IMPLEMENTING MINDFULNESS FOR FIRST RESPONDERS
Story by Martha Carucci
Things get interesting when a petite woman sporting a mohawk and known as the 'Mindful Junkie' walks into a room full of first responders with plans to teach them “Tactical Brain Training” and mindfulness. Alexandria resident, Gina Rollo White, has a Masters in Mindfulness Studies and is the founder and director of Mindful Junkie Outreach. A mind body teacher, educator and author of the thesis Mindfulness and Law Enforcement, An Effective Approach to Implementing Mindfulness for First Responders, she has spent over 15 years teaching mind body interventions.
Gina has worked with leadership from law enforcement, fire services, paramedics, medical workers and special task forces, delivering curricula specifically tailored to those working in high-trauma environments. As the daughter of two first responders, Gina learned firsthand how chronic stress impacts first responders and their families. As a child, she saw how the sacrifices her parents made for their communities not only took a toll on their physical and mental health, but also created strain at home and in the family. While in university years later, she learned about the connections between trauma, the brain and emotional regulation. Mindfulness, she learned, could help reverse the negative consequences of sleep deprivation, exposure to violence and physical injuries by changing the brain itself.
The ability to positively change the brain through mindfulness is important for everyone, but Gina realized these skills are especially critical for one population in particular: individuals who put their lives on the line to ensure public safety. Gina created Mindful Junkie Outreach to empower first responders with mindfulness strategies to be healthier, safer and more emotionally regulated both on the job and at home.
Gina travels around the country to speak, teach and provide workshops and training to first responders and medical personnel. After the COVID-19 pandemic shut so much down, Gina continued much of her work virtually via Zoom or other teleconferencing methods. “I go in and I’m met with such aversion and I walk out and I can’t leave without a line of people waiting to talk to me. And I listen. And they are thankful. I’m not fixing problems. Mindfulness is not about fixing problems. Mindfulness is about noticing what’s occurring while it’s occurring so you can understand how you can work with the situation at hand.”
I have been fortunate enough to have worked with Gina over the past six years as she graciously led a mindfulness mediation to start the National Breast Center Foundation’s Walk to Bust Cancer. It’s an extremely powerful, humbling, unifying experience to look at a crowd of over 500 people standing together, holding hands and feeling the energy that brings together survivors, warriors, families, supporters and loved ones, all unified in a cause near and dear to their hearts. Gina has brought a comforting, grounding and moving aspect to the walk program. Walkers look forward to seeing her each year. “A lot of healing is done through relational work; knowing someone is listening to you, they see you, they hear you,” White commented.
We spend a great deal of time nourishing our bodies, and as is evidenced by this issue, there are so many amazing places here in our area to do that. But we cannot forget to nourish our souls as well. What nourishes your soul? White's answer:
“It nourishes my soul to work. It nourishes my soul to create partnerships. It nourishes my soul to be around other women who I can learn from who are doing amazing things in the world. Being around other badass women… that nourishes me. That nourishes my soul.”
To learn more about Tactical Brain Training® and how Mindful Junkie supports First Responders navigate the chaos of life and work, please visit