How to develop a tactical yoga routine
Follow this movement system to help avoid injuries and release stress for improved job performance
By Jane Henson
Tactical Movement for First Responders (TMFR), or tactical yoga, is a movement system specifically designed to help officers avoid injury on the job and release stress for improved job performance.
TMFR stretches muscles and targets the deep connective tissues between the muscles and the fascia throughout your body. This allows for a release of tight muscles and ligaments that often come from prolonged sitting. Officers are especially prone to tightened hip and lower back muscles and can become injured when moving quickly from sitting positions in the car to a foot pursuit within seconds.
A regular TMFR practice geared toward release of tension in the neck, lower back, hips, knees and ankles will help keep you from injury, improve your performance and maintain flexibility.
Why at-home yoga works for cops
Shift work can be problematic for lofficers seeking to participate in exercise programs. Establishing an independent home practice is not only beneficial but also allows you to practice on your own time in a safe environment. It is in this private practice that you can move at your own pace and, in your own time frame, explore movement poses that transform your health and well-being.
The biggest obstacle is knowing which stretches to utilize and what order to practice them in. While mastering the art of sequencing stretches may take some time, with a few basic building blocks you can put together proper sequences and approach a regular home practice with confidence.
Tactical yoga tactics
In every movement practice you should focus on the following TMFR tactics: target, timing, approach and progression.
Target: When practicing tactical movement, choose an area of body to target. For example, lower back and hip pain are common in officers. Target areas can change in each practice. If you are feeling tight in the shoulder area, target that area. TMFR is a practice specific to your individual needs.
Timing: TMFR is about creating a practice that will be beneficial to the individual officer, which includes the timing. Movement practices should run about an hour, although a short 10-15 minute practice right before and after a shift can be just as beneficial. The amount of time spent in each stretch is determined by your body. Holding a stretch should never hurt. Beginners can hold a stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then progress to hold as long as 5 minutes depending on the comfort level of their bodies.
Approach: Once you have determined the timing for your practice, you will want to enter into each stretch with a three-point approach:
- Reach your edge. TMFR often has an acupressure-like effect on the connective tissue. When stretching, come to your edge, but do not go beyond it. There should be no pain.
- Be still. The act of being still requires you to focus both your mind and body. Deliberate movement to reach your edge or move away from pain is necessary. Any other movement besides deep breathing is not stillness.
- Be mindful. Do not move quickly from stretch to stretch. Take the time for your body to accept the changes it has made in each pose before moving into the next. Pause in a neutral space before moving into the next stretch.
Progression: The progression of each stretch should make sense. It is not beneficial to move from a seated position to a standing position and back to a seated position. When thinking on the progression of your practice, think tactically. You want your movement carefully planned to reach your goal of flexibility for better job performance and less injury. A progression that begins standing and progresses to a seated position is tactically sound.
Tactical yoga in action
Utilizing the TMFR approach, the following example shows how to put together a lower back 15-minute practice you can do before heading in for your shift:
1. Breathe/meditate: 5 minutes.
In a comfortable seated position, breathe in and out slowly. Relax yourself by taking 3 to 5 breaths as follows. Visualize each number as you count. Breathe in counting 1, 2, 3, 4, and then stop. Hold your breath, counting 1, 2, 3, and 4. Exhale counting 1, 2, 3, and 4. Upon completion of this breathing sequence, breathe normally and continue to focus on your breath.
2. Butterfly: 1 minute.
From a seated position, bring the soles of your feet together and then slide them away from you. Allowing your back to round, fold forward, lightly resting your hands on your feet or on the floor in front of you. Your head should hang down toward your heels. The goal is to stretch the spine, not the hips, so do not focus on trying to get your knees to the floor.
3. Windshield wipers: 1 minute.
This is a counterpose to the butterfly pose. To come out of the pose, lift the torso and place the hands on the floor behind you with the fingers facing forward. Then lean back onto your hands, and straighten the legs one at a time. Bend your knees and place the soles of your feet on the floor mat width apart. Drop both knees to the right, then back through the midline and over to the left. Continue back and forth.
4. Caterpillar: 1 minute.
Sit on a cushion with both legs straight out in front of you. Fold forward over the legs, allowing your back to round.
5. Hammock: 1 minute.
This is a counterpose to the caterpillar. Come out of the pose, slowly lift your head and lengthen your spine. Bend the knees, and place the soles of the feet on the floor. Place the hands behind you on the floor. Press into the hands to lift and lower the hips in a way that feels good after the decompression of the pose.
6. Sphinx: 1 minute.
Lie down on your belly. Place your palms flat on the floor in front of you like a sphinx and press upward. Notice how this feels in your lower back. If the sensations are too strong, lower your body until you have reached your edge with no pain.
7. Child’s pose: 1 minute.
Begin by sitting on your heels and then slowly fold forward, bringing your chest to your thighs and your forehead to the ground. Arms can be placed by your side or stretched out in front of you.
8. Resting pose: 4 minutes.
Lie on your back. Arms to your side. Legs and arms relaxed. Breathe in and out deeply three times and then breathe normally. When coming out of the pose, roll onto your right side and slowly come to a seated position. Sit for a moment before moving to a standing position.
One final consideration before engaging your movement practice is safety. If you currently have an injury, check for contraindications of specific stretches or postures. Never push your body to pain as this can cause injury you are seeking avoid in the first place.
About the Author
Jane Henson is a therapeutic yoga instructor and a Christian Yoga Association Master Trainer R-CYAMT. Trained in yoga therapy, trauma focus and yin specialties, Jane utilized her expertise to create TMFR. Law enforcement officers can learn more at www.tacticalmovement.org.