Yoga Shows Up In Unexpected Places!

Police Officer’s Stress Buster

Officer Colleen Quinn of the NYPD went from yoga skeptic to yoga teacher and now shares techniques for freeing the mind and body of stress with fellow officers

By 

RACHEL BACHMAN

Updated June 28, 2016 7:36 a.m. ET

Colleen Quinn was used to being aggressive when she worked out. An 11-year veteran of the New York Police Department, Officer Quinn played basketball and lacrosse in college and was accustomed to bruises and ice packs. The one yoga class she’d tried about seven years ago was too slow.

But about five years ago, a friend dragged her to another class. This time, the instructor was doing handstands and some of the moves she’d watched break dancers do on TV. Officer Quinn was hooked and soon was attending yoga classes six times a week.

A WORKOUT TO HELP YOU GO SLOWER

Within the year, she had begun the 200-hour training program to become a yoga teacher, learning techniques for calming the body and focusing the mind during unpredictable and stressful work days.

Officer Quinn now teaches yoga one-on-one to some of her co-workers at the 109th precinct in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens. She’ll help anyone who asks, free of charge, and is hoping to develop a more-formal yoga program for NYPD officers.

“I’ve found out more about myself on this little rubber mat than I ever have anywhere else,” Officer Quinn says, touching the rolled-up red mat next to her desk.

The Workout

Officer Quinn, 37 years old, practices yoga at least once a week with a co-worker in the precinct’s basement gym. They typically do Vinyasa yoga, a flowing, athletic form that promotes moving mindfully from one pose to another. At least one other time during the week she practices yoga alone in the gym and once or twice more in a yoga studio.

She supplements yoga with other gym workouts. She’ll use free weights to tone her arms, and do body-weight exercises, such as one-legged squats, to work her legs. She works out in the gym or outside on the beach in Nassau County, Long Island, near where she lives. “I used to do that P90X video [with fitness guru Tony Horton] so I take some of the things that he used to do,” she says.

Officer Quinn is a certified yoga teacher and teaches fellow police officers and NYPD employees in the 109th Precinct’s basement gym.  Officer Quinn likes to exercise spontaneously and mix things up. She often rides her bike along the beach. She goes running occasionally and still loves playing sports; she and some friends recently played tennis. “I’ll still pick up a basketball and go run a full-court game,” she says. “Anything that keeps me moving.”

She often uses elements of yoga on the job to counteract the physical effects of carrying 20 pounds of gear on top of a police uniform and sitting in a car all day. While sitting in the passenger seat, she’ll hook her left hand over her right knee and twist to stretch her upper body, then twist to the other side. When she’s outside the car and standing, she’ll bend into a forward fold to stretch her hamstrings.

Officer Quinn has also used yoga breathing techniques to warm her body while working outside in cold weather and to remain calm on the way to a stressful job. She says she has noticed a difference in her interactions with people since she started practicing yoga.

“I feel like with this job, a lot of the time we can let someone else’s energy intrude and take over,” Officer Quinn says. “We meet the energy that we are met with. So I was like, ‘Wow, that person I was able to handle really calmly. I was able to get compliance in a way that I hadn’t gotten before.’ ”

After years of playing and training for sports such as basketball and lacrosse, Officer Quinn was skeptical about yoga’s benefits. But a few years ago, she got hooked.  She says some officers harbor misconceptions about yoga—that it requires superb flexibility, or wearing tights, or that it isn’t a real workout. Some officers turn down her invitations to practice yoga in the gym but then privately ask her how to loosen tight hamstrings or alleviate lower-back pain.

“That’s part of our problem. We think too much, and we’re worried about what it looks like,” she says. “And I was, too. I was like, ‘I’d rather sweat and chest-bump and be aggressive.’ ” But at many yoga classes, she found, “you leave and there’s not an ounce of you that’s dry.”

The Diet

Starting a yoga practice inspired her to start eating better. Her job as a police officer had been a recipe for unpredictable meals. “You might be in one neighborhood one day at dinnertime and a totally different one the next,” Officer Quinn says. “I would eat anything from a really great salad to a pre-made peanut butter and jelly from 7-Eleven.”

Most often she would grab something fast: Chinese takeout, a cold-cut or eggplant Parmesan sandwich, pizza or an egg sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts. But practicing yoga has made her more aware of everything she eats. “It made me want greens,” she says. “It made me want real foods.”

Officer Quinn often has bagels for breakfast and says she will “never give them up.” Sometimes she eats breakfast twice, later eating an egg sandwich. But she now gets them prepared at a deli with a slice of avocado.

Officer Quinn has used yoga breathing techniques to remain calm in the tense situations she sometimes encounters on the job. She chatted on the precinct steps with Officers Dan Schreiner, left, and Jermaine Scott. If she’s lucky, lunch might be a giant salad with an assortment of vegetables and grilled chicken. There’s a spot near the precinct that has smoothies and green juices. She tried vegetarianism but became anemic, so she eats meat.

“I’ve always had a sweet tooth,” she says. “I still like these things; let’s be clear. I still definitely live the stereotype of the doughnut every now and again.”

The Playlist

Officer Quinn keeps an assortment of playlists on an “old-school iPod” to use during her yoga practice depending on her mood and the audience. The lists generally start off slow, speed up then finish with slower music or kirtan, a type of music from India that can include rhythmic chanting.

Her lists include folk rock like George Ezra and José González and hip-hop like Childish Gambino. “When you put on something like [1990s R&B band] Color Me Badd in a yoga class, people, like, lose it,” she says. “It’s hysterical.”

Write to Rachel Bachman at rachel.bachman@wsj.com


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