Meditation instructor Alaynne West-Tweten and Sgt. Chris Smiley. Photo by Emily Jaycox

Mindful Meditation for First Responders held in Ponoka

Sessions first of its kind for area

A total of 24 RCMP officers and members of community agencies and partners participated in three meditation sessions geared towards first responders on Sept. 26 in the old fire hall.

Bringing the sessions to his fellow officers in his detachment and other interested community members was an initiative of Sgt. Chris Smiley, acting detachment commander of the Ponoka RCMP.

Other participants included Ponoka County fire services, Alberta Health Services and some peace officers and other RCMP officers from other detachments.

The sessions, entitled “Mindful Meditation for First Responders,” were conducted by yoga and meditation instructor and energy practitioner Alaynne West-Tweten.

The majority of the Ponoka RCMP members attended and there was a fairly good turnout from other community partners as well, says Smiley.

“PTSD is a big risk factor in the first responders community,” said Smiley, adding he believes meditation is part of the puzzle of building resiliency and treating the affects of PTSD .

Smiley says taking care of one’s mental health, especially for a first responder is of paramount importance.

“One’s agency can only provide so much training and resources,” he said, adding and it comes down to individual responsibility to know their limits, to seek help when they need it and to invest in their physical and mental well-being.

Smiley says meditation is used by athletes and business people as a way to enhance performance and is starting to be embraced by law enforcement in North America.

To his knowledge, this event was the first of its kind to be held in the area, and possibly the province.

West-Tweten teaches in Red Deer and Sylvan Lake.

Meditation is one of the still (non-moving) practices of yoga, as yoga just means “union,” says West-Tweten.

The sessions discussed the benefits of meditation and tips on how to make time for it around busy schedules and shift work and as well as supplying different resources from thought leaders in the field.

A lot of meditation is breath work — methods for lowering heart rate which aligns with what RCMP are taught in tactical training, says Smiley.

West-Tweten teaches a method called the 16 second breath (also known as combat breathing or box breath) which involves inhaling for four seconds, holding for a count of four, exhaling for four seconds, and holding again.

She recommends doing eight repetitions of this.

Breathing like this can help both during high-stress situations and in the aftermath.

Combat breathing while in a high-stress and/or use of force situation can help a police officer maintain situational awareness in order to keep themselves and others safe while remaining dynamic and getting tasks done, says Smiley.

At home after a stressful situation, using the 16 second breath can help a first responder pull out of that state of mind.

Other tips presented for beginners to meditation were to stay hydrated, remove distractions such as cell phones, sitting in an erect, alert posture for optimal blood and energy flow, focusing on your breath or a mantra to help clear your mind, concentrating on feelings of appreciation or gratitude and acknowledging emotions as they come up and letting them go.

Smiley hopes to do another meditation session for his detachment maybe in another year. In the meantime, other agencies expressed interest in holding other sessions for their groups.

“We’re not done with this.”

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