Yoga for LEOs
How yoga enhances physical fitness, defensive tactics, & emotional stabilityBy Greg Amundson | Mar 30, 2016
Good physical conditioning is the cornerstone of good police work. On the street, a strong, durable, resilient, and powerful body can be your greatest asset, especially in critical moments. In addition to strength, speed, and power, it’s vital that officers be mobile and flexible too. It all comes down to balance: only a balanced body, mind, and spirit is up to the unknown and unknowable challenges of the law enforcement profession.
As I’ve outlined in the series on holistic fitness (see here, here and here) we know that eating right and exercising ensure officers are physically, mentally, and spiritually prepared for the demands of the street. In this series we approach the final frontier of an officers holistic training program.
Yoga for Warriors?!
I’ll be the first to admit I was a bit hesitant to think Yoga could help me while serving as a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). And, were it not for Mark Divine, the founder of SEALFIT, I might have dismissed it completely.
But after 47 hours of non-stop physical training evolutions during the grueling 50-hour SEALFIT Kokoro Camp, 20 exhausted candidates and I were instructed to change into dry clothing and gather in the Yoga studio at their facilities.
“Kokoro” means “heart” in Japanese, and the camp was designed to provide a complete immersion experience for prospective future SEALs and other special-operations components of the U.S. military and Federal Law Enforcement. Kokoro combined sleep deprivation, intense physical training, arduous team exercises, ocean exposure, and leadership challenges in a chaotic, fast-moving environment, and it was coached by combat- proven Navy SEAL instructors.
Moments after taking a cross-legged seat on the studio floor, SEALFIT founder Mark Divine entered the room and explained the final training evolution: Kokoro candidates would be lead through a Warrior Yoga practice. We were instructed to stay awake, focused, and follow Mark’s instruction for the remaining two hours. Warrior Yoga (also known as Kokoro Yoga) is Mark’s adaptation of the ancient art of Ashtanga Yoga. The main focus is to develop breath awareness, spinal health, concentration, intuition, and to foster the warrior spirit.
For the next two hours, my Kokoro classmates and I did our best to follow Mark through a series of traditional Yoga poses. With sweat pouring down my entire body, I was astonished at how difficult the practice was. In addition, the contrast between the constant non-stop movement of the previous 47 hours, and the stillness and silence of the Yoga practice was immense. I felt a dormant force of incredible power came alive within me, and I took mental note to learn more about Yoga upon Kokoro graduation. Finally, after what seemed an eternity of standing poses, balancing poses, inversions and twisting postures, Mark instructed us to lay down on our backs, in a resting pose known as shavasana, or dead-mans pose. Rejoicing inside, the candidates and I assumed our Kokoro camp experience was coming to a close.
And we all fell asleep on the floor.
But the instructors had other ideas. As soon as the snoring and sleep-twitching started, they burst into the studio, dumping buckets of ice cold water onto us, and screaming: “How dare you fall asleep! Get yourselves onto the grinder right now!”
After another backbreaking two hours of log drills, grinder calisthenics, ice baths, and ocean immersion, our class finally heard the heavenly words we had been longing for: “Kokoro Class #11, you are secure!”
Following graduation, I spoke with Mark about my Kokoro experience, and specifically the awakening I felt during Warrior Yoga. Mark said to me, “Greg, a true warrior must be skillful both in action and non-action, both in movement and stillness. This is the benefit of Warrior Yoga—you can practice both simultaneously.”
And with that statement, I started a six-year journey into the heart of Warrior Yoga that continues to this day. In the video series that will follow, we will explain in further detail the physical practices, breathing exercises and daily routines for spinal health and emotional stability. Following are some of the benefits Yoga can provide.
Benefits of Yoga
Body Awareness: Yoga provides athletes with deep awareness into how our body moves and “feels” in space and time. Our senses turn inward, and we deepen our bodies intuition. The inner stillness we develop spills over into our physical fitness endeavors, including improved quality of movement and virtuosity.
Core Development: Our core in Yoga is built at a very deep and integrated level. We learn how to “root” into the earth, and how to ground ourselves during dynamic movement and critical moments. The grounding, rooting and core development has direct application to defensive tactics.
Balance: Balancing poses in Yoga begin in the mind, and then extends through our core, into the earth. Balance in Yoga is more than typical athletic balance, and can lead to gracefulness in action, impeccable timing, smoothness of motion, and increased spatial awareness. Balance also refers to the mind, and helps to release stress, and provides perspective on what is within our influence, and what is not.
Mobility: The deep twisting, bending, and extension work we achieve through the Yoga poses significantly increases our range of motion and mobility for all athletic endeavors. This increased mobility increased defensive tactics effectiveness, CrossFit workouts, and obstacle course maneuvering.
Spinal Health: The lengthening effect of the standing and bending Yoga poses increases space between the vertebra of the spine, reducing a host of injury-related symptoms. This is incredibly important for the long hours Officers spend in their patrol cars, and the adverse effects of a heavy duty belt on the hips and low back.
Cleansing & Detox: The internal heat generated during a Yoga practice, along with the twisting and bending associated with the Yoga poses, serves as an internal “washing machine” for our body, and aids in the detoxification of our system, at both the physical and energetic level.
Concentration: A primary benefit of Yoga is the deepening of our concentration, and ability to coordinate the movement of the body and breath in action. Yoga has been referred to as a “moving concentration practice”. The increased level of concentration helps Officers make the right decision in critical moments.
In addition to the physical benefits of Yoga, there are numerous mental and emotional benefits as well. One of the greatest aspects is increased awareness, sensitivity and appreciation for breathing exercises. Deeper and more concentrated breathing has been shown to decrease stress, anxiety, and help improve sleep. The specific breathing practice we will learn in our video series together is known as the “Warrior Breath.”
If, like me, you thought Yoga had no place in your routine, think again. I have found personally that the practice of Yoga enhances all other aspects of my life. At the very least, give it a shot with an open mind.
Until next time, train like your life depends on it—because it does.