Yoga Gives Back to First Responders

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Dealing with the stress of losing two Des Moines police officers last month has taken its toll on Iowa’s first responders mentally and physically. A local nonprofit is using yoga to help them get back on track.

Yoga may seem trendy, but it’s now become a necessity for first responders.

“Yoga isn't just good for first responders, it is meant for first responders. It’s how India trains their warriors and army,” said Olivia Kvitne, founder and director of Yoga for First Responders.

A year ago, Kvitne led the Des Moines Police Department's 73rd recruit class through yoga instructions.

“This is the first class in Des Moines and one of the first in the country to use yoga as a stress eradicating skill,” Kvitne said.

Two officers from that class, Susan Farrell and Carlos Puente-Morales, were killed March 26 in a head-on collision along Interstate 80.

“When you hear anything like that, it affects everybody,” Don Dawson, of the Carlisle Fire Department.

The deaths caused barriers that yoga can break down.

“It builds this resiliency so you don't get knocked off your ground by challenges. You are able to eradicate stress out of your mind, nervous system and body,” Kvitne said.

Wednesday's class at the South Suburban YMCA was held exactly one year to the day of Farrell and Puente-Morales' hire date.

“Especially when dealing with something so difficult that I know they are still feeling it and it's still on their minds,” said Kvitne.

But through breathing and stretching, yoga is now helping fellow first responders cope with the loss and other tragedies.

“When I’m driving for the ambulance and I see something that's very stressful, later that night I can go home and breathe and it helps me sleep,” Dawson said. “We can perform at our highest levels of performance. We can eradicate stress so it doesn't debilitate us. Now, that sounds like something our law enforcement can use.”

Dawson said his life has changed completely since he started yoga.

“My blood pressure has gone down. Focus and everything is better,” he said.

The Indianola, Carlisle and Norwalk fire departments along with the Iowa National Guard are also on board with Kvitne’s yoga. There was a donation box set up during the yoga class, and all the proceeds went to help the families of Susan Farrell and Carlos Puente-Morales.