Police recruits taught yoga to deal with stress of job

It is unlikely recruits will nod off during the sessions: one is taught by the commander of the Central Patrol Operations District, the other by the chief.

“It’s another thing for their tool belt,” Chief Richard Biehl said. “If you’re on the job for 25 years — or five years — your better have more in 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.”

Biehl exposes the recruits to yoga as a way to deal with that stress and the physical and emotional pain that comes with the job.

Maj. Larry Faulkner exposes the recruits to goal-setting so that they can eventually retire, or move on, financially secure.

“I’ve seen officers lose their houses, lose their cars … amass a huge amount of debt because of medical costs,” said Faulkner, who retires at the first of the year. “That puts some officers in a bad position that can lead to illegal, corrupt behavior.

“There are plenty of ways to handle that without victimizing people.”

Numerous studies over the past four decades show police officers have a higher rate of suicide, depression, injury and disability than the general population. In addition the life expectancy of officers after retirement is shorter.

“It’s critical for police officers to have self-management tools. We don’t understand the health impacts of the environment we work in — the emotional, physical, psychological toll,” Biehl said. “It is only when we reach a crisis we realize we haven’t been coping.”

Biehl said he believes yoga can assist in managing an officer’s stress, just as Faulkner believes planning for a financial future can lead to a better retirement.

“What I’m doing is showing the recruits all the opportunities they have to start saving now,” Faulkner said. In the recent academy class, most of the recruits signed up for a savings plan, he said.

Faulkner also offers a class for retiring officers. “Many are apprehensive. They are losing the structure of their lives.’

Another study found that those departments that offered pre-retirement counseling saw a positive effect among retires by reducing the stress and uncertainty of retirement.

Biehl said researchers are studying yoga as a therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “It can be a tool for recovery, a way out,” he said.

“We want them to retire and have a good life without a tragic crisis,” the chief said.