Yoga for Law Enforcement
Updated: Apr 30, 2019
One of my interests as a yogini, yoga teacher and wife of a police officer is introducing police and police staff members to the benefits of a yoga practice for their work and home lives.
Policing can have detrimental effects on an individual's physical and mental health. Physically it is a tough career even though the job may not seem physically strenuous per se. The body has to contend with shift work, long periods of time sitting in a vehicle or at a computer, the potential for intense physical activity at a moments notice, the possibility of a poor diet due to 'eating on the run' and the physiological effects of being hyper vigilant for up to half of your waking hours, if not more. All of this leads to health issues around fatigue and sleeplessness, repetitive stress injuries, heart conditions and even weight gain and diabetes.
And if that doesn't sound bad enough, what about the mental health effects? Well, anxiety is a big one for policing staff, as is PTSD after traumatic events, while for some it could just be the daily grind of seeing the worst from people.
So how do I see yoga helping? First up, let's take something relatively simple like stress injuries from sitting in a car or at a computer for long periods. A targeted yoga asana practice is going to assist in relieving muscle tension in areas such as the hips, back, shoulders and neck while also strengthening those muscle groups to prevent further injury. Being able to go to work and not be in pain because of lower back issues has to be a good thing.
Let's look at something a bit more complex: the physiological effects of hyper vigilance. Spending your working life being constantly aware of your surroundings and waiting on that phone call that is going to send you to a job for only Gods know what is stressful and tiring to say the least. So you get home and collapse on the couch. Now, nothing wrong with that, everyone enjoys a good binge watch on Netflix, but when that starts interfering with your health because you feel too tired to exercise or with your family because your partner and kids feel neglected, maybe you need another option. From the yogic perspective, you have spent your working day with your sympathetic nervous system going all out, when you finish work you might need to find a productive way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system to find some balance. Here is where yogic practices like pranayama (breathing practices), meditation and restorative yoga come in, they let you find a moment of calm, stillness and relaxation, without you becoming a zombie. You might then find that you have more energy again to play with your kids in the backyard, help your partner with dinner, or even take your significant other out on a date.
Lastly, what about anxiety, depression and even PTSD? Well, research has been done and is ongoing about techniques such as Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep, a guided meditation practice) for PTSD for defence force veterans. The Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in the US conducted a study on the efficacy of yoga nidra as a complimentary practice for assisting veterans in coping with PTSD and has since included yoga nidra in its weekly treatment program. Obviously there are differences between defence force veterans and law enforcement personnel in regards to their unique challenges and specific needs but I believe techniques such as yoga nidra, breath work and meditation have great potential as complimentary practices for dealing with mental health issues.
Check out the below links for more information and some inspiring stories
http://yogaforfirstresponders.org/ Yoga classes and trainings based in Los Angeles and working with the LAPD
https://www.opb.org/news/article/bend-police-yoga-wellness-mindfulness/ An inspiring story from one police department in Oregon, USA