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Interdepartmental collaboration integrates somatic practices into law enforcement training

In an inspiring collaboration with CMU’s Dance Program, CMU Tech’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) academy recently piloted a workshop centered on self-care for law enforcement officers. The workshop, held in the panoramic Moss Performing Arts Center dance studio, brought together seventeen cadets eager to explore somatic movement and strategies for stress reduction and postural ease under the guidance of dance program director Kathy Diehl.

Somatics, a field emphasizing learning from the living, moving body, entails movement practices that enhance body awareness, sensation and the mind-body connection. The necessity for officer wellness amid the demanding nature of law enforcement careers has gained increasing attention. Long hours, adrenaline spikes, personal equipment loads and exposure to repetitive critical events contribute to significant physical and mental strain experienced by officers. In response, integrating somatic practices into their training not only complements existing programs in fitness, nutrition and stress management but also equips them with a holistic wellness toolbox for their careers.

The cadets, amidst an intense training regimen that includes rigorous physical exercises and personal sacrifices, recognize the importance of self-care practices for stress reduction and recuperation. The workshop aimed to foster a deeper understanding of personal movement habits and introduce experiences focused on relaxation and reduced muscular tension.

Throughout the session, cadets explored postural alignment, breath support, spinal movements and gentle stretching—somatic practices integral to Diehl's dance curriculum. Diehl expressed enthusiasm for the opportunity to work with the cadets, acknowledging the potential of somatic work to improve overall well-being among law enforcement professionals.

“Police officers have extremely stressful jobs and somatic work can offer not only a means of managing stress, but also improving an overall sense of well-being and health,” said Diehl. “I have wanted to teach a workshop like this for years and so I was very excited for the opportunity to work with the cadets today. It was truly an honor and I enjoyed every moment!” 

Cadets found that the practices explored in the class left them feeling anywhere from more alert to more mentally calm. They also discovered previously unnoticed tension in their bodies. Tessa Berry, POST cadet and criminal justice major was surprised to learn how much tension she was carrying in her body. 

“The mindfulness practices made me feel much more aware of that tension, and the exercises helped relieve some of the tension,” she said. “By the end of the class, I felt much more relaxed, as well as more aware of my posture and bodily movements. I'll be able to use some of the things I learned to ensure that I'm reducing the strain on my body and maintaining my physical health.”

The overwhelmingly positive feedback from the pilot program underscores its potential integration into future curriculum offerings. Mike Diehl, director of the POST academy, envisions the possibility of integrating multiple sessions of somatic learning into academy wellness training.

By providing cadets with a variety of tools that will help them reduce and deal with stress, CMU and CMU Tech are paving the way for long-term success among law enforcement personnel, fostering a culture of self-care and resilience essential in addressing the challenges of the profession.


Written by Laura Bradley