The Woodbury Police Department along with Scott Nelson, an ambassador, and trainer for Yoga for First Responders, are joining forces to provide Woodbury police officers with yoga and mindfulness training.
Ehrenberg, also a yoga practitioner, sought to help personnel meet the demands of their challenging jobs, while also teaching them effective skills to manage these stressors when off duty, engaging with their friends and families. “Woodbury is a growing community, and we’ve had unplanned retirements due to work-related stress. Our officers witness everything from the death of children to significant human cruelty and are repeatedly exposed to violence. Over time, those types of experiences take a toll on the well-being of officers,” says Ehrenberg.
Mindfulness and yoga training at the Woodbury Police Department is in its infancy, but the responses thus far are encouraging. Education was one of the first steps in implementing the program. Personnel was taught the benefits of yoga and mindfulness in order to create buy-in. They kept the first session, “basic, light, and fun,” and received positive feedback from staff.
Law enforcement is comprised of exceptional people that genuinely want to help make people’s lives safer and better. After repeated exposure to stressors and trauma, it is all too easy to get jaded. Through yoga we are able to re-center and to be more effective police officers and healthier people in general.
They currently offer one onsite class per week, which includes about 45 minutes of asana (physical poses) and 10 minutes of breathing exercises. Ehrenberg’s plan to grow the program includes adding video sessions taught by Nelson for officers seeking to deepen their practice. This summer, more personnel will be participating in Yoga for First Responders training.
Olivia Kvitne, the founder of Yoga for First Responders and published journalist, is referred to as the “Lois Lane of Yoga.” Kvitne is a lifelong yoga practitioner and yoga instructor specializing in trauma-sensitive yoga. She developed the program in conjunction with psychologist Dr. Robert Scott. Using the foundations of Yoga for First Responders, Ehrenberg is implementing yoga and mindfulness programming customized for the Woodbury Police Department.
Data supports a clear need to help first responders process and manage stress. According to Yoga for First Responders, emergency and law enforcement personnel are exposed to “…more trauma, loss, death and destruction than the average citizen will see in a lifetime. It is estimated that 25 to 30 percent of police officers have stress-based physical health problems and 40 percent suffer from sleep disorders. Numbers are rising for post-traumatic stress among all emergency personnel; 18 percent in police officers, 10 to 37 percent in fire service.”
Now, more than ever, we see the harmful effects stress and anxiety can cause, putting at risk both our physical and mental wellness. It is not surprising that those responsible for our safety are especially susceptible to experiencing these risks both in the field and in their personal lives.
Thank you to Sargent Tom Ehrenberg, Scott Nelson, and the Woodbury Police Department for seeking to improve the performance and health of its employees through yoga and mindfulness practices. Hopefully, other departments in the state will note the success of this program and consider adopting similar programs for their officers and first responders.
Photos by Robert Sturman