Thunder Bay paramedics 1st in Canada to try Yoga for First Responders

Yoga for First Responders now a crucial part of Superior North EMS mental wellness strategy, paramedic says

By Clare Bonnyman, CBC News Posted: Apr 25, 2016 9:59 AM ET

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Thunder Bay is the first city in Canada to run Yoga For First Responders classes. Instructor training is based out of Des Moines, Iowa. (Yoga For First Responders)

Paramedics in Thunder Bay, Ont. are the first in Canada to take part in a wellness program that aims to help them reduce their stress load.

Called “Yoga for First Responders“, the city-sponsored program was introduced in December of last year, said Marika Listenmaa, acting superintendent of professional standards at Superior North EMS.

Each week, two classes offer breathing and stress relief exercises to help paramedics deal with stress on the job — and in the office.

“[It’s] helping us to deal with a lot of the traumas that come with the workplace, as well as the political problems that we’re having with call volume, labour disputes, and issues like that,” Listenmaa said, adding it’s proving to be “a wellness program that’s well rounded.”

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Marika Listenmaa assisted in bringing the Yoga For First Responders program to Thunder Bay, Ont. with the help of Leanne Wierzbicki of Breathe Live Breathe Yoga. (Superior North EMS)

Paramedics in Thunder Bay will be in a legal strike position as of April 28. They recently voted 100 per cent in favour of going on strike.

“Nobody wants to have that sort of labour dispute,” said Listenmaa.

As discussions continue, she said it’s important to have a positive space for paramedics to meet outside of work and engage in healthy activities. But for shift workers, it’s often hard to find the time to do so.

The program offers “a nice place to work together in wellness with people you don’t often see,” she added.

This is a positive step for first responders like paramedics, who are all too often associated with negative news.

Listenmaa said it’s important to recognize the positive work going on in Ontario for these crises workers.

“Paramedics are often times not in the news when there are good things happening,” she said.

“This is a good thing for paramedics. We are trying to move forward in a proactive approach, and yoga for first responders is one of those approaches.”

On May16, Superior North EMS will be kicking off EMS Appreciation Week with yoga class led by acting chief Wayne Gates.

Check out this video of Yoga for First Responders at the Los Angeles, CA Fire Department 

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