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Rob Schware

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Yoga: How We Serve First Responders

Posted: 09/11/2012 1:11 pm

This is an interview with Lisa Wimberger, who began serving first responders in 2007 teaching mindfulness Neurosculpting® trainings at national law enforcement agencies. Over 700 police officers have been trained in the Denver metropolitan region alone. She opened a private practice in 2007 with civilian and law enforcement personnel. She went on to create the Neurosculpting® Institute in 2012 to serve civilians and private law enforcement personnel.

Rob Schware: What originally motivated you to do this work and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?

Personal family history and personal trauma have been my motivation. I was asked some years ago to work with my young cousin, who was 14 at the time. His father, a member of the NYPD, was suffering a typical officer-PTSD cycle. The son was also suffering; he was diagnosed with clinical depression at 14! I began teaching him techniques that had worked so well with my own trauma. I suddenly realized that he may never have needed my help if I had helped his father. I began to put all of my efforts into going directly to first responders. My experience with my own life-and-death trauma gave me a great platform and confidence with these techniques, as I've had to use them as my own lifeline.

What happened to you?

At age 15, the same summer I was hit by lightning, I began having black-out spells that
left me unconscious and confused, which increased in severity as years went by. It wasn't
until I was 31 and flatlined in a doctor's office, waking up to a needle of atropine poised above my heart, that I received a diagnosis; it turned out I was having extreme vasovagal responses to fear and stress. My vagus nerve would shut down my heart and brain stem during heightened moments of fear, causing me to seizure and actually flatline. Resuscitation was usually automatic, but the older I got, the harder it was. Neurosculpting® practice was a lifeline during recuperation from these attacks. Using these techniques I was eventually able to rewrite my nervous system's response to fear.

Is there a standout moment from your work with police officers? With other law enforcement agency members?

The International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) conferences have been very validating. Last year I got to train FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security, and some military personnel. My sessions were standing-room-only. Afterwards, an emotional FBI agent told me that a few years back he had lost his own son in the line of duty. He hadn't known how to cope with that. He said that during the first meditation in my training he found some relief from that pain for the first time, and that he believed these techniques were the first to help him begin his own healing.

What did you know about the population you are working with, before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population and how, if any, have those assumptions changed?

I had experience growing up watching family members and friends in the law enforcement. I researched the industry before I began offering my training by calling many agencies and asking about their approach to wellness, their resources, their trainings, and their opinions. I read books and looked at stats as well. My assumptions were that officers would be skeptical, tough, and closed. In some cases this is true, but over the last five years I've discovered that more of them are craving change and healing, and many are open to help, and are willing to heal themselves.

What are two distinct ways that your teaching style differs from the way you might teach in a studio and what are the reasons for these differences?

I use completely physiological language and dive into the brain and hormonal underpinnings of stress with the officers. There's little room to refute biology and neurology. In the civilian classroom I sometimes rely more on anecdote or personal experience to convey information.

What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?

The greatest challenge has been getting in the door and convincing law enforcement agencies that their budget will be well-used if they offer this training. Once I'm in, I usually expect a quiet group who wear perfect poker faces. I've learned not to assume a flat affect means they are not connecting to the information. My anonymous feedback forms at the end of each training show the true results. Over 75 percent of all the officers in each training note they find great value in the techniques.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach law enforcement agencies that you work with?

To be a practitioner of the techniques so you can teach from integrity and seniority, otherwise the audience will sense weakness, and there will be no way to connect.

What are some of your ideas about or hopes for the future of "service yoga" in America in the next decade?

I hope to see every agency in this country mandating wellness programs that include Neurosculpting® and yoga, food and diet courses, and life-style balance trainings.

How has this work changed your definition of service?

It hasn't changed it. It has completely defined it. I didn't really know what service was until I stepped in front of a room full of individuals in pain who saw no way out.

What other organizations do you admire?

I admire Badge of Life, Safe Call Now, CopsAlive and any other organization that tirelessly gives back to the men and women we expect to serve us.

Editor: Alice Trembour

Are you a yoga instructor giving back to underserved or un-served populations? Email rschware@gmail.com if you're interested in being interviewed for this series. Thank you for all you do in the name of service!

Hot-Off-The-Press

Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans Coping with Trauma, a collection of simple but effective yoga practices developed by Suzanne Manafort and Dr. Daniel Libby through practical and clinical experience working with veterans coping with PTSD and other psycho-emotional stress. While benefiting trauma patients safely and comfortably, the practices can be used by anyone dealing with stress.

The Give Back Yoga Foundation is making this manual available free to veterans and VA hospitals. It is also available on the GBYF website, if you would like to purchase the book and support free distribution to veterans. This practice guide includes a supplement (poster-size) of the yoga practices.

Join us at the Yoga Service Conference at the Omega Institute June 7-9, 2013.

For more by Rob Schware, click here.

For more on yoga, click here.

 
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