Yoga and the EMT

There is no doubt that a physically demanding career like EMS can make one prone to many acute and chronic injuries. Some of the greatest threats to first responders like firefighters and EMTs are overexertion and sprains and strains, which account for more than 30% of injuries in both categories.1,2 There have been many efforts to research this issue, and there is data explaining the cost of these injuries, both fiscally and in quality of life, but articles regarding the use of yoga and other flexibility techniques as an intervention and preventative exercise for EMTs are slim to none, even though having this research could help keep EMTs working. The data that does exist, however, holds promise for injury, stress reduction and strength enhancement for EMTs and EMS agencies willing to make the effort to fully participate in a yoga program.

Why Yoga?

Unlike other flexibility exercises, yoga focuses on stretching, strength, balance, stress reduction, muscle and joint rehabilitation and core strength training in one all-encompassing exercise.3 The compounding aspect of yoga makes it ideal for EMTs who may have limited time and are looking for an exercise that does it all and then some. In fact, a poll through Yoga Journal shows that more than 15 million Americans are looking to get fit with yoga.4 Of those, 72.2% are women and 27.8% are men. Just as exercise and fitness requirements help EMTs maintain strength and aerobic fitness for their daily demands, yoga can help areas that are not always the main focus of training regimens, like balance, breathing, stress reduction and flexibility.5 One clinical study found remarkable improvement in 80% of patients with back injuries who participated in a six-month yoga program.6 Incorporating yoga into fitness routines has the potential to increase the number of working years and overall performance of EMTs nationwide, as well as quality of life and injury prevention.

A copy of the training manual for elite forces in South Korea recommends several hours of yoga a week to build core strength and endurance. Most practitioners of tae kwon do (Korean martial arts) also practice yoga. Other karate masters recommend yoga as a strength and flexibility builder.7 It's evident that yoga is viewed as a man's regimen for better fighting control.

Yoga for men has been a well-kept secret in the United States. Baron Baptiste, a yoga pro and former assistant coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, trained the football team using yoga.8 Baptiste recommends the following 10 poses for beginners to build their strength, flexibility and power:

  • 1. Forward fold
  • 2. Downward-facing dog
  • 3. Chair
  • 4. Crescent lunge
  • 5. Warrior 1
  • 6. Bridge
  • 7. Bow pose
  • 8. Boat pose
  • 9. Hero pose
  • 10. Reclining big toe

Getting Started

Some of the biggest perceived hurdles to incorporating a yoga program for EMTs are time, space and funds needed to include it on a regular basis, but little space and almost no equipment are required for yoga. The only equipment needed for beginning yoga is a web connection. An outstanding source for beginning yoga is www.abc-of-yoga.com, which gives basic and easy-to-use instructions. Once the program basics have been initiated, additional resources like videos can be purchased. Another perk of having videos or books on hand is that they can easily be stopped or paused if an emergency call comes in during the exercise period. In terms of space, most station lounges could be an acceptable place to practice. As long as furniture and other intrusive items can be moved out of the way, there should be enough room for several people to do yoga at once. Items like mats can be used in the lounge to provide support and comfort for the body during the exercises.

Another perceived barrier is participation. Yoga has been known as an alternative form of medicine and therapy, but is becoming more widely accepted and popular within the United States. Use and participation in yoga by EMTs and other emergency responders has not been well documented. Hopefully, word of mouth and more research will soundly establish yoga as a needed practice and can gain momentum and hold ground as a complementary exercise routine.

Starting a yoga program is easier than it sounds. Once enough people are ready to participate, find the right-sized space for the lessons and practice to take place, and gather the tools needed to get started. Most yoga mats can be found at your local Wal-Mart or online stores, and videos and books can be found online at major bookstores and libraries.

References

1. Walton SM, Conrad KM, Furner SE, Samo DG. Cause, type, and workers' compensation costs of injury to fire fighters, 2003.

2. Reichard AA, Jackson LL. Occupational injuries among emergency responders. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 53(1):1-11, 2010.

3. Yoga: Tap into the many health benefits of yoga.

4. Yoga in America Market Study Press Release.

5. Cowen VS. Functional fitness improvements after a worksite-based yoga intervention. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 14:50-54, 2010.

6. Well Being.

7. Teshima K, Imamura H, Yoshimura Y, et al. Highly competitive male and female karate players. Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science 21:205-211, 2002.

8. Greenfield P. Ten Best Poses.

Douglas Matthews works for the Union County Health Department in Marysville, OH.

Diana Spillman is an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Miami University in Oxford, OH.

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