by Linda Mumma

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY (CBS13) — Every 18 hours a law enforcement officer commits suicide. An alarming number also suffer from stress-related health problems and sleep disorders.

One Northern California law enforcement agency is doing something to change that. It’s called “Yoga for First Responders.”

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“When we think of yoga in the west, we don’t think of cops. We think of people on a beach doing a pose that’s completely impossible,” said instructor Dustin Kulling.

With every breath and pose, participants said they could feel the weight lifted from their shoulders.

“I did the whole thing with my eyes closed. I wasn’t paying attention to anything other than what the captain was saying and going through the different poses and focusing on my breath,” said K9 Unit Supervisor Paul Hoskins.

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CBS13 was there as a group of K9 handlers and members of the San Joaquin County Sheriff Department’s bomb squad were learning how to manage stress and anxiety with a proven practice to bounce back from trauma.

“A lot of times we go to really intense encounters where people are very upset so we have to find ways to not only control ourselves but to deescalate those situations as well,” Kulling said.

Kulling is not only a member of the department; he’s been practicing yoga for about five years and was recently certified in YFFR.

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“Yoga for First Responders is the organization who taught me to teach yoga and they’re a nationwide organization that started with Los Angeles County Fire several years ago,” Kulling said.

On Monday, Kulling introduced the first of five courses with a presentation showing the benefits of yoga.

“There are a lot of benefits to yoga that haven’t really taken root in law enforcement until recently. Some of that is building mindfulness and resiliency with our officers,” he said. “Learning how to process stress is huge to me. I want my officers to be safe… I want them to be able to take care of our community, interact with people better and deal with things at the lowest level possible.”

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Once the group was done with the presentation, they moved to the mats where they combined physical exercise with mental training.

“A lot of the guys said ‘That’s a lot harder than I thought. I thought it was about stretching,’” said Kulling.

An added bonus to the program, he said, which provides peace officers with a new outlet to decompress and handle the stresses of the job.

“It’s really awesome to have someone who works with us bring this to us because it really shows how much he cares for his troops, how much he cares for the sheriff’s office and for the public,” said Hoskins. “If we’re able to control our own emotions and do that by centering ourselves through yoga, we’re able to help the community a lot better.

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So far the yoga classes have been well-received. The department is now looking into regularly holding classes and even some for all staff members during the lunch hour.