By Shannon McQuaide
Travis Fox is a San Francisco Bay Area firefighter/engineer for the Southern Marin Fire Protection District (SMFD). Travis began working full time for SMFD four years ago. Prior to that, he spent seven years with the Marin County Fire Department as a seasonal. Travis is part of a select group of firefighters whom I think of as early adopters. These firefighters volunteered to be the first at their department to participate in a FireFlex Yoga program.
Q: When you first heard that your department might get involved with FireFlex Yoga, what was your initial reaction?
A: Actually, I had attended the presentation you gave at our department earlier this year, and was interested in getting involved right away. My shift is super positive, and we were all hoping to be a part of the initial program.
Q: How would you describe your experience so far?
A: It’s been really good. Secretly, firefighters know there’s benefit to yoga, but most of us are not going to seek out a class on our own. I think the fact that you’re bringing the program to us makes the difference.
Q: In your opinion, what are the main barriers preventing more firefighters from getting involved with yoga?
A: It’s still a macho culture and firefighters don’t want to appear weak; as if they don’t know what they’re doing.
Q: I know you practice Crossfit because during our first yoga class you kept your Crossfit shoes on for the entire practice.
A: Yes! I started CrossFit about six years ago.
Q: I took my first CrossFit class recently. I was on a family vacation, and my son Zack and I attended a CrossFit gym on Maui. I realized that, for someone like me who was brand new to Crossfit, it can be a little intimidating. There are a lot of really fit people carrying enormous weights and then throwing them on the ground with a huge banging sound! I’m sure you were on a learning curve when you first started CrossFit too, but it didn’t stop you from getting involved. Is there any difference between the learning curve of starting yoga with starting Crossfit?
A: The difference is that, with yoga, you’re already supposed to know how to stretch and breathe. So I thought I knew how to do that during yoga poses, especially since some of the poses we do with you we also do during CrossFit workouts. Take pigeon pose for instance—I was under the impression that as long I was grimacing while hanging over the front knee, I was doing the pose correctly. But after you instructed us on how to use props in this pose and I placed a bolster under the target hip, it completely changed the stretch. Now, I feel like the pose is targeting tightness in my hips, a benefit I wasn’t experiencing before.
Q: Have you noticed other areas of your job where yoga practice is making a difference?
A: Absolutely. When a call comes in, we don’t have time to drop into pigeon pose and prepare our bodies for all the squatting and lifting we have to do to lift people onto gurneys. I’m noticing that yoga is helping me maintain enough flexibility so I can get into a safer lifting position.
Q: What other benefits are you aware of as a result of our classes?
A: I’ve been using some of the breathing techniques you’ve showed us. Extending my inhalations and exhalations after night calls is helping me fall back asleep. Some of these medical calls that happen during the night can take an hour or an hour-and-half to complete. After getting back to the station, I used to grab a book or my iPhone and start reading to settle down. Before I knew it, it was 4:00 a.m. and I was just going to bed for the night; now I know better. After a long call, I’ll lie in bed with the lights off and start to breathe with attention. It’s a much better way to get back to sleep.
Also, we take annual fitness assessments at my department—full labs, stress tests, and a cardio test on a treadmill. You can’t leave the facility until your heart rate has normalized following the cardio test. They make you sit down and wait, which is really frustrating because you’re not allowed to eat or drink coffee before the tests. All I want to do is get out as fast as possible and get on with my day. After my last cardio test, I started using the breathing techniques from our classes and my heart rate was back to normal before the doctor had completed filling out my chart!
Q: We’re more than halfway through the initial FireFlex Yoga Program. What would you like to have happen next at your department?
A: I hope we can expand the program. I think I speak for all the firefighters at my station and the other participating stations when I say this: We get firefighters teasing us and asking us how we like “the stretching.” But after they talk with us for a while, they realize that yoga practice is something we actually look forward to and try to manage our schedule so we can fit it in.
Q: What are the benefits of yoga practice for firefighters in general?
A: First, I think the core strength that we’ve been working on is very important for everything we do, as is increasing our flexibility. And yoga gives us another tool to reduce our stress levels. But the final pose, where we’re relaxing on our backs and just focusing on the movement of air passing in and out of the nostrils for five minutes, is hugely helpful because as soon as we finish yoga practice, it’s going to be chaos for the rest of the day.
Shannon McQuaide is a registered yoga instructor with Yoga Alliance and the founder of the FireFLEX YogaTM program. FireFLEX Yoga was developed through her work with the San Jose (CA) Fire Department, where she continues to lead FireFLEX Yoga classes. She is a certified functional movement trainer and has a master of arts degree in leadership and psychology. [email protected] http://www.fireflexyoga.com.