Updated: May 21st, 2021
I went through one of the first YFFR Train the Trainer classes back in June 2016 at the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department (KCMO PD).
I learned about YFFR when I googled “cops and yoga”. At the time, I had been practicing vinyasa yoga since 2010, was about to start a 200 hour yoga teacher training, and had been working as a law enforcement officer with my department for 18 years. What started as a way to stay fit after baby #2 at the ripe age of 41, turned into a life altering experience for me. Yoga made me feel better. Something had changed. I felt better at work and home, not just after class. That’s when I started to think of ways I could incorporate yoga into the police department. Although it was just 6 short years ago, YFFR was not nearly as recognized as it is today. Like most cops, I was skeptical. I contacted Olivia, YFFRs Founder, had a great conversation with her, and knew she was legit. I knew I had to attend the YFFR training and convinced my agency to send me.
Challenge #1 accepted and accomplished.
It was actually easier than I thought. I met with the Training Captain, adequately prepared, and was able to explain how this training would be useful to our Officers.
I classify this as a technical challenge; one that is relatively short-term, met with less resistance, and requires change in just one place. My department agreed to fund the training and allow me the time off to attend. It is worth mentioning here that having relationships with those in decision making positions is useful. I can’t speak to those YFFR Instructors that do not work as first responders. For them, requesting a meeting itself can be an adaptive challenge; one that requires a culture or mindset shift, takes time, and requires multiple areas that require change. Making a “cold call” to a police or fire department is tough. It can take time to get to the right person and gain trust. First Responders are notorious for not trusting outsiders, especially one that wants to discuss yoga.
Implementing YFFR took time and work.
It was one of the more arduous undertakings in my career, but I was determined to try. Adaptive challenges are not easy to overcome. Introducing a concept typically associated with religion, vegetarianism, and hippies to a department of over 600 sworn officers was not small feat. This was new and cops are notorious for resisting change. We weren’t changing to a new model duty gun (a technical challenge). This is more easily tackled, met with less resistance, and is typically short-term. Train everyone on their new firearm, give them ample practice time prior to qualification, and after 6 months everyone will be trained and adjusted.
Adaptive challenges require a cultural shift which can take years. Introducing a class in which the word itself is off-putting is one in a long list of obstacles. I even had someone tell me after class how much they enjoyed it, but I should consider calling it something else and more guys would likely attend.
Fast forward, nearly six years later & yoga is no longer a dirty word;
it’s more accepted.
I retired in January 2019 from the Wichita Police Department, but continued teaching YFFR in my post retirement career as the Health and Wellness Coordinator for the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office. I not only teach commissioned LEO’s, but also teach detention personnel as well. Recruits that go through the Academy with the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office currently get 6 – 8 YFFR classes as part of the Academy curriculum, and we have plans for expansion.
This summer, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office will host a YFFR train the trainer and we will increase our cadre of instructors so that more YFFR offerings can be made.
There is no silver bullet for accomplishment.
That is why a thoughtful strategy, continuous support, and time to adjust is required for success. Ihave seen a mindset shift since first introducing YFFR several years back. No longer do I have to “fight” my way onto the recruit training schedule. The class is automatically plugged in and an expected part of the curriculum. The value is recognized.
Listed below are some important tips to keep in mind while starting a YFFR program at your department:
1. Don’t get bummed if no one comes to class.
Just because your department pays for your training, doesn’t mean it will be embraced. It takes time to adjust mentality and attitudes. When I first listed YFFR as a weekly class offering at the Academy, I knew what the reaction in the squad room would be by some. I had to heavily recruit and twist arms at first. If I could get someone to attend one class that was typically all it took for buy in; the class speaks for itself.
2. Meet with decision makers and leaders.
As previously mentioned, when I started the YFFR program in Wichita, I met with the Training Captain first. Once I returned from training, I provided the command staff of the department an overview of the YFFR protocol and it’s benefits. I also provided a YFFR presentation during a mandatory training cycle to educate department members on the program. If cops understand the “why” and "how" this is going to help them, then they are more likely to give it a try.
3. Engage the community.
Early on, I enlisted the help of one of the PIO’s (Public Information Officer). He filmed one of our YFFR recruit classes and posted it on the department’s social page. A relationship was established with our local Lululemon store and grant money from “Here to Be” was awarded to our local program. Several classes were held at the store to promote YFFR in the community. We went on the news and held a successful fundraiser at a local brewery. Our local program raised approximately $6,000.00. Not. Too. Shabby.
4. Offer incentive.
When YFFR was first introduced, any department member could attend on or off duty, would be compensated for their time if off duty, and receive one hour of in-service training credit. This is where the continued support piece is helpful. If your department has an established wellness program, this class can fit in nicely.
5. Share successes (with permission).
The best way to convince others cops to come to class is to have another well respected cop vouch for it. Stepping out of comfort zones can be scary, especially with those set in their ways. Over the years, I’ve had SWAT members speak highly of the class and numerous others. They expect me to sing the praises of the class, so it means more coming from others. An example from early on was 2 weeks after being taught 3 part breath during a short YFFR presentation, a Sergeant was involved in a shooting after chasing a robbery suspect. He relayed to me that he used his three part breath technique to calm himself down and think more carefully during this high stress situation. Examples like this are priceless.
6. Adjust to your audience.
As Olivia will tell you, as long as you stick to protocol, you can teach the way you want. I teach recruits differently than I teach the SWAT team. Just as I will teach dispatchers differently than firefighters. I make the class as relatable as possible to the audience. For instance, when I taught the SWAT team (which was like an act of Congress, insert eye roll), I emphasized the importance of the different planes of movement and chose physical drills specifically geared towards positions they may find themselves in during a lengthy SWAT deployment, such as cobra pose.
YFFR has made tremendous progress over the past several years.
Hats off to Olivia and YFFR Leadership Team for their hard work promoting the importance of this essential skill set. And to all the YFFR Instructors who committed to making a difference, just know that your hard work will pay off and is appreciated.
We are making progress towards a nationwide cultural shift in Law Enforcement. With more attention on the effects of the job and the suicide rate among LEO’s and other first responders, the “suck it up buttercup mentality” is no longer viable. Congress unanimously passed the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act in 2017, and it went into effect in 2018. Federal grants are now being offered in various areas, one of which is resiliency, one of the foundational principles of YFFR. The agency I currently work was fortunate enough to receive one of the grants for our “Peer Support and Resilience Initiative Project”.
If you are a first responder, you likely have other responsibilities at work; patrol, investigations, answering 911 calls etc. I have yet to find a department that employs a full-time yoga instructor, but sign me up if that job exists! My guess would be that those who teach are passionate about YFFR’s message. Besides teaching recruit classes, I try and reach broader audiences in our community and throughout the state when my schedule allows. I have spoken at a state-wide dispatcher conference, Attorney Generals Victim’s Rights Conference, and a Police Chaplains conference. Cultural transformation takes time.
We still have work to do, but adaptive challenges take time. Patience, perseverance, and resiliency are requirements for this work. Stay safe and thank you for all you do.
Written by YFFR Instructor & (Ret.) Detective, Wendy Hummell (Instructor School 002).
**Photos published were captured prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic**