Fire In The Belly: Tim Seutters evolution from firefighter to yogi
Tim Seutter is a career firefighter. This is his story of how yoga saved his career and how it allows him to keep saving lives.
A firefighter yogi, that's an interesting combo; how does that work? I have been asked that question, many times since I became a yoga teacher seven years ago. I have been a career firefighter in Canada and New Zealand for 17 years, and I have seen a lot throughout my career as a first responder.
Growing up in Canada, I played all sorts of contact sports from Ice Hockey, Gridiron (Football) to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Sports were always an integral part of my life, and being a firefighter was a natural progression. To say I was proud of being a firefighter would be an understatement. I loved everything about the job. What I didn't realize, for a long time, is that this job has a dark side. Over the years, I have witnessed many tragic situations, a lot of grief, and for a lot of my career, had no practical tools to deal with these things. But, like a typical firefighter, I put a brick on it and went about my life.
So, when did the yoga start? I was at the fire station, in my late 20's, and I bent down to look at the truck wheels, and painfully stood up. One of my co-workers said, "if you think your knees are bad now, wait until you are 40". That struck a nerve, how could I feel so bad in my body yet be in the best shape of my life? I decided this had to change, and through searching for alternatives, I found yoga.
When I started yoga, I was as bendable as an iron bar. I struggled, nearly died from the heat, and at the end was a sweaty, discombobulated mess; but I LOVED IT! I slowly started to add more yoga to my life, either by doing yoga at my favourite studio or the fire station between calls. Yoga soon became a non-negotiable priority in my life.
In 2012, an incredible opportunity arose where I could do a firefighter exchange in New Zealand. Our family jumped at the chance, and soon we were off to the other side of the world. When I arrived in Whangarei, I went looking for the "yoga scene" and saying there wasn't one, was an understatement. There were no trendy yoga studios, no lululemon (their first store had just opened in Auckland) and few, if any, people I met were doing yoga. So, I started to do my own thing, doing yoga at the fire station, and soon, my colleagues were wondering what this Canadian "was on about." Some of them tried it out, and soon, I was teaching a little group of them regularly.
I loved yoga and how it made me feel, and I liked to show others how it could help them also. So, I decided to head to Bali and did a yoga teacher training. To say this was life-changing would be an understatement, I transformed, and under some inspiring teachers, I became a new person, totally empowered by yoga.
I naively thought moving across the world be easy and becoming a New Zealand Firefighter would be simple, I had been one already for 11 years. I, however, had some life lessons to learn, and my first years as a New Zealand firefighter were frustrating. Fortunately, I had my yoga practice, and I was teaching community yoga classes alongside my career as a firefighter. I gradually gained experience and knowledge, and in 2015, I opened my yoga studio. It seemed I had it made, career, family, and now a yoga studio.
Little did I know that the dark side of being a firefighter was building up. Tragic calls and stress from emergency work were leading me on a collision course. It all came to a head in March 2017, after going to a traumatic call that broke me down, left me crying, and everything I had suppressed for years came crashing out.
My life was in a tailspin, I tried to get professional help, I went off work sick, and I went into some dark places. One of the few things that helped me through this time was yoga. I needed to take time to heal and be kind to myself, and yoga gave me the tools to do that. I spent many hours practicing meditation and yoga as prescribed alternatives were unhelpful for me. It was an incredibly frustrating experience, but through a long and difficult process and a lot of yoga, I rebuilt my life, and in February 2018, I returned to my job as a firefighter.
Throughout this whole process, I continued to teach yoga, and through that, I was able to practice what I preached. As a result, I came out the other side stronger and more resilient.
I teach yoga now with an even greater purpose because I know how it helps deal with the trauma and grief first responders face daily. Meditation taught me to be in the present so that when memories or thoughts from traumatic experiences came up, I could deal with them in a way that left me empowered, not broken.
I am a firefighter and a yogi, and I am proud to champion the cause and try to get more first responders doing yoga. If you interested in starting yoga, don't worry about being flexible, it doesn't matter. What matters is the ability to do your job and go home at the end of the shift and feel good about yourself. Yoga helps you do this by releasing stress and trauma that gets stored in your body and mind. To stay resilient as a first responder, you need to look after yourself physically and mentally. Yoga will give you the tools to do this so you can perform at your best the next time you are saving someone's life.