The Yoga Pose is Not the Goal

By Shannon McQuaide

FireFlex Yoga celebrated its third annual teacher training. Ten yoga teachers gathered in Oakland, eager to learn how to make yoga firefighter friendly. With the help of fire chief David Dolson who led us through early morning yoga practice we learned how yoga mats and yoga practice could become an environmental signal to promote psychological space inside the firehouse.

Chief Dolson is a trained 400-hour yoga instructor and a Division Chief at the Roseville Fire Department. As he taught Sun Salutations and doward facing dog he also connected the benefits of yoga to the needs of firefighters. “Yoga holds many importance benefits for firefighters” he explained, “including staying flexible, breath awareness and carving out space inside a fire house to relax during our 24, 48 or 72-hour shifts.”

Breath awareness is a foundational practice in yoga and the key to kingdom in terms of modulating our stress response. In emergency situations, the breath quickens and heart rate speeds up, straining the bodies’ adrenal health and dissipating vital energy stores needed for handling stress over time. Learning how to slow down the breath, emphasizing exhalations can strengthen the adrenals leading to better brain function, energy regulation, mood and digestion. Breath awareness may also extend oxygen bottles for firefighters working hard while using a respirator.

To read the full interview with Chief Dolson about the importance of breath awareness for firefighters, click HERE.

Chief Dolson went on to explain that we are all powerfully affected by our surroundings. And while yoga postures are designed to create visceral space in the body through stretching muscle tissues and fascia, having a dedicated place inside the firehouse for yoga practice can assist in creating psychological space. How does this work? Here’s how Chief Dolson explained it:

For people who struggle to get a good night’s rest, there are certain habits that help facilitate sleep. For example you don’t take your work to bed with you. Sleep experts also recommend leaving at least five feet of space between your bed and devices that emit electromagnetic field radiation (EMFs) such as TVs, computers, iPads and cell phones. In this way your bedroom especially at night is a signal for the brain and body to relax, prepare for a restful night’s sleep.

Creating a dedicated space inside the fire station for yoga practice can become an environmental signal to take a few moments to become still or let your mind rest on the breath. Just three deep breaths or a few minutes of breathing with attention, can replenish the adrenals and strengthen the bodies’ ability to withstand stressful situations.

A quote shared by Chief Dolson on yoga:

“The yoga pose is not the goal…The goal is to create space where you were once stuck. To unveil the layers of protection you’ve built around your heart. To appreciate your body and become aware of the mind and the noise it creates. To make peace with who you are. The goal is to love, well…You.”

~Rachel Brathen


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.

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