Stephen Slade went to the little yoga studio once a week for eight weeks last spring.
There, the Hillsboro police officer would take a little time for himself. He learned a variety of exercises. Stretches and meditations were among them.
It was new territory. It was also part of his department's new training, designed to keep cops mentally tough. It was mindfulness.
Simply put, mindfulness is a practice of being present in the moment. The department's training is focused on building resiliency in officers.
It's different than typical police training. Some cops let participants know that.
"You get the 'te-hes' and 'ha-has' from your peers'" Slade said. "Like, what are you doing? Big tough SWAT guy going into a room that's relaxation and yoga mats."
The teasing didn't stop him.
Slade has put in 14 years in Hillsboro. He works patrol and is a sniper on the county's SWAT.
Between March 2012 and January 2013, Slade fired his duty weapon during two police shootings. One resulted in a lawsuit, which is still pending. The other involved a drunken, off-duty co-worker firing at police and was recently resolved.
Months passed after the January shootout with the ex-Hillsboro officer. A lieutenant asked Slade if he'd take the mindfulness training. He agreed.
"I think law enforcement, in general, just needs better health, so to speak," Slade said. "Not just physical, on the outside. But, for me, it's more the mental, on the inside."
Slade describes himself as pessimistic. But he had no problem trying something new. Yoga mats, chimes and "Zen-type music" were quite new, he said.
The training fell just before Slade's scheduled swing shift. At first, that was tough because he was ready to work. He struggled to slow his racing mind. It was hard to let his guard down.
"I was self-conscious of lying in the room, where we're all unarmed," he said. "And anyone could have walked into that door and taken advantage of us."
Within a few weeks, Slade got over that fear. He felt more at ease.
Halfway through the class, he was into it.
Some things, he admits, were a little corny for his taste. He thinks, if he remembers correctly, they hummed once. He felt no need to do that again.
But he liked most of the course. The stretches were nice. He saw that it could be a long-term way to help handle stress.
"Whether you're taking children away, or an abusive spouse...," he said, "everything has negative connotations to it. And you're dealing with that call to call to call to call every single day."
People lie. They don't want cops around. They call them names.
"So, after a while, it slowly breaks down even the stronger people," he said.
The mindfulness class taught him to take a few moments to breathe, pause and scan his feelings.
In a job full of multitasking, the training helped him notice what's important now.
When Slade finished the training, his two shooting cases were still pending. That made it harder to reap the benefits, he said.
Memories of the shootout with his former co-worker have stuck with him.
"Words can't even do it justice," he said. "It's hard to explain. It's just hard to explain ... It's still kind of like a raw nerve."
He doesn't want to talk about it.
Slade juggled emotions through the training and after. He was angry. Stressed.
Still, the timing for mindfulness seemed right. He needed to slow down.
Slade had noticed that he wasn't present on his days off. He was checked-out, somewhere else. Recognizing that, he said, is half the fight toward changing it.
Slade has used his exercise time as mindfulness time.
He runs and bikes, trying to experience the activities while they happen. It's his way to relax. It's his release.
Copyright 2014 - The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service