Stretched out on yoga mats at River’s Edge Cleveland yoga studio in West Park, a group of men and women settle in for the final pose of the day, corpse pose. The practitioners are beginning yoga nidra, a form of deep meditation.
It’s a fairly typical scene for a yoga class, but these aren’t your usual yogis. They’re officers from Cleveland Division of Police attending Yoga Warriors — a day of yoga practice, mindfulness and breathing techniques tailored to the needs of first responders.
Detective Chris Gibbons helped bring the two-year-old program to the district as part of his role in the Employee Assistance Unit, which provides support services to officers. Since then, he’s seen firsthand the benefits of the program originally designed for active duty military members.
“My chiropractor is missing me,” Gibbons says. “I don’t have to go as often. My stress levels are lower. It’s been good for me.”
On top of the physical benefits, the yoga training relieves anxiety and provides mental clarity, says instructor Karen Mulcahy. These vital skills help officers react more calmly during the tense, high-stress situations they frequently face.
“Rather than having your stress levels skyrocket, your body will stop,” she says. “You’ll be more clear and respond appropriately rather than having a knee-jerk reaction.”
After attending the full-day introductory session, officers can continue practicing free-of-charge at 10 studios across town to maximize the anxiety-busting benefits, both for their own wellness and the community’s.
“The main thing is that the interactions between the police and the community are healthy and happy,” says Gibbons. “My hope is in the next phase of this program we can invite the community and police to practice together to help build relationships.”