By: Kathleen Hoff
Hot yoga—usually practicing Hatha or vinyasa at about 104 degrees F for about an hour— has become popular in recent years but buy-in from the fire service is still a challenge. Hot Yoga is not just stretching, it’s purposeful movement, and it has something for everyone.
Here’s why firefighters should look at hot yoga more as functional job training — and seriously consider adding it to the repertoire.
Heat acclimation. It goes without saying that to be a good firefighter, you must be able to function well—arguably thrive—in hot to extremely hot conditions. We stand on the interstate in full gear in July for car wrecks, and of course, we fight all manner of fires in all seasons and circumstances. Heat also makes us cranky, worse at decision-making and social situations, and physically taxes us faster. Heat acclimation to some extent is built just by working outside. So, from the time it warms up, you are building it by checking equipment and training outdoors. But in winter? Hot yoga gives you a chance to become and stay acclimated in all seasons.
Holding, stabilizing, and moving through awkward positions (while hot and uncomfortable). Contrary to popular belief, yoga is about movement, not stretching. Practicing moving and holding novel and challenging positions is directly job-related (emergencies don’t lend themselves to great body mechanics). Now add the discomfort of heat (sweating profusely adds to the need for stabilization!) and you have valuable job-related training.
Maintaining focus, controlling breathing, and working calmly (while hot and uncomfortable). Yoga is also mindfulness training and breath control. It asks us to move and breathe with all our attention on the task at hand. This is essentially moving meditation and directly translates to our jobs. We want to work with complete focus and keep our breathing under control. Further, breathing controls our nervous systems. Slow and controlled breathing leads to a balanced nervous system, which means working calmly under pressure.
One of the key pieces of job training is mastery in the absence of stress so that you have proficiency in the presence of stress. Hot yoga builds mastery of working calmly with an elevated heart rate and holding and stabilizing awkward positions while hot and uncomfortable. Building heat acclimation and mental fortitude in a low-stress atmosphere translates directly to better firefighting.
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