that we actually are NOT resting the mind or our bodies when we sit in front of the television; which keeps us predominantly in beta brain waves, a high frequency alert wave.
FIGURE 2: Chart of Brainwaves
Did you know that the brain waves we enter while meditating become more prevalent in our everyday life? A study of Buddhist Monks at Princeton University (10) found that prior to entering a meditative state, the Monks already had a preponderance of ideal meditative brain waves, which increased sharply during meditation, and stayed high following meditation. This indicates that meditation has lasting effects on the functioning of the brain and also suggests that regular meditation can create sustainable changes to brain function.
This is a state of intense concentration beyond sensory experience, time, and space. It is an extreme awareness of the reality of the world around us. Many yogi masters strive to achieve this state and many yoga students work towards this goal when they practice all the eight limbs, or elements, of yoga.
Asanas / Poses
The eighth element is the one that everyone always associates with the definition of yoga: the asanas/poses. The actual meaning of yoga means “to join” or “to unite” and this is viewed in many ways. It can mean the joining of all aspects of yourself, the joining of all eight limbs, or in the spiritual sense, the joining with a higher force.
Keep all these elements in mind as you prepare for your day. The yoga poses are aids towards a healthy body and mental system for life. However, as we have seen, ALL the yoga elements affect our mental wellbeing. If we practice yoga as more than just an exercise, incorporating restraints, positive habits, breathwork, withdrawal of senses, concentration, and meditation then we set ourselves up to continue these wellbeing tasks and benefits in our daily life, enhancing our personal mind-body wellbeing.
1. Burdick G. NIOSH: Firefighters, EMTs Face Major Ergonomics Concerns – EHS Daily Advisor [Internet]. EHS Daily Advisor. 2020 [cited 1 November 2021]. Available from: https://ehsdailyadvisor.blr.com/2019/03/niosh-firefighters-emts-face-major-ergonomics-concerns/
2. Julia L, Cacace S. F.R.Y. First Responders’ Yoga: The Book. 1st ed. Amazon; 2020.
3. Satchidananda S. Integral Yoga: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Buckingham, Virginia: Integral Yoga Publications; 2012.
4. Breathing to reduce stress – Better Health Channel [Internet]. Betterhealth.vic.gov.au. 2020 [cited 1 November 2021]. Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/breathing-to-reduce-stress
5. A beginner’s guide to meditation [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2020 [cited 1 November 2021]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858
6. Larson J. Alpha Brain Waves: What Are They and Why Are They Important? [Internet]. Healthline. 2019 [cited 1 November 2021]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/alpha-brain-waves#benefits
7. [Internet]. Science Daily. 2010 [cited 1 November 2021]. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100319210631.htm
8. KC K, SK N. A study of electroencephalogram in meditators [Internet]. PubMed. 2021 [cited 1 November 2021]. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10846631/
9. Perone S, Palanisamy J, Carlson S. Age-related change in brain rhythms from early to middle childhood: Links to executive function. Developmental Science. 2018;21(6):e12691.
10. Lutz A, Greischar L, Rawlings N, Ricard M, Davidson R. Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2004;101(46):16369-16373.