RCMP officer teaches yoga to heal from Moncton shooting
Tammy Ward's trauma-sensitive yoga class features slow, controlled movements and breathing techniques
Tammy Ward was one of the many RCMP officers who responded to the June 2014 shooting that killed three Mounties and wounded two.
Working in Moncton for four months after the shooting took a toll on her mental health.
To heal from the death of her colleagues, Ward, 50, turned to yoga to supplement regular therapy.
The yoga helped her heal and now she's teaching it in Fredericton to women who have also been through a traumatic experience.
"It's just helping other women [who] have gone through trauma, whether it's work related for first responders like myself, or women who have lost a spouse, or perhaps have been assaulted or gone through a horrible divorce," she said.
She calls the class "trauma-sensitive yoga for women." The movements in this class are slow and controlled, and most of them are done sitting or lying down.
On Saturday, three women followed her instructions in a large sun-drenched room, home to Truth Lies Within yoga studio. She guided them through slow movements, holding stretches for a minute before switching sides.
To the sound of soft flute, she also asked the women to breathe deeply, feel the stretch, then "let go of everything we're holding onto."
Ward said her class is not a traditional support group nor an alternative to therapy, so she doesn't ask the women to share what they've been through. If they wanted to talk about it, she said she'd listen, but only one-on-one.
"Sometimes talking about it can trigger somebody else in the room," she said. "I don't ever want anyone to compare trauma or think their trauma isn't important enough."
She said what they do instead is focus on themselves, on taking care of their body, and if all else fails, just focus on their breathing.
"We do a lot of breath work because with anxiety, especially with anyone dealing with PTSD, you can have panic attacks and get very anxious," Ward said. "When I can control my breath, I'm controlling my body which helps me control my mind."
Mel McCarthy has attended six sessions so far and she said the simple movements and calming atmosphere are helping her regain control of her body after losing half a lung to cancer.
"It's a large, physical trauma to the body, but also when that happened, I was 37 years old and [had] no risk factor … That was just a huge shock," she said.
She said her doctor recommended yoga after her surgery, but regular yoga classes were too intense. Because they required a lot of balance, they made her feel dizzy.
"I really appreciate the gentleness of [Ward's] practice and the environment that she creates is soothing. And her dog is upstairs and she's a greeter, she's just a huge chunk of love."
McCarthy said it was difficult to get to class Saturday morning because her trauma weighs on her like a "big, heavy, wet quilt."
"So when I came here, I was feeling sort of tired and heavy but also motivated because I know that when I do get here, that I am taking care of myself physically and emotionally and spiritually and mentally," she said.
"In a little over an hour there's this really profound shift that makes things feel a lot easier."
Ward said being a police officer and a yoga instructor take her to opposite worlds.
"[Police officers] deal with situations that are less than pleasant and the nice people that you do meet are having the worst day of their life so it takes a toll," she said, but yoga is "always positive."
"I've got my ying and my yang ... It's kind of funny for a lot of people but it's what's helped me keep my balance."
But Ward said she still has a lot of growing and healing to do.
"I haven't gone to Moncton to see the statues," she said, tearing up. "Wearing my uniform causes a panic attack." She said she now works in plainclothes.
Teaching this class is helping her work on herself as well, she said.
"By always trying to be prepared for my classes and doing research, I find tidbits for myself as well as [students]"