If your job is particularly stressful, chances are someone has suggested that you do yoga. Many companies offer yoga for employees by bringing yoga teachers into workspaces or paying for classes at nearby studios. Now, yoga is making its way into one of the highest-stress jobs in the US: law enforcement. As police officers come under increased scrutiny after the events of Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, and other US cities, some are turning to yoga and meditation for a deeper awareness—and a deeper release—of job-related stress.
Many officers have taken the first steps by starting programs in their towns and cities. Lt. Richard Goerling launched a yoga and meditation program in Hillsboro, Ore., as a way to bring the grounded qualities of mindfulness to his co-workers. In Falls Church, Va., Detective Jennifer Elliott started a similar program after an injury led her to practice yoga. The weekly class addresses pain and stress management and often includes a mindfulness component, like a guided meditation. Police officers in Fayetteville, N.C., practice yoga during their training. As Lt. Tracey Bass-Caine told the Fayetteville Observer, “With the stress we go through, it helps us de-escalate. With the wear and tear, it makes our bodies more flexible. It’s holistic to try and repair body and mind.”
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Yoga and meditation are a means of addressing a very likely root cause of police-initiated violence: stress. These practices are preventive rather than reactionary and bring a greater sense of awareness to keep officers clear-headed and calm in moments of greatest need. The issue of police violence in this country is deadly serious, and many training programs now recognize the importance in helping officers with stress management and holistic healing. Badge of Life, an organization that focuses on the psychological health of police officers, conducted a study from 2008-2012 that examined police suicides, concluding that the number of police suicides is “much higher than the number of police officers killed by felons.” The study concluded that work-related stress is a larger factor in police suicides than has ever been recognized.
Chief Richard Biehl teaches yoga classes in the program he started for recruits in Dayton, Ohio. He told the Dayton Daily News, “It’s another thing for their tool belt. If you’re on the job for 25 years-or five years-you’d better have more in your tool belt than your service weapon, Taser, pepper spray. […] Traditionally we have done a poor job of preparing them for the human tragedy and suffering they will face.” Perhaps unbelievably, offering officers training in stress management techniques is not common, and “fewer than 2 percent of law enforcement agencies have any sort of formal programming requirement” for dealing with job-related stress, exhaustion, and trauma, according to The Daily Beast. Rather, officers are often encouraged to push through pain and stress and even treat it as unimportant or imaginary and a sign of weakness.
Other countries have already adopted yoga and meditation programs for police officers. Rajasthan, India’s largest state, is making these practices mandatory in trainings. Of course, a solution like this is only one piece of a complex puzzle that also includes issues related to race and class. But everyone can agree that practices based in prevention could keep tragedies from occurring down the road. As many yoga practitioners already know, if anything at all, yoga and meditation can help you cultivate kindness towards yourself and others. That’s a healthy start for citizens and law enforcement alike.