Camas yoga teacher Sheila Schmid remembers the day she realized she wanted to take her yoga practice in a different direction.
It was about five years ago and Schmid, who had been teaching and practicing yoga for nearly 30 years, was in a Northwest Portland coffee shop with her young son, when a small group of police officers walked in.
“Even back then, there was some kind of negative things directed toward the cops,” Schmid said. “And I heard a woman behind me say, ‘I can’t believe they’re in here with their guns.’ My son was about 4 or 5 and he asked, ‘Why do they have those guns?’ so I told him, ‘Those guns are part of their toolkit. They’re to protect us.'”
As someone who knew many of the police officers in her own Portland neighborhood, Schmid said the interaction gave her pause. Instead of staying silent, she decided to approach the officers.
“I walked over to them, to thank them for their service,” Schmid said. “And I could see that they were wary. That they’d spend their whole career, year after year, coming up against this stuff.”
Schmid decided then that she wanted to use the skills she’d attained — teaching yoga but also helping people be more mindful and resilient in stressful situations — to help first responders, including local police officers.
She started cold-calling police departments in Portland, Vancouver and, after moving to East Clark County, in Camas and Washougal to pitch teaching yoga to the officers.
“It took a couple years, but I finally got something going,” Schmid said. “And then COVID hit.”
Washougal police chief touts yoga’s benefits
Washougal Police Chief Wendi Steinbronn said she believes yoga has two very distinct benefits for police officers: increasing flexibility and teaching mindfulness.
“Officers spend a lot of time sitting in a patrol vehicle or standing in one spot for extended periods of time,” Steinbronn said. “Combine that with the weight of a ballistic vest and utility belt and that contributes to back pain and hip flexor tightness. Yoga can help with this.”
Steinbronn discovered yoga’s benefits when she worked for the Portland Police Bureau and was part of a leadership cohort.
“Through this cohort, I met a lieutenant who works for the Bend Police Department and he helped introduce yoga as part of their wellness training,” Steinbronn explained.
When she was named Washougal’s new police chief in 2019, Steinbronn decided to bring this yoga training to the Washougal Police Department.
“Everyone had to be a good sport and try it,” Steinbronn said. “Focusing on breathing and meditation can reduce anxiety and who wouldn’t want that?”
Eventually, Steinbronn brought yoga teachers, including Schmid and Jacquie Hill from Body Bliss Yoga, into the department to teach classes that officers and police department staff could take during their working hours, as long as they still responded to any calls that came in during that time. Schmid offered a yoga class once a week geared toward first responders and Hill offered yoga training specific for first responders who had participated in grappling sports like Jujitsu, Steinbronn said.
“Unfortunately, once COVID hit, I had to cancel (the yoga classes),” the police chief added. “Jacquie and Sheila couldn’t come to the department any longer due to restrictions.”
Schmid hosts weekly tactical yoga classes at Camas location
Although the pandemic has forced Schmid to rethink her outreach to police departments, it hasn’t stopped her desire to bring yoga to local first responders.
Most recently, she has secured a space at Forge Combat Academy in Camas where she is offering a tactical yoga class for first responders once a week — in a well-ventilated space that affords plenty of space for the teacher and her students to distance themselves.
“There is lots of open air and the space is pretty massive,” Schmid said. “We are definitely six feet away from each other. And we do temperature checks and (sanitize) the space.”
Steinbronn said she can’t allow her officers to attend Schmid’s tactical yoga classes at Forge Academy during their working hours, “as that is outside the (Washougal) city limits.”
Still, the benefits of taking the classes during their off-hours may appeal to local police officers, firefighters and other first responders.
According to the national Yoga for First Responders organization (yogaforfirstresponders.org), which has trained more than 300 instructors and reached first responders in more than 150 police and fire departments in 35 states since 2019, tactical yoga differs from “regular yoga” in that it is designed to “provide first responders and military personnel with traditional yoga training that is culturally informed and job specific for the purposes of effectively processing stress, building resilience and enhancing performance.”
Schmid, who has been teaching yoga since 1987, trained with the Yoga for First Responders organization in Colorado and said the program is specifically tailored to give yoga instructors like her the skills they need to teach tactical yoga to “men and women who are warriors.”
“This is very technical and a very physically hard practice,” Schmid said of the tactical yoga classes. “Instead of yoga poses, we’re doing physical drills.”
The class also builds on mindfulness and breathing, but Schmid is careful about the phrases she uses during the first responder-focused class.
“I’m not going to say ‘corpse pose’ to a cop,” she said. “And there’s no sanskrit. Instead of ‘savasana’ (typically used for relaxation at the end of a yoga session), it’s a ‘neurological reset.'”
The classes are meant to help first responders process stress more effectively, enhance their on-the-job performance and, yes, feel physically better after a long day spent riding in vehicles, walking beats and responding to emergencies.
The classes are open to any first responder — from police and firefighters to emergency medical workers and dispatch operators — and costs a minimum of $10 per drop-in class, with payment in cash or through Venmo.
Schmid is offering the class from 1 to 2 p.m. every Wednesday at Forge Combat Academy, 4325 N.W. Lake Road, in Camas.
For more information about Schmid’s yoga practice, visit InsideYogaJob.com. For more information about the Yoga for First Responders program, visit yogaforfirstresponders.org.