Yoga: Diaphragmatic Tactical Breathing for Firefighters

By Shannon McQuaide

Recently, I was invited by a Northern California fire agency’s fitness and peer support team to present FireFlex Yoga workshops to more than 100 firefighters. The FireFlex program objectives mirror the objectives of both teams: to increase physical fitness and support behavioral health; therefore, the workshops were a success. For example, one fire captain who frowned during my presentation, shook my hand as he left the training facility and said, “Thank you! This was long overdue.”

The training facility was split into two sections. One section was set with tables, chairs, a computer, and projector, and the other was staged with yoga mats, block, and straps. During the educational session (roughly 20 minutes), firefighters learned about the research behind functional movement and how specific and targeted yoga postures improve movement quality. They also listened to the scientific underpinnings of mindfulness practices and how breath awareness is the key to our body’s relaxation response. Following the classroom segment, everyone changed from their Class A uniforms to their Class D uniforms (department issued shorts and T-shirts); as a group, we transition to the mats for hands-on training.

Once on the mats, I requested firefighters to lie on their backs with their knees bent and hands resting on their abdomens palms down. I guided them through a specific breathing tactic that requires using their abdominal muscles and diaphragm.  Diaphragmatic breathing activates the “relaxation response” of the parasympathetic nervous system which, in turn, decreases anxiety, stress, and inflammation.

Use the link below to practice diaphragmatic breathing with me and I will guide you through a short diaphragmatic breathing practice, the same practice I have used with hundreds of firefighters.


Whether I am taking and working with an entire department or a single station, I begin all my sessions with diaphragmatic tactical breathing. Your breathing, digestion, and heart rate are all directly connected to the vagus nerve. It’s the reason I like the to say, “the breath is the key to the kingdom”; the kingdom is your ability to regulate the stress response.


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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