MEDELLIN, Colombia – The aroma of incense and the beat of a shamanic drum lead a group of Colombian police officers to a state of deep relaxation guided by a yoga, meditation and mindfulness mentor to teach them to manage their emotions and reactions in times of stress.
The workshops consist of four hours of calm and reflection for 30 members of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron (Esmad) of the Colombian Police, who dress in sports clothes and lie on mats to step away from the image they display in the streets.
The program in Medellin seeks to reduce the levels of violence and educate for peace.
“They have very particular situations that can be emotionally hard and heavy. These meetings seek to provide tools so that they can consciously know how to react in the moment and how to deal with the emotion that arrives,” says meditation mentor Felipe Zapata.
This therapy for the mind contrasts with the recent violent demonstrations against police brutality that began with the death of Javier Ordoñez, a 46-year-old man who was arrested in Bogota and died in police custody.
For patrol officer Zulay Romero, who is the only woman in the group and ahead of her peers in the yoga segment, the workshops allow her to get out of monotony and find tranquility.
“In this period, which has had conflicts and disturbances, it helps us change our routine,” says Romero, a member of Esmad, considered the most feared force in dispersing demonstrations in Colombia.
Romero, born 32 years ago in Cucuta, shares the activity with her partner, who is also part of this body created in 1999 to support the police when public order situations exceed their capacities.
“He accompanies me daily. We experience many emotions together in the procedures and we handle the same stress, but at the same time, we relax in these types of activities,” she says.
Romero, who avoids commenting on the latest episodes of police violence, states that from a very young age, she liked the police, but developed a particular interest in this squad to prove “that women have the same capacities as men.”
Like his partner, who highlights the talks and meditation that help her enter “a different level of consciousness than the one she is used to,” patrolman Andres Felipe Correa sees in this exercise the possibility of freeing himself from complex days in a job that he chose to “serve the people” and that he sees as an “ideology.”
“It is a vocation. In my family there have always been policemen,” says the young man born in the Lloro municipality, in the department of Choco, and who, given the current situation, values the program carried out in Medellin.
“We get distracted and get out of the routine, from the stress of work, from the insults of people in the street since this society is very ungrateful towards public servants,” says Correa.
The patrolman points out that they are often told about “mentality and emotions” in the police training school, so he doesn’t walk through unfamiliar terrain in this workshop.
“This (workshop) makes us reflect on behavior and understand the conscious and subconscious, and see how far the mind can go and see what we can do with our thoughts,” he says.
Zapata, in his role as teacher, indicates that the aim with the 300 police officers during the workshops is to lead them to understand that we all have the possibility of changing emotional states which, according to his knowledge, ends up “controlling our actions and reactions.”
“They have training in many areas, but in a moment of crisis and difficulty, when they enter a state of survival, reactions are different,” he adds.
As a mentor of “engineering the invisible,” a mixture of modern science with ancestral knowledge, he points out that these first encounters are for his students to perceive why it is useful and practical to channel emotions. Especially in the “hard days” with clashes between protesters and police.
“It must be recognized that what is happening is a reflection of all of us,” Zapata adds, and regrets that a kind of faction is forming. “It makes us believe that there are good or bad, and there is no such thing; in the end we’re all human.”
For Medellin’s social manager Diana Osorio, who launched this initiative with the members of Esmad under the #TodosSomosUno (We are all one) campaign, this exercise “has fitted” with the current moment, but the idea is to do it with different population groups as part of an “education work for peace” in the city that allows the management of emotions and conflict resolution.
“These are seeds that we want to sow so that they look for other ways to manage their emotions and process conflicts in a non-violent way,” the manager, who is also responsible for the creation of the Secretariat for Non-Violence, tells EFE.