A Colorado native is helping first responders to manage the demands of their jobs through a thousands-of-years-old practice: yoga.
Olivia Kvitne Mead, 36, of Denver, is the founder of Yoga for First Responders, a non-profit organization she began in 2013. Mead said she was inspired to start the project after working with veterans.
“There are lots of yoga programs for veterans but they are all focussed on after action, after their tours of duty," she told news agency South West News Service (SWNS). "That doesn’t happen for first responders. They are in their jobs for 30 years until they retire. They go to work and see trauma, death, destruction, loss and the worst part of humanity, then they have to go home and be a mother or a father, a husband or a wife.”
There are many benefits of the relaxation and meditation-focused practice, including reducing stress and anxiety, promoting sleep quality, reducing chronic pain, decreasing symptoms of depression and more. That’s especially important for first responders, an estimated 30 percent of whom battle depression and PTSD, according to one report.
“There is a missing skillset in first responder training and that is what is leading to these high statistics of burnout, divorce, alcoholism, and suicides,” said Mead. “They need to be taught the ability to handle stress and trauma and process it. Otherwise, you are just going to get squished by all the trauma you witness.”
Mead first began working with first responders in 2013 when she reached out to the Los Angeles Fire Department. At the time, the head psychologist for the department was interested in the idea but was concerned the firefighters wouldn’t be interested.
“His number one concern was: How are we going to get the alpha male population to do yoga which is marketed as a female, delicate exercise? I said that I already taught veterans and I thought I could speak to this group of people,” said Mead.
She began volunteering twice a week, holding a yoga session at the department every Tuesday and Thursday. Mead said it was a hit.
Soon after, she was contacted by the Los Angeles Police Department, which was also interested in her services for its employees. Years later, Mead serves 35 police and fire departments across the nation, including those in her hometown of Denver.
“Yoga strengthens the body and makes it more mobile which is very important for first responders as their body is their tool,” she continued. "What the masses care about when it comes to yoga is stretching and a nice butt, but the true essence of yoga is neurological training.”
Added Mead: “It trains the mind and the nervous system to withstand anything by teaching breathing techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy.”