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New Jersey police officer-turned fitness instructor says practicing yoga likely ‘Saved my life’

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    MAPLEWOOD, N.J. (WCBS) — A former New Jersey police found yoga after leaving the force. He says it saved his life and believes yoga could help officers still on the job keep calm even in high-stress situations.

CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock joined Martesse Gilliam, co-founder of BRWL Studio, in Maplewood Memorial Park on Tuesday for boxing plus zen.

His class pairs boxing with Vinyasa yoga.

Gilliam said the combination leaves you feeling empowered, and allows you to take charge of your life while connecting mind, body and spirit.

He hasn’t always called himself a fitness instructor. He’s a former police officer following in his father’s footsteps.

Murdock asked him what training was like.

“It’s the us-versus-them type of mentality, a really militant mentality,” Gilliam said. “You come out fired up and ready to fight crime when you’re dealing with the community you grew up in. I felt like I had to look over my shoulder. It made more nervous and more anxious.”

He said he didn’t realize being an officer would be so stressful.

After nearly seven years, Gilliam left the force for fitness. He already had years of martial arts under his belt when he found yoga.

“I’d say it saved my life,” Gilliam said.

He said through daily practice, “I realized that I wasn’t allowing people, places and things to make me respond in certain ways, hijack my emotions and act outside of myself.”

This is why he believes it could be a powerful tool for officers still on the job, especially when paired with a martial arts discipline.

“I think that a yoga practice can definitely help officers regulate their emotions, be present in the moment, not respond over aggressively,” he said. “You learn self control, self discipline. You learn to push through and persevere.”

He said he knows his martial arts background kept him more grounded when wearing a badge.

“I felt confident that if some danger were to come about that I wouldn’t always immediately go for my gun,” Gilliam said.

Practicing yoga has only emboldened his confidence and inner peace.

“Realize my happiness, my peace is not something I obtain outside of myself,” Gilliam said.

They are lessons he hopes to pass on to those who take his class and take on the practice of yoga.

When you find yourself in a stressful situation, Gilliam offers this advice: take a minute wherever you are, take six deep breaths and just be. You’ll find the peace you’re looking for is inside you.

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