- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Fayetteville police recruits didn’t expect yoga when they began law enforcement training.

After all, when did a downward-facing dog move ever help an officer catch a fleeing criminal?

But two groups of recruits now training at the Police Department’s academy are discovering how yoga can benefit them in their future careers.

Academy instructors have introduced yoga, the Zen art of meditation and stretching designed to achieve peace of mind, into the rigorous physical activities recruits do to build muscles, strength and confidence.

“With the stress we go through, it helps us deescalate,” Lt. Tracey Bass-Caine said. “With the wear and tear, it makes our bodies more flexible. It’s holistic to try and repair body and mind.”

The class is being taught through Youjiva, a relatively new nonprofit group. Youjiva is working with police, recreation centers and the Heritage House, an assisted living facility, to offer yoga as part of “mindfulness classes,” said Nicole Walcott, Youjiva’s executive director.

Walcott works closely with founder Dr. Sid Gautam, a retired Methodist University professor, and program coordinator Walter Knox, to tailor classes to the specific needs of clients.

“Our hopes are to improve the presence of mind and mindfulness of the officers so that they are acutely aware of their emotions,” Knox said.

In setting up a program for police, Walcott said, they looked at studies of common mental or emotional ailments of law enforcement officers, which include high stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and insomnia. The common physical problems include injuries to the lower back, shoulders, wrists and ankles.

Working with the research, Walcott said, a specific yoga program targeting those areas was created.

“We make sure the poses are helping prevent injuries on the physical side,” she said.

It also allows better control of physiological responses to stressors, Knox said.

Yoga training as part of the curriculum took recruits by surprise, but now that they have been doing it, they see the benefits.

“No, I didn’t think it would be part of the training,” said 23-year-old Hunter Bledsoe of Fayetteville. “It helps us manage stress and relieves tension.”

Cody Ausherman, 22, of Kissimee, Florida, is a 2014 graduate of Methodist University.

“In stressful situations, it can help clear minds,” he said. “It’s really good at the end of the week.”

Rachel Wood, 28, of Fayetteville, agreed.

“It’s good for destressing,” she said.

Instructor Emily Myers offered an insight into the benefits during a recent class at the academy.

As the recruits lay motionless on their backs, meditating and relaxing, Myers urged them to be conscious of breathing and to seek a place of serenity in their minds.

“Where your decisions are clear and your instincts are on,” Myers said.

Bass-Caine, a longtime officer, is a believer in yoga as part of the training.

“If you practice on a daily or weekly basis and you know what to do - breathing to calm yourself down, it helps. I think it will help officers,” she said.


Information from: The Fayetteville Observer, https://www.fayobserver.com

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