“Yoga has a sly, clever way of short circuiting the mental patterns that cause anxiety.” – Baxter Bell
Policing is a very stressful occupation. Stress in police can result from role conflicts between serving the public, enforcing the law, and upholding ethical standards and personal responsibilities as spouse, parent, and friend. Stress also results from, threats to health and safety, boredom, responsibility for protecting the lives of others, continual exposure to people in pain or distress, the need to control emotions even when provoked, the presence of a gun, even during off-duty hours, and the fragmented nature of police work, with only rare opportunities to follow cases to conclusion or even to obtain feedback or follow-up information.
This stress can have serious consequences for the individual and in turn for society. Police officers have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, possibly the highest. They have a high divorce rate, about second in the nation. They are problem drinkers about twice as often as the general population. This is a major problem as stress and the resultant complications can impact job performance, which sometimes involve life or death situations.
Given the difficulties with stress and the critical nature of their roles in society, it is imperative that methods be found to not just reduce the stressors of the job but also to assist the officers in stress management. Contemplative practices including yoga practice have been shown to be effective in the management of stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/stress/n). They’ve been shown to reduce both the physiological and the psychological responses to stress. Hence, contemplative practice may be an effective method to reduce stress in police.
In today’s Research News article “Evaluation of the benefits of a Kripalu yoga program for police academy trainees: a pilot study”
Jeter and colleagues examined the effectiveness of yoga practice for reducing stress in police academy trainees. They administered six 75-minute classes during the 20-week police academy training and found that there was a significant reduction in perceived stress in the trainees. In addition, they found that the yoga training significantly reduced tension and fatigue.
Yoga practice has been shown previously to reduce not only perceived stress but also the hormonal and cardiovascular responses to stress. Unfortunately, these physiological indicators were not measured in the study by Jeter and colleagues. But, the reduction in the psychological perception of stress is normally linked to changes in the physiological response. So, it is likely that these were also present in the trainees.
The reduction in fatigue is very significant. Fatigue is a major problem with police. Rotating shift work, lack of sleep, financial pressures to take on extra work or second jobs induce fatigue which can, in turn, affect performance. It has been demonstrated that fatigue impairs judgment and eye-hand coordination, increases excessive use of force, severe mood swings, anxiety or depression, substance-abuse, back pain and frequent headaches, PTSD, gastrointestinal problems, and risk of serious health problems. So, the ability of yoga practice to reduce fatigue in the trainees is very important.
These results in trainees need to be reproduced in a more highly controlled trial and the effectiveness of yoga practice to reduce stress in police officers in the field needs to be established. But, these preliminary results certainly justify further research. The problem is too important to be left untreated and yoga practice definitely shows promise.
So, calm the police with yoga.
“Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one’s being, from bodily health to self realization. Yoga means union – the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day to day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.” – B.K.S. Iyenga
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies