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Mindfulness in Everyday Life

Mindfulness has become a buzz word around mental health and yoga communities in the past decade, and now, it has shown up in the police force.

In March of 2016, Calgary City Police hired a yoga instructor to come in and help out with stress in the workplace. According to the Calgary Herald [1], yoga and other classes are being offered year around. Whether this is still happening, I am not sure, but, it is a step in the right direction.

Whatever can help reset the brain to help increase resiliency is worth looking into. And that is the most impressive part of our brain: neuroplasticity. The ability to rewire the brain so that it does not respond to stress, anxiety, and trauma in the way that it is used to.

Think of your brain as a forest with well worn, trodden paths that lead to same place. You get upset and your brain fires off chemicals and synapses spark, you walk down that path and your shoulders tense, your blood pressure increases, breathing changes and becomes rapid and shallow, your palms sweat, your vision and hearing increases, while the blood runs from the brain and goes into your arms and legs to fight, flee, freeze or fawn.

Neuroplasticity, the rewiring of the brain, teaches it to create a new path in the forest. With deep breathing, mindfulness, yoga and meditation, you lay down a new, small path in the forest of your brian. It is an overgrown path, and at first all you recognize are your foot prints pressing down the leaves and the grass. With enough practise, you create muscle memory, and instead of reacting to an event or situation, your proactively turn down the smaller path and become aware of the present moment. Your breathing deepens. Your heart rate slows down. Your brain keeps the blood, and the neo cortex keeps working, rather that having the lizard brain, fight, flight, fawn or freeze resposnse take over. You can now make rational decisions without emotions taking over and hijaking your thinking process.

It takes time, and as with anything else, you need to practise it in order for it to become effective. I practise mindfullness every single day. That does not mean I sit in weird position on the floor chanting and breathing. What it does mean is that I take 2 minutes, 3 times a day and just focus on my breath. I time it and I inhale and exhale slowly. I think and am in the present moment. I am not worrying about the future and I am not obsessing about the past, and what I could have done or not done. I am now. I am here. I am present. And that's what mindfulness is; it is about being in the moment, focusing on the breath. Allowing sensations and emotions to arise, and look at them, without judgement.

I practise mindfulness when I drive. I feel my hands on the steering wheel, I smell the salt and dirt on the road, I see the drivers around me, and I hear the traffic and people on the streets. I am aware I am driving as my foot pushes the gas or the brake pedals. I force myself to be in that moment. I don't think about dinner, or work, or the project that is due tomorrow. I focus on where and what I am in that time frame.

Dallas police department brought in Mindfulness in 2017 [2] after police officers were gunned down during a peaceful protest. The fall out felt by survivors ranged from anger to rage to survivor's guilt. And those are just the effects felt on the surface.

With many people, after witnessing a trumatic event, the aftermath is often dealt with alone. Certain chemicals release in your blood during crisis, depression, stress and anxiety that make you want to be alone. This is the one of the reasons many people dealing with these issues become isolated. Their bodies are telling them to hibernate. For a time, this is what you need, but if this is prolonged it does more harm than good. It becomes difficult to re-engage with society. People might start to abuse alcohol or drugs to mask and avoid the feelings that bubble to the surface. Sleep gets interrupted, gastric issues increase, bowel issues become more prevalent, and soon you are on a treadmill running out of control and doing anything you can to stop feeling the way you do. All stress, good and bad, starts to feel like your central nervous system is taking a beating.

Police forces all over are strapped for resources, doing more with less, and deal with the worst of society on a regular basis. Sometimes, it is difficult to process all the horror and trauma they see, and if a little deep breathing in the middle of the day can make a difference, then bring it on.




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