Crime & Justice

Colombian police receiving yoga workshops to manage emotions on the job

By Jeimmy Paola Sierra

Medellin, Colombia, Sep 20 (efe-epa).- The smell of incense and the regular soft sound of a shamanistic drum take a group of Colombian police officers into a state of deep relaxation guided by a mentor at a yoga, meditation and mindfulness workshop to teach them how to manage their emotions and reactions during moments of stress.

The workshop is four hours of calmness and reflection for 30 members of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (Esmad) within the Colombian police, all the officers on this occasion dressed in workout clothing and stretched out on thin yoga mattresses – a far cry from their usual appearance out on the streets – but all in keeping with the ongoing program to reduce the levels of police violence and educate the officers on how to behave more peacefully.

“They have some very specific situations that emotionally can be strong and heavy. These (program sessions) seek to provide some tools so that they can consciously know how to react at that moment and how to deal with that emotion that occurs,” Felipe Zapata, a meditation mentor, told EFE.

The mind therapy, which is provided in an environment of complete harmony, contrasts with the tumultuous days the country has been experiencing with violent demonstrations against police violence that erupted with the death of Javier Ordoñez, a 46-year-old man who was subdued with excessive force and the prolonged use of a Taser by two officers during his arrest in Bogota.

Patrolwoman Zulay Romero – the only woman in the group and who, being more limber than her male colleagues, has an advantage in the yoga session – said that these workshops allow her to take a break from the monotony of her job and find a little tranquility.

“During this period which has seen enough conflicts and riots, it helps us to change the routine,” Romero told EFE. She, too, is a member of Esmad, widely the most feared unit for disrupting and dispersing demonstrations in Colombia.

Romero, born in the city of Cucuta 32 years ago, is taking part in the sessions with her patrol partner, who is also part of Esmad, which was created in 1999 to support the regular police when maintaining order in certain situations was more than the cops could handle.

“He comes with me every day. We experience many emotions together during (our job) and we’re handling the same stress, but at the same time we’re relaxing in these kinds of activities,” she said.

Romero, who avoided giving an opinion about the latest episodes of police violence, said that she had wanted to be a police officer since she was very young but she developed a particular interest in Esmad to prove “that we women have the same abilities as men.”

Just like his partner Romero, who emphasizes the chats and the meditation as the things that help her get to “a different level of consciousness from what I’m accustomed to,” Officer Andres Felipe Correa sees in this exercise the chance to free himself temporarily from complicated workdays in a job he had wanted so that he could “serve the public” and which he sees as an “ideology.”

“It’s a vocation. In my family, there have always been police officers,” the young man born in Lloro, in Choco province, said, adding that given the current situation in Colombia, he really likes the mindfulness program in Medellin.

“We have fun and we get out of the routine, the stress of the job, the insults of the people on the street since society is very ungrateful to public servants,” Correa said.

He said that in the police training school they often speak about “mentality and emotions,” and thus in this workshop they’re not venturing into completely new territory.

“This (workshop) makes us reflect on our behavior and understand about the conscious and subconscious, and see where the mind can go and see what we can do with our thoughts,” he said.

Zapata, in his role as a teacher, said that the goal with the 300 police officers who are waiting to participate in the workshops is to get them to understand that we all have the possibility of changing our emotional states, and ending up “controlling our actions and reactions.”

“They have training in many things, but in a moment of crisis and difficulty, when they get into a survival situation, their reactions are different,” he added.

As a mentor of “engineering the invisible,” a mixture of modern science with ancestral knowledge, he said that these first sessions are designed so that his students see why it is useful and practical to channel their emotions. And even more so on “heavy days” with confrontations between demonstrators and police.

“You have to acknowledge that what’s happening is a reflection of all of us,” said Zapata, adding that “In the end, we’re all human beings.”

For Medellin’s social manager, Diana Osorio, who launched this initiative for Esmad members as part of the “TodosSomosUno” (We’re All One) campaign, the exercise “has fit into” the current situation on the streets, but the idea is to do it with different groups in society as part of “educational work for peace” in the city.

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